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'It would've been nice to have won an Ashes, having lost four'

Former England batsman Mark Butcher talks about playing under Hussain and Stewart, and his days with Surrey

Scott Oliver |

"Watching the [Ashes '05] celebrations on the bus, it hit me. I suddenly started welling up, trying hard not to let anyone see" © Getty Images

I don't have any memories of not watching cricket. It was always part of my childhood. Mum tells me I was at The Oval pretty much from birth. The thing I remember most is walking through the Long Room and there used to be all the photos of Surrey's capped players there, and my dad was one of them. I remember looking at those and wondering if one day I might get myself up there.

My first game for the Surrey first team was in the old Sunday League, as a bowler, batting at No. 9 against Glamorgan, my old man's team. He was captain. I came in at 120-odd for 7 [chasing 226] and got 48 not out. We ended up three runs short, eight wickets down. I don't think he'd seen me bat for a few years.

In the winter of 2000-01, after I was separated, I seriously considered quitting the game. I was drinking heavily and generally in a bad way. Just after Christmas I made the decision to give it a real crack again. The first thing I did was call my dad. The conversation went something like, "Dad, can you teach me how to bat again?" Grip, stance, backlift; back to the most basic facets of batting. I put myself totally under his control. He gave me the tools to play freely and more importantly, enjoy the game once again.

I suppose the failure of my marriage [to Alec Stewart's sister] did have repercussions in the Surrey dressing room. Alec left me in no doubt about how he felt I'd treated Judy - and he probably would have had the right to throw a punch at me, but he also said: "Look, that's a separate issue. When we're playing cricket, we're team-mates, and I won't treat you any different than before." He was true to his word.

Saqi [Saqlain Mushtaq] took a few hat-tricks for us. You'd have a schoolboy silly mid-off, silly point, gully, slip, leg slip, short leg - practically everyone round the bat - and the batsman would come out, play for the spin, and lo and behold, leading-edge it to the guy stood at schoolboy silly mid-off. Nobody had seen anything like it at the time. It was totally original. He created merry havoc.

I was never the type of player to be overly hung up on where I batted. First and foremost, I was happy to be playing and I'd do my best whatever I was asked to do. In the end, I preferred to bat at No. 3.

At Headingley, there was a period later on in the innings when whatever came down, out of whoever's hand, it was just going for four. I was seeing it like a balloon, and it was coming at me as fast as one as well. It was just bizarre.

Your ability to be magnanimous increases with the amount of times you win. But that's something I always liked about Australian sport: you actually have to do something pretty special before they start blowing smoke up your backside.

In the winter of 2000-01, after I was separated, I seriously considered quitting the game. I was drinking heavily and generally in a bad way. Just after Christmas I made the decision to give it a real crack again. The first thing I did was call my dad

Playing for Surrey 2nd XI in 2000 was my darkest hour as a cricketer. I remember a game against Lancashire Second XI at Didsbury. Glenn Chapple had also found himself dropped, and it's fair to say neither of us was particularly enthusiastic about things. He ran in off about five steps and plopped a ball two feet wide of my off stump at about 60mph. I had a swish at it and somehow contrived to edge it into my leg stump. All I could utter was "marvellous", before walking off.

We were already 2-0 down [in 1998-99], we'd just got battered by Australia A in Tasmania, and there'd been a bit of a rejig. Alec was captain. He gave the gloves up and went up to open with Athers, and I dropped down to No. 3. As was often the way, McGrath knocked Athers over in the first over. I walked out to the wicket at the MCG and there was Ian Healy pissing himself laughing: "It's no f*****g easier at No. 3, Butch". I did afford myself a bit of a chuckle.

It took me a long time to discover what I needed to do to be successful as a Test match player. By the time I sussed it out, I had less time left than I'd already had.

I wasn't a reluctant England captain. In fact, I'd been captaining Surrey that year [1999] and doing a pretty decent job, if I say so myself. The problem was that the team I was given at Old Trafford was set up for a turning pitch. I said, "What are we going to do if it's overcast and swinging about? We've only got two seamers." I suggested they get Craig White in, who was playing up the road. He could bat No. 7 and be a genuine third seamer. But they just said, "No, that's your team. Get on with it." Come the morning of the game, the clouds were right on top of us, as I'd feared they might be, but given the make-up of the team I had little choice but to bat. We got knocked over for less than 200 and then the weather cleared. New Zealand got nearly 500, and it was only rain that saved us. I walked in to the post-match press conference in the old library and was expecting the customary chaperone from the ECB, but there was no one there. So when the press started asking questions, I just told it as I saw it. I didn't play the next game!

When Nasser won the toss in Brisbane, we started getting our pads on in the dressing room. Seriously. We heard the roar go up from the Barmy Army, so we started getting 'em on.

Atherton wasn't much one for any type of man-management, really. Pretty much: "You're professional cricketers, you should know what to do, now bloody well get on with it." Alec was quite similar, although he went in for that football-style man-management. He wasn't always tactically on the pulse, but was as tough as they came. He never took a backward step. People go on about the spirit of cricket and all that stuff, but Alec's attitude was that if the Aussies were going to do it, we'd do it too.

There was a cut shot where my arms wrapped around my head twice - I absolutely nailed it and the ball bounced back off the advertising boards to where Damien Martyn was standing at point. That felt quite cool. But the major enjoyment was just being there at the end rather than getting too intense, getting out, and leaving it to somebody else.

