DateLine: 20th December 2005
In an era of various English selection committees all seeming to under-rate left arm pacemen, perhaps Mark Ilott was fortunate to even play in five Test matches. His debut came at Trent Bridge in 1993, where England had replied to maulings in the first two Tests by throwing in four debutants. Alongside Martin McCauge, Peter Such and Andrew Caddick, Ilott formed an English attack which had just four caps between them prior to that match. Unsurprisingly, Ilott (along with the others) didnít provide the magic key to unlocking the Australian batting, although in the next match at Headingley he bowled an amazing 51 overs as Australia pitilessly marched to 653-4 declared. Although a definite tail-ender, Ilott batted with resolution and refused to surrender his wicket tamely. His career best bowling came at Luton in 1995, where he took a scarcely possible 9-19, which included a hat trick of lbw decisions. Of the other six victims, only one wasnít bowled or lbw. However, the England selection team publicly downplayed that innings, saying that the condition of the pitch rendered such figures meaningless. However, although 30 wickets had fallen on the first day, the umpires hadnít reported the pitch, and in downplaying Ilottís figures they had ignored the fact that he had used the muggy, hazy atmospherics to get movement in the air rather than waiting for the pitch to turn length balls into hand grenades. Despite such a casual dismissal of his efforts, he did tour South Africa in 1995-6, although in the last of his two Tests there he suffered a serious thigh strain and was unable to bowl in the South African second innings, which was a shame as in the previous Third Test of the series he had been a handful.
Throughout his career, many of Ilottís wickets came, unsurprisingly, from nicks to the keeper or slips, although, as he had proved at Luton, his ability to bring the ball back in to right handers generated many bowled and lbw victims. After his international adventures had ended (he never even went on an A tour after his South African tour) Ilott remained a very good county bowler, and he took over 500 First-class wickets for Essex. The start of his career had, incidentally, coincided well with the retirement of fellow Essex and occasionally England southpaw John Lever. The last event which brought Ilott to a national audience was a live shoving match with Robert Croft (who was and remains a friend) on BBC TV, as a tense Natwest Trophy semi-final was played in increasingly gloomy conditions (the cause of Ilottís complaint). Although he won the light argument and Essex won the tie the next day, the skirmish had cost both protagonists a £1000 fine. Ilott left Essex at the end of 2002, after injuries had started to bite. Despite his record and the fact that he was keen to carry on playing, his county career was over at the reasonably early age of 32.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)