Some English cricketers simply play for their teams; others bind themselves so firmly to their counties' fortunes that it is nigh on impossible to think of them representing anyone else. Mark Chilton belongs to the latter group.
Over 14 seasons he has become as much a part of the Old Trafford scene as Eccles cakes and talk of the title.
Yet Mark’s contribution to Lancashire cricket is about more than loyalty and longevity. In his 181 first-class matches for the county he has never given less than his very best, and it is this which makes his joy at Lancashire’s successes all the more pleasurable to see. Remember, for instance, his manic explosion of delight at Aigburth last September, when his boundary off Dominic Cork secured a three-wicket victory over Hampshire with one ball to spare. This is an intense cricketer, whose commitment to the Red Rose means that he will savour every triumph and feel every hurt.
And so we have wept with him too. Never more so than at the Oval on the 22nd September 2007, when Lancashire were bowled out for 464 in their second innings against Surrey and thus failed by a paltry 25 runs to win the County Championship for the first time in 73 years.
“Chilly mate…” murmured home captain Mark Butcher, as he consoled his opposite number on the Oval outfield at the end of that epic match. Butcher’s words spoke volumes for the understanding and fellowship that exist among county cricketers. Mark, though, still had a post-match TV interview to get through.
“I’ve never seen a dressing room like that in my life,” he began. “It was agony. We feel pretty crushed. I was proud of every single one of them. They’ve risen to an almighty challenge.” On an evening when even tough old journos scarcely trusted themselves to say anything at all, Mark had found some scrap of solace in simple truths. It was a fine choice by the captain of a very brave cricket team.
Nearly a year later, courage of a rather different sort was on display and at least one of those cricket writers was applauding Mark again, as he completed a 218-ball century against Kent at Canterbury. That innings was played in another losing cause, yet it came towards the end of a season in which Mark had found runs tough to come by. As such, his 317-minute effort represented a wonderful statement of professional intent from a man who identifies the highlights of his career as “playing for and captaining Lancashire.” The following month Mark batted with dreamy fluency to score 97 in 144 balls against Somerset and guide his beloved county to an eight-wicket victory in the last match of the season. He may have had doubts about the decision which deprived him of another hundred, but there was no disputing the fact that his form had returned.
As someone who is paid to write about cricket, I never regard the county circuit as any sort of grind. It affords me the opportunity to watch an admirable body of men play a sport I love, all this in weather which - even in Manchester - is usually good. It also gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to cricketers as admirable as Mark Chilton, a player whose Benefit is truly worthy of your support.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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