Last Thursday at the Oval, a dinner complete with guest speakers including none other than Sir Trevor McDonald marked the start of a series of events throughout the year to celebrate Gareth Batty’s testimonial year.
The ex-Yorkshire and Worcestershire off-spinner has been rewarded for his long service over two spells with Surrey by being given recognition enough to host events elsewhere throughout the year, including the Lords committee room and The House of Lords.
Its sometimes difficult to know what to make of Batty’s career (not that he’s finished yet); will he be remembered as the player that made the most of his abilities as a steady off-spinner to reach the heights of the England test team in 2003, and worked so hard at his game that he remarkably got recalled at the grand old age of 39?
Or, more cynically, it might be that Batty will be seen as a nearly man; someone who passed through occasional seasons of brilliance but had the inability to sustain his consistency at the top level, meaning carving himself out the international career he may have been capable of became impossible.
Putting that argument aside for the moment, one thing that he certainly will be remembered for is that element to a player we often so long for as fans of the game – character.
Like it or loathe it, the passion and determination with which some players conduct themselves on the pitch has one thing in common – its addictive viewing.
Sometimes unsavoury, sometimes over the top, but always a talking point. And from a viewers point of view, there’s no doubt that talking points are what we live for, surely?
No-one outside of India is currently gleaming about the way that Virat Kohli is holding himself during the unmissable test series with Australia at the moment. But at the same time, there’s no doubt that animation and passion on the field creates nothing but talking points off the field, and for this, all cricket fans adore it.
Now. I’m not comparing Virat Kohli to Gareth Batty – they are different in almost every way, in terms of their cricketing background and future legacies. But whether he’s jumping about in celebration or getting banned for his unsavoury send off of Peter Trego in the T20 quarter-final of 2013 which subsequently saw him banned and unable to lead his team out on finals day, there has always been something very watchable about the way he gone about his game.
Unfortunately for Batty, by far and away the most watched moment from his twenty year career is a single delivery when he gets swept rather easily to the fine leg fence. The significance of that boundary is one that will forever hold its place in history, as it was the four that took Brian Lara past Matthew Hayden’s 380 on his way to 400 not out in Antigua at the Recreation Ground in 2004. Batty was certainly not the worst bowler in the attack that day (Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard in particular were on the receiving end of Lara’s magnificence that day), however when the youtube generation google the highest test score in history, it is Batty’s off spin that gets swept past short fine leg to the fence to send the recreation ground into history for the second time in a decade.
Batty started his career in his native Yorkshire, however quickly felt a first team place would be difficult to pin down, therefore a move south to Surrey seemed like a sensible choice.
Following three seasons at the Oval, he decided a move to Worcestershire would help kick start a career that was worryingly poised. His first season at New Road in 2002 suddenly brought him 56 wickets at 31, and a call up to the England academy tour to Australia that winter, which then remarkably finished with him joining the depleted England squad for the Ashes, and even appeared in a couple of the ODI’s at the end of the winter.
Although his stats for Worcestershire remaining consistently useful throughout his time there, he found himself back at Surrey in 2009 after falling slightly down the pecking order at New Road, and has endured the epitome of a rollercoaster ride with them ever since. The Tom Maynard tragedy in June 2012 meant that he suddenly found himself captain of a side that was not only in danger of relegation, but under the microscope for some of the younger generations’ extra-curricular activities, not to mention having to get over the tragic event itself.
Having let Surrey to stay in Division one that year, Batty has ever since become something of a cult hero in the county scene, with his energetic wicket-taking celebrations still being pushed round the social media circles every week, and judging by the turnout at his first of many benefit dinners this year, his popularity should stand him in good stead for his early pension fund.
Despite not making much of an impact with the ball throughout his twenty appearances in an England shirt (in all formats), surely his best performances for his country came in the 2003 tour to Sri Lanka, in which, although disappointing with the ball, he scored twenty-something of seventy-something balls to save both the first and second tests for an England team who were struggling desperately to deal with Muralitharan at his unplayable best. England went on to lose the third and deciding test easily, and Batty struggled to hold an international place ever since, although an astonishing call up for the recent India tour shows what can be achieved with perseverance.
Whichever way you look back at his long career, it would be unfair to just judge him by his stats. He’s never been someone to give quality batsmen sleepless nights, but there’s no doubt that having such a determined and colourful character in any changing room must only be a good thing. Surrey might just hope this benefit season of his is not his last.