Damien Martyn, born on October 21, 1971, was an important member of the Australian world beating side in the 2000s. One of the classiest batsmen in their ranks, Martyn made his debut in the early 1990s as a remarkably talented batsman, but only established himself a few years down the line. Nishad Pai Vaidya revisits Martyn’s career.
With a silken touch to his batting, Damien Martyn was one of the most attractive batsmen in the Australian ranks. In their world beating era, there were quite a few power players who mercilessly slaughtered bowlers. Martