For some, if Alex Gidman is selected to play for England this summer, it will come as a bolt from the blue. For others, including the England Chairman of Selectors, David Graveney, ECB Academy Director, Rodney Marsh, and Gidman’s Player-Coach at Gloucestershire, Mark Alleyne, it will be the finale to the dramatic progress the batting all-rounder has made over the last twelve months.
Gidman, 23, has a set of career statistics that do not demonstrate greatness, however, it is the temperament and the way he plays that has set him apart from many of the other young talents in England. Performances such as scoring 61 to carry his side tantalisingly close to victory over Surrey in the Twenty20 semi-final, a wonderfully composed 41 in a vital partnership with Pakistani all-rounder Shoaib Malik which led Gloucestershire to the C&G Final, and then in the Final, bowling 7 overs, 2 wickets for 12 runs and scoring the winning runs, in his side’s demolition of Worcestershire, shows he has a liking for the big occasion.
A prime example of Gidman’s talent not always being shown in the statistics of his short career, just eighteen first-class matches to date, is the 40 he scored off 41 batting under the lights in a National League match last summer against Kent. He played Sri Lanka’s mystery spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan as well as anyone else in the world, easing him for two consecutive fours, a perfect on-drive following an immaculate cover drive, before being run out taking a quick single to mid-on. Nine times out of ten this aggressive running helps Gidman to maintain his high scoring speed, however, on this occasion, it prevented him from potentially making his highest one-day score.
He was chosen in Rod Marsh’s Academy intake for 2003/04 and the former Australian wicket-keeper was so impressed with the all-rounder, that he handed Gidman the captaincy for the England A tour to India, a squad that included fully capped England players, Ed Smith and Simon Jones. However, Gidman broke his right thumb, facing the bowling of the equally impressive Sajid Mahmood, and only managed to play one warm up one-day match before being sent home.
Gidman is said to have increased his pace by 5 mph this winter, taking his pace up to the 82-87 mph range, which should give him a healthy accompaniment to his cool, calm and collected batting. However, Gidman hasn’t always the international batting prospect we see before us on the eve of the 2004 county season. At Wycliffe School near Stroud, Gloucestershire, he was a seam bowler who could bat, but two years with the MCC Young Cricketers after leaving school helped to alter him into the player he is today.
After he was selected to captain England A, England’s Chairman of Selectors, David Graveney, had this to say about him, "It was very much down to who Rod thought was the born leader out of these guys," "I've been mightily impressed with Alex since I first saw him playing for Gloucestershire. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see him playing international cricket sooner rather than later." Gidman’s name was the first mentioned by Troy Cooley, the bowling coach, when asked to identify which of the academy’s intake had shown the most promise. "Alex impressed me with bat and ball," Cooley said. "His batting is better than his bowling, but his bowling has really improved in the ten weeks at Loughborough. He looks a quality player with a very good attitude." Rod Marsh kept his cards close to his chest about Gidman, but did say after the A team had returned that “we would have been a much better team had Gidman been fit and well.”
As well as impressing the England Academy staff, Alex’s player-coach at Gloucestershire, Mark Alleyne, who knows his game better than anyone, said, "Alex has this composed, unflappable temperament, which is something you just can't coach into someone. It's there when he bats too, there's nothing in a rush about his play. He just takes a nice easy swing and presents the full face of the bat." Gidman speaks like he bats, cool and calm, whilst setting high, but achievable targets for himself. "The way everything's settling out, I'll be a batter who gets through a lot of overs - not just a part-time bowler, but someone who can bowl between 10 and 20 overs in a day. Jacques Kallis is probably the closest role model at the moment."
It is not just England that are banking on Gidman to continue his swift improvement, and create a formidable battle for the all-rounder’s sports with Andrew Flintoff and Rikki Clarke. Gloucestershire, the domestic one-day kings, will need a run scoring machine in Gidman if they are to stay up in the first division of the County Championship, after promotion last season. He is set to bat at 3 or 4 in the one-dayers for Gloucestershire again this summer, and has a real chance of pushing for a place at the elusive number 4 spot in the England ODI XI. However, his position in the batting line-up for the new four-day captain Chris Taylor is less certain, let alone discussing where he could bat for the England Test side. Gidman needs runs to primarily gain a place in the England side, however, he would also be pleasing more than a few Gloucestershire members in their quest for survival, who incidentally would be delighted to see another player from ‘The ‘Shire’ represent England.
A new era has only just begun for England, with Michael Vaughan taking over the captaincy, full time, last August, whilst at Gloucestershire, a new era is just about to begin, with Chris Taylor and Mark Alleyne sharing the captaincy. However, both Vaughan and Taylor-Alleyne combination will be hoping for the runs, as well as the wickets, superb fielding and aggressive running, that Gidman will deliver.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 Richard Hudson)