There are certain things that Mark Ealham will miss when the domestic season begins without him next year. Pre-season training certainly won’t be one of them. Nor will motorway driving or time spent away from his family.
The irreplaceable camaraderie of the professional cricket dressing room which he has been party to since 1989 will be though as he begins a new chapter in charge of cricket at King’s School in Canterbury.
And as Ealham gets used to life without Notts, so must Notts get used to life without Ealham who took more than 200 wickets and scored more than 3000 first class runs since joining the county in 2004.
Originally expected to honour a three year contract, his continued worth to the team and his personal enjoyment of Trent Bridge led to a deserved extension.
“It was important to me to finish on top, in the first team and making a contribution,” said Ealham, a veteran of eight Tests and 64 One Day Internationals.
“I feel that I could cope with one more season but I don’t want to get to the stage where the body is giving up on me.
“The playing, the competition and the banter have outweighed the stiffness, the tiredness and the travelling but the right job has come up for me and now is the right time to take it.”
Not for the first time, Ealham will follow in his father’s footsteps, inheriting Alan’s role as Cricket Master at the Canterbury school.
“Having six months in a job before the new season will stop me dwelling on it I think,” said Ealham.
each week that ticks by I realise it’s coming to a close.”
The elder statesman in the Nottinghamshire team, Ealham’s role as a sounding board for Chris Read, a number eight batsman and a reliable medium pacer will be hard to replace but Ealham says that a replacement may not be necessary.
“I’ve been there for advice but I haven’t wanted to take anything away from Ready’s captaincy because he’s his own man with his own ideas,” said Ealham
“He turns to the senior players from time to time but we haven’t interfered and we’ve all got on very well. I’ve enjoyed the supporting role and a few of the boys have called me ‘Dusty Miller’ because I’m on the selection committee and between us we come out with the right decision.
“It will be nice to be missed as a player but I’d hope that the team can continue to perform well without me. I wouldn’t want anyone to replace me as such but we’ve got plenty of guys who can come in and do things in a different way. The prime of my career was 10 years ago but the Luke Fletchers of this world have their best years ahead of them and Paul Franks and Kevin O’Brien have got a lot to offer as well.”
Ealham claims that a career in professional darts would have served as Plan B if the cricket hadn’t worked out. The tradition of cricket in his family though gave him the opportunity to succeed and his two sons have similar ambitions.
“There was never anything else on my mind as a kid and all my boys say to me at the moment is that they want to be cricketers like Daddy and Grandad and they’re focussed on that,” said Ealham.
“The chances of making it in the professional game are tough but I was always brought up with it and my parents steered me into it and thankfully I was good enough. All I can do is encourage them because they love coming to the cricket and hopefully there interest in cricket will continue.”
“I wanted to keep my eye in and this job gives me a chance to pass good advice to kids and also to have time to spend a lot more time with my family. It will be a bit more chilled and it’s a base to work from if there’s chance further down the line to get involved with a professional club.
“I think you have to step away from the game as a player and take some time before getting into county coaching. If I went straight into coaching now there’d be a danger that I’d still be one of the lads and I’d lose my edge. Doing something different eases me in and I won’t rule out working at a county at some stage in the future.”
When Ealham takes time to reflect on his achievements in cricket, he can be justifiably proud. He made his first class debut for Kent in 1989 in a side that featured Chris Cowdrey and Alan Igglesden, took six wickets and scored 51 on his Test debut against India at Trent Bridge in 1996 and held his place in England’s one day side until 2001.
“When I first got picked for England it was very much out of the blue,” said Ealham.
“I didn’t consider myself an international player but things were going well and I got the call. I wasn’t the most talented player there’s ever been but I believed in myself and my ability, carved out a bit of a niche for myself and managed to play quite a bit of cricket.
“I have slight regrets in that I should have taken a few more chances when I batted towards the end of my one day career and if I had my time again that’s the only thing I’d change.”
Something of a cult figure in the Notts Dressing Room, Ealham’s ‘Grumpy Old Man’ mug took pride of place in the closely guarded corner he shared with Chris Read and Mark Wagh.
“I get called ‘Sapper’ in the dressing room because I’ve generally got something to say if something’s not quite right and I’m never afraid to speak my mind,” he said.
“I like to be chirpy and upbeat and if I’m having a bit of a bad day then it gets noticed by the rest of the boys.
“I get a lot of chat about my age but my moaning is always light hearted and I’m happy to have a giggle at myself. You couldn’t get away with being truly miserable in that dressing room so I think I’m friendly and grumpy at the same time.”
Having spent 15 years at Kent, Ealham finally decided to look for a move in 2004.
“The last couple of years at Kent were difficult and I wasn’t enjoying my cricket and that affected my performances but I’ve always been very relaxed at Notts,” said Ealham.
“Winning the Championship with Nottinghamshire in 2005 was massive but everything about the place, the ground, the management, the banter have been superb. My family have always been made welcome and there’s a great set of lads at the club. If I’d have been playing somewhere else I’m sure that I would have retired a few years ago.
“The club scene doesn’t interest me at the minute but when my boys start playing I’ll watch them and get involved.
“For the time being, it’s very unlikely that you’ll see me at Trent Bridge sitting in front of the pavilion with a flask and a packed lunch but you might see me somewhere else in the ground with a cold beer and a big pie.”
This article first appeared in Covered, the official magazine of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.