[Duncan] Fletcher was very stoical, very even. There were times when you wanted him to pat you on the back and say, "Bloody well played, mate." But he never really did. He was very good at teaching method, if that's your thing, but I was more of an instinct player. I probably wasn't Duncan's cup of tea in some ways. We were very different, but he always backed me up 100%.

I don't think I ever played as well as in the summer of 2003, but, as was my fault, I didn't make as many runs as I ought to have done. Graeme Smith was making double-hundreds, and I was making beautiful 60s and 70s.

"[At Headingley '01] I was seeing the ball like a balloon. It was just bizarre" © Getty Images

Bumble [David Lloyd] was great when things were going well, extremely positive and upbeat, but when we were losing he got so down on himself and the team. You couldn't speak to him and he couldn't speak to you. I'd have liked to have played for him later in my career, when I was more on top of things and knew my game better.

Nasser's tactics on that India trip - the 8-1 fields [in 2001], Ashley Giles bowling outside leg stump - was born of the fact that our attack was a bit of a scratch one. But that kind of set a bit of a template. Even when we didn't need to do that, even when we did have the firepower to win games, we'd still do it, and in the end that wasn't a lot of fun.

I don't think the gap between us and Australia was as big in 1998-99, or 1997, as it was then to become, after Adam Gilchrist came along and Matthew Hayden started to do what he did. But when the opposition's best player came in we would get tight and somebody would drop a catch. It's all very well saying that's unlucky, but that's part of what being a great side is: when those players come in, you take them out. When the games were 50-50, we'd often be the ones to blink.

There's not an enormous amount of glamour in rocking up in Isleworth at half-past midnight to do a through-the-night shift as a pundit on a game that not very many people are watching.

Centurion was strange. There was no chance of play on the second and third days, but we should have got out there on day four. We had so many travelling fans out there that when the offer came on day five, we thought: "Why not?" We didn't suspect anything at the time - although, they had us on the ropes at one stage and Hansie [Cronje] bowled himself and Paul Adams, rather than Nantie Hayward and Shaun Pollock - but afterwards I went and sat with Athers in the dressing room and we both felt the same: "This is bullshit. This isn't how a Test match win should feel. You're supposed to earn it." It felt cheap.

Nasser was a great bloke to play under. You'd run through a wall for him. You'd also be able to tell him exactly what you thought, or have a stand-up row with him and 15 minutes later it was forgotten.

Facing Fidel Edwards and Tino Best on that flyer in Jamaica, bowling as quickly as anything I faced in Test match cricket, was a real challenge. I don't think I'd ever been hit as often as that before. It was relatively hairy, I guess, but a lot of fun.

At Trent Bridge in 1998, sitting watching this drama from upstairs in the home dressing room, you could really sense the electricity in the air. It was crackling. One of those great moments of sport. The spell was broken when [Mark] Boucher dropped Nasser. Up until that Test we'd not done any socialising with South Africa - quite the opposite, in fact, it had been quite a narky series, and was about to get even narkier - but Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald came up, handed a few beers out, and sat and had a chat.

I remember Waqar turning up at Surrey when he was 19, and Tony Gray, the big West Indian, was still the overseas player. Jonathan Robinson, a really elegant left-hander, who's now an executive at the MCC, was having a net on the square, back when the pitches really went through. Waqar marked out his full run, came haring in, and knocked his leg stump out first ball. No one knew who he was. Gray looked at this and thought: "Hang on, I'm in a bit of trouble here." So he knocks his mark back about ten or 15 yards and Robbo had one of the most torrid net sessions I've ever seen! He got battered - on the head from Gray, on the feet from Waqar Younis.

My most enjoyable Test wicket was during the silly spell I bowled at Edgbaston against Australia in 2001. I'd dismissed Damien Martyn, Brett Lee and Shane Warne with outswingers, so feeling pretty confident I turned the ball around and nailed Jason Gillespie with an inswinger first ball. Jimmy Anderson would have been proud.

I was gutted to miss the 2005 Ashes. I enjoyed watching it as much as everybody else did, and got properly caught up in it, but it was only afterwards, while I was up at Edgbaston with Surrey watching the celebrations on the bus the next day, that it hit me. I suddenly started welling up, trying hard not to let anyone see, and thought, "Oh crap, I could've been on there." It would have been nice to have won an Ashes, having lost four.

I came back for three games [in 2009] because there was nobody else, but I could barely get from slip to slip. The last game, we were playing Kent, we were batting out for a draw, and I walked off 60 not out, had a look around, and there were 40 people in the ground. I thought: "That's the last time I'm gonna do that". And then that was it. It ended.

People always seem to have a bee in their bonnet about Surrey - whether it be money, the players having a strut, or whatever. When we won the Championship in 1999, it had been 28 years since Surrey had won it, so this idea that we've been this big county throwing our money around and always winning is just rubbish. We used 21 players that year, most of whom had grown up playing their cricket in Surrey. That will always be one of my cherished memories. It was incredibly special.

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  • POSTED BY Kalyan on | December 5, 2014, 14:44 GMT

    runign thro' a wall for nasser...that's the exact phrase i've seen being used by atleast 2 other players who he captained; indeed nasser hussain seems to be one of the most well-respected captains around; kind of like a brearley who could bat. for a team that routinely got thrashed by the oz home and away and went thro' some pretty dark periods otherwise as well (despite the highs of karachi and SL), nasser hussain and duncan fletcher are quite highly rated. good on them!