Nottinghamshire batsman Mark Wagh today began a solo mission to cycle from John O’Groats to Lands End in an effort to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust.

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The following article first appeared in Covered, the official magazine of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.


Even in a sport which, by its nature, attracts competitors with individualistic tendencies, Mark Wagh stands out.  You know that he differs from the average cricketer, if such a thing exists, when you mention his ascent to Everest Base Camp in 2007 (a small matter of about 18,000 feet) and he skips over the achievement in a few words, as if it were something ordinary.

Perhaps, then, it should come as no real surprise that, despite no obvious lessening in his ability to score elegant runs, he has announced he is quitting the game, at the relatively young age of 33, to embark on an entirely new career.

The Nottinghamshire batsman is retiring next summer to become a corporate lawyer in London.  He told me why he has decided to leave the game behind and what he will miss after he has left Trent Bridge for the last time.

“It goes back to 2008, when I wrote a diary of the season,” he said. “The writing would occupy me when I was not playing but once it was published I wondered what I could do with the time I had between games.

“I’m spending six weeks in Rio doing Capoeira, a type of Brazilian martial arts. I’m also going to South-east Asia for nine weeks, where I’m looking at volunteering to work on an orangutan sanctuary." - Mark Wagh

“I decided I wanted to do something towards my future after the game, which I had also been thinking about.  Coincidentally, I’d been talking to a friend whose son is a lawyer and I felt that it was a career that could really interest me.  I signed up to take a course and, last November, managed to arrange a week with the law firm Freshfields in London.

“I wasn’t really thinking about a job at that stage but I wound up doing an interview. My thoughts were that it would be good practice. But at the end of it they offered me a place.”

The offer put him on the spot, knowing that it would spell the end of his career as a professional sportsman, but he says that, in the end, accepting was not too difficult a decision.

“I knew I would probably finish between 38 and 40 in any event. And I reasoned that the longer I left it, the harder it would be to move into a new career,” he said.

“In addition, I knew that half my reason for playing cricket was to play for England. Now that, realistically, that possibility has gone, I had to ask myself what I was achieving by playing on.  Balancing those things out, it was relatively straightforward to decide.”

It is no easy transformation, however.  Once he has finished a two-year course to obtain his Graduate Diploma in Law, due to be completed next may, he embarks in August on a six-month Legal Practice Course, before starting a two-year training contract at Freshfields’ offices on Fleet Street in February, 2012.

“It is going to be something completely different but that is what I wanted after cricket and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

At his best, Wagh has been likened to David Gower, albeit a right-handed version, for the grace and seemingly effortless quality of his batting.  Like Gower, he has a talent that appears to be largely natural and instinctive, which seems to be confirmed by his doubts over whether he could be an effective coach, despite possessing the perceptive and analytical mind you might expect in an Oxford psychology graduate.  “For all that I have been playing so long, I don’t really know with any certainty what it is that makes somebody play well or not play well,” he said.

What he does understand is why playing cricket has given him so much pleasure, for which his explanation again is singularly different.  He has scored almost 12,000 first-class runs and his 31 first-class centuries include a triple-hundred in 2001 that, for a while, put him on the next line to Brian Lara’s 501 not out in Warwickshire’s records. Yet he speaks of his record as “a source of disappointment” and recalls with greater pleasure the moments when he felt he had contributed well to the team’s cause rather than to his own narrower interests.

“For me, the crux of cricket comes down to the challenge,” he said. “It might be coming up against someone who is bowling really well or facing a difficult situation in a match.  If you come through those challenges, the ultimate feeling of accomplishment is to walk into the dressing room having contributed significantly and those are the priceless moments.”

A medial ligament injury suffered playing football on a wet Edgbaston outfield probably cost him a likely England call-up in 2005, although he does not believe he was robbed of the opportunity to play international cricket.  “It came at a time I was relatively close [to a call-up] but the real reason I have not played for England is that I haven’t scored enough runs,” he said.

His move to Trent Bridge came in 2007 and again, looking back, his focus is not on individual innings but on moments of fulfilment, the biggest of which came right at the start, when he was player of the year in his first season.

“I was really happy with that,” he said.  “It was a great dressing room and I felt I contributed to the season.  For a cricketer, whether you score a hundred or 30, if you feel you have contributed to a win there is no better feeling.”

He says he does not know if he will miss cricket until he is no longer player.  “It is difficult to know,“ he said. “People talk about camaraderie in the dressing room but I hope there will be camaraderie in the office.  I will probably miss being outside and miss keeping in shape.

“I don’t see myself continuing to play regularly.  I’m fairly awful at club cricket and that would be overstating my abilities.  I’m only just about okay practising every day and playing on good pitches.   

“I’ve genuinely enjoyed the company of the players at Notts, and I‘ve enjoyed the fact that the club gives you a fair degree of independence when it comes to preparation.

“I don’t enjoy the prescriptive approach to coaching.  If you don’t tell players what to do all the time I think you get self-sufficient cricketers rather than dependent ones and I’m amazed that it works any other way.”

Climbing Everest -- or at least part of it -- appealed to Wagh’s  independent spirit when he joined a party of cricketing trekkers to raise £35,000 for the PCA Benevolent Fund three years ago

“Yes, I did that,” he said, before revealing, as he explains his plans for the winter, that his adventurous nature, that love of a challenge, is not satisfied by one mountain climb, however impressive.

“I’m spending six weeks in Rio doing Capoeira, a type of Brazilian martial arts.  I’m also going to South-east Asia for nine weeks, where I’m looking at volunteering to work on an orangutan sanctuary, then I’ve got six to eight weeks in New Zealand or maybe Australia.”

It sounds like a gap year schedule.  But, as Wagh explains with the air of a student about to embark on ’real’ life: “It’s probably the last chance I’ll get.”

No ordinary cricketer.  Nottinghamshire will miss Mark Wagh, for sure.