As cricketers, and characters, Mark Chilton and Dominic Cork did not have a great deal in common. The fact that they happened to announce their retirement on the same day provides a chance to relish the contrast between the two.
Cork popped up on Sky Sports News to reveal that he would be calling it quits after turning 40 last month. He’s had an excellent career, stretching back 22 seasons since he made his Derbyshire debut in 1990 – an especially impressive effort for a seam bowler. He won 37 Test caps, played in another 32 one-day internationals, and had plenty of memorable moments – his match-winning innings for England against West Indies at Lord’s, his hat-trick at Old Trafford in 1995, a Benson and Hedges Cup final win with Derbyshire against Lancashire in 1993, and a Twenty20 triumph as Hampshire captain only last year.
He’s said and done some daft things – calling for his tea to be served on the outfield during a stormy game against Surrey at The Oval would have to be a highlight, if it really is true. But the regulars in the Derbyshire press box always called him Captain Crackpot with affection, I thought. Life was certainly much more fun when Cork was around the County Ground.
If Cork was Captain Crackpot, then Chilton might be remembered as Captain Sensible, for his three years as a steady hand on the tiller at Old Trafford – when Cork was one of the barmier old blokes he had to try to control. A proud Mancunian despite his Sheffield birthplace, Chilton was under pressure from the start of his career as he had followed the same route to Lancashire as Mike Atherton and John Crawley, from Manchester Grammar.
He made an unforgettable debut, called away from his studies at Durham University (where his contemporaries included Andrew Strauss) to deputise in Lancashire’s team against Glamorgan at Aigburth – for Wasim Akram. Chilton is about as close an equivalent to Akram as he is to Cork, and he found himself in the middle of a spectacular collapse to 51 all out to Wasim’s old mate Waqar Younis, who was then wreaking havoc for Glamorgan.
Life settled down a bit after that, and he had a golden summer in 2003, alternating between the middle order and the top, and scoring centuries from each position. That left him in pole position to take over the captaincy from Warren Hegg in 2005, and in his third year in charge he was a mere 25 runs away from becoming the first man to lead Lancashire to the County Championship since Peter Eckersley in 1934.
But the narrow failure of their last-day run chase against Surrey at The Oval was followed by Chilton’s resignation after a difficult summer in which he had struggled for runs, and when the following year he faded into second team obscurity, it would have been no surprise if he had given up the ghost.
Instead he had a new lease of life following the appointment of Peter Moores as the Lancashire coach, earning the player of the year award after making crucial contributions in all forms of the game, not least a splendid century in the Roses Match at Headingley – his third against the county of his birth.
Moores stresses Chilton’s low-profile value in playing second fiddle in any number of important partnerships over the last three seasons, and even after he lost his place in the team for the last couple of Championship fixtures, he continued to play a role – as regular twelfth man when Glen Chapple’s hamstring needed treatment, allowing him to lend his experience to the acting captain Steven Croft. It was wholly appropriate that Chilton was on the scene to share in the celebrations at Taunton, and typical of him that he joined in those celebrations at least as genuinely and enthusiastically as he would have if the Championship had been won under his captaincy three years earlier.
His career may not have reached the same heights as Cork’s, but it was a worthy one, nonetheless.
*Andy Wilson, one of TheCricketer.com’s regular county writers, also covers cricket for The Guardian