Mathew Dowman looks back on a colourful career at Trent Bridge with former team-mate Jim Hindson.
It is widely acknowledged that the toughest challenge a batsman faces in the middle, is playing himself in - getting used to the pace and bounce of the pitch and any movement there might be. For dashing southpaw Mathew Dowman, that was the easy part. Exceptional hand/eye coordination and a penchant for attack meant that he would often race to 30 before the opposition had realised what was going on. The challenge for Dowman, who played all his junior cricket for Lincolnshire, was kicking on to get the big scores.
Playing for England in a youth Test match against the West Indies Under-19’s he did kick on, and famously so. Breaking the record individual score in international Under-19 cricket, Dowman smashed 267 in a breath-taking innings that lit up his name in lights. In that same series, a young man called Shivnarine Chanderpaul also made a double-century. But while the West Indian was catapulted into the senior Test side, who took on England the following winter, Dowman found himself plying his trade on the second team circuit with Notts, unable to make the weight of runs that would force his way into the first team.
“A day doesn’t go by without someone mentioning that innings,” explained Dowman, who now works as a community coach for the Derbyshire Cricket Board.
“If Chanderpaul hadn’t have gone on and played against England that following winter it would have been put to bed, but the media quickly picked up on his emergence with the West Indies and I suddenly became a story about what was good and bad about English cricket. One of the first cuttings in my granddad’s old scrapbook was me looking out over a dark Old Trafford in 1994 with nobody in the ground at a second team fixture. It turned out to be breaking point. The guy had rung the dressing room and the story filled the back page of the paper. The publicity was great to have at such a young age but it’s something I just was not prepared for. I got caught out by the odd stray phone call from journalists.”
Dowman had to wait until July of that year to get his chance in the first XI, when a last minute casualty meant he had to bolt from a fixture in the north of the county. Dowman picks up the story:
“I was at Farnsfield at a Club & Ground game and Mick (Newell) told me I’d been called up. I pegged it down the A614, rushed into the dressing room and Robbo (Tim Robinson) was in the backroom doing his hair. He looked at me, said ‘You’re batting six’ and then walked out. I think his bluntness helped me – I didn’t really have much time to think about it. As it was, I was dropped first ball and there was a lot of interest in me – especially from the Surrey lads. I got five first innings and then made a fancy 30 in the second but importantly, I felt at home. I was batting with Wayne Dessaur, who was my landlord at the time so that helped. It got pretty feisty in the middle later on – I knew stuff was said on the field but didn’t quite realise the ferocity of it.”
Dowman, who was nicknamed ‘Doomer’ for his perceived gloomy outlook on life, had arrived at Trent Bridge on the Youth Training Scheme. He was paid £32 a week to coach cricket all day long and glean any gems from the pro’s he could, even if it took a chore to get it. “We used to do what the pro’s asked us to – like getting their car cleaned out or going on the ‘cob’ run, getting sausage and bacon butties. It was a good building phase for me because I got to see how the pro’s worked and what went on. Andy Pick, Paul Pollard and Andy Afford used to be around and we would spend quite a bit of time together on the community coaching scheme. I built a good relationship with those guys and learned a lot.”
After his debut, Dowman slowly established himself in the first team, pointing to a Championship match versus Essex as a breakthrough game, where he put on a century partnership in the first and second innings with Tim Robinson. Unfortunately, kicking on past a cavalier 30 was still proving his Achilles heel, and he found himself on the side-lines until an unexpected recall saw a change in fortunes.
He explained: “In 1997 we played at Northampton and I was left out of the side before Noel Gie turned up injured, which got me a game. In the second innings we chased down 300 and I got 111. Everything turned around then. I then got 120 against Somerset. And against Warwickshire I got 30 in the first innings batting at six and then opened in the second because of an injury and made 96 against Allan Donald, putting on 200 with Nathan Astle in the process. I should really have kicked on from that year.” Although he got capped at the start of the 1998 season, consistency deserted Dowman and by the end of 1999, the club released him, and he was picked up by Derbyshire.
A one-day match against his old club the next season provided a bitter-sweet moment for Dowman. “We chased down 270 and I got 70 not out. We needed nine off the last over and I hit a six and then a four off Gareth Clough to win it. The one real disappointment was that Clive Rice, who had released me, was nowhere to be seen. On the flip side, Mick Newell walked up to me through the chaotic scenes in the Derby dressing room, shook my hand and said: “That was brilliant mate – I’m really happy for you.” For me, that showed the difference in the two people. In terms of cricketing moments – it was up there with getting my cap. Real class.”
Dowman still plays for Lincolnshire and Quarndon CC in the Derbyshire Premier League, and any talk of Shivnarine Chanderpaul or glittering innings of 30 in his professional career will bring a wry smile from ‘Doomer’. He has certainly moved on but a word of advice from someone who knows. If you do fancy seeing him bat next season, get there early.