On December 9, 2006, in the middle of an Ashes series broke the shocking news, especially for the Australian cricketing fraternity. Damien Martyn, 35, announced his retirement from cricket ahead of his home Test at Perth. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the events leading up to the unforeseen decision.
“I would like to advise of my retirement from cricket, effective from today…”
By the time Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland read the ensuing four paragraphs and probably even before he reached, “Yours sincerely, Damien Martyn,” he had already picked up the phone and called the batsman, requesting him to reconsider. When asked if he had discussed his decision with captain Ricky Ponting, Martyn had replied in the negative, reported the Sydney Morning Herald, as it would have clouded his mind and he did not want anyone to try and “talk him around”. Martyn had confirmed that it was not a knee-jerk reaction and that he had given it a thought for a good 48 hours before making up his mind. When asked to reveal his current location, Martyn had refused to give Sutherland anything more than he was not in Western Australia, where the Australian team was perched for the upcoming Perth Test.
After giving up on trying talking sense into Martyn, Sutherland immediately rang up Cricket Australia’s Perth headquarters and asked them to stall the announcement of the squad for the third Test starting December 14. Contrary to what many, and perhaps Martyn himself, had expected his name was originally included on the sheet. Martyn, 35, had aggregated just 35 runs in his last three innings, and although he was under some pressure to keep his spot in the first 11, never did anyone think that he would take such a drastic step. However, there were strong rumours that all-rounder Shane Watson would be brought in for Martyn if the latter failed at Perth, and that the third Test would be his last shot at proving himself. You could understand him feeling aggrieved, given that he had come from a stellar Champions Trophy in India, having being named Man of the Match twice.
Thus, when Martyn took this call, the who’s who of Australian cricket came out and expressed their shock in tributes. Captain Ponting, one of Martyn’s best mates and best man at his wedding, said: “This decision is obviously something Damien has thought long and hard about and I know that I and all of the other members of the team will miss him greatly. Damien is one of the world’s most unsung players in both forms of the game and I don’t think it is really understood how good a player he actually is…He is one of those players who, as the conditions and situations got harder and more difficult, the better he became.” Ponting, who was reportedly golfing with Stuart Clark when he got the call from Sutherland, couldn’t help but drop his jaw when he heard the news.
Speaking to the press, Sutherland said on Martyn, “He’s really reflected on retirement in the last couple of days, but he also reflected with me [in our conversation] that even in India he was struggling.” Sutherland then denied that Martyn had been dropped for the Perth Test. “I know what the team was for the third Test prior to Damien’s announcement. Damien was selected so I wouldn’t want anyone to think he’s been dropped, because he wasn’t. For me, what sticks out from this is that we have a player who has really, in his heart of hearts, made a decision about a level of motivation and commitment that he has to play the game.”
Martyn’s Western Australia (WA) coach Wayne Clark, who had coached him from age 15, was also unaware of the decision before it came to light. However, he suspected that Martyn had been thinking about it for a while, and got the impetus after his bizarre dismissal in Adelaide when he over-aggressively tried to charge and slash Andrew Flintoff past point, but was out caught.
“Damien’s always been a bit different,” said Clark. “There are a lot of guys he hasn’t spoken to, so I’m not disappointed. I’ve been involved with him as a 15-year-old when he first came into the game, and he’s just been an exceptional talent. He’s the sort of guy that everything happened for so quickly that he did get a bit extreme at times. He went through some very disappointing times, especially after he was dropped from that Sydney Test match against South Africa [in 1994], he was made the scapegoat of that.”
Martyn was all but crucified for a loose shot on that day Sydney in 1994 and was banished from the Test team, not to return for six years. After his return in 2000, he went on to establish himself at the No 4 position in the batting line-up and secured his first Man of the Match award when he was 30, with a Test average of over 50. His annus mirabilis was 2004 when he scored six centuries in the calendar year. However, after a poor Ashes series in 2005 involving a few unlucky dismissals, Martyn was made the scapegoat of Australia’s 2-1 loss and was dropped again. He returned to the team for the 2006 tour of South Africa, where he scored a match-winning 101 in the third Test at Johannesburg. However his five Test innings since that century include scores of 4, 7, 29, 11 and 5. Perhaps, he did not want to suffer the humiliation of being dropped again.
There was another factor of Martyn’s psyche which was highlighted by Matthew Hayden in his autobiography Standing My Ground. Out of Martyn’s 13 Test centuries, nine were scored overseas “and maybe that said something about the fact that he was more comfortable away from the searing spotlight of a domestic summer,” wrote Hayden. “And no domestic summer was more claustrophobic than an Ashes summer. After South Africa, Marto was back in the fishbowl and to him it seemed full of piranhas. The press were questioning his form and I know English players were sledging him with lines like ‘We got you once and we will get you again.’ We knew at the start of the summer that Marto would probably be a media target. We talked about ways he could handle it, but there are a few places to hide in an Ashes series. He was a bit like a coral trout hiding in the coral, worried about a circling shark. He’s sit motionless for an age, then duck out occasionally before scurrying back to shelter.”
Hayden, who himself was not in the best of form during that series, also talks about an incident following Australia’s epic win at Adelaide, when he refused to go and have a beer with Martyn, Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones after the match because “I didn’t want to be mates with the Poms at that stage…I joined Alfie [Justin Langer] and Pigeon [Glenn McGrath] outside…We were sitting on the steps outside the [dressing] room and admiring [the full moon] when Marto came out with that cocky swagger of his, and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I grabbed Marto and said, ‘Mate, you have been the biggest wanker on the planet here, and I’m supposed to be one of your mates. Have you ever looked outside yourself and realised I’m struggling too? A person who has gone out of his way to help you?’ At first Marto thought I was joking. But it was no joke. Marto left abruptly, and the news broke a few days later that he’d decided to retire.”
Martyn retired after a career involving 67 Test matches where he scored 4,406 runs at 46.38, including 13 hundreds and 23 half-centuries. He was a much more prolific one-day player, scoring 5,346 runs in 208 matches at 40.80, including five centuries and 37 fifties. One of his most memorable innings came in the 2003 World Cup final against India when he scored an unbeaten 88 from 84 balls that played a big part in Australia’s win.
Here is Martyn’s entire retirement statement:
“I would like to advise of my retirement from cricket, effective from today. I do so with a deep
awareness of the opportunities that the game and Cricket Australia have provided for me. However, I’m also aware of the tremendous challenges facing Australian cricket including this current Ashes series. Such challenges require people who are more than 100 per cent committed, dedicated, disciplined and passionate about the game, what it seeks to achieve and how those involved in the game can best serve cricket, sport and the wider community.
“I feel, therefore, it’s time for me to move aside. I have enjoyed everything the game has given me. I have gained from it more then I could have ever imagined. I have made, in the playing of cricket, lifelong friends. In particular, I want to thank the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting and all members of the current Australian Test and one-day sides. They have always been utterly supportive, totally professional and completely committed to all that their responsibilities require of them.
“I said to myself when I made this decision in the last 48 hours that I may lose friends in doing what I’m doing. But I also said to myself that if I stayed doing what I was doing I may equally lose respect for myself and the friendship of those around me who are entitled to expect from me more than 100 per cent.
“I wish everyone associated with Cricket Australia the very best. In going, I’d like to commend the game to anyone who wants to achieve personal satisfaction, who wants to make good friends and wants to be part of a value system which will serve them long after they finish playing the game.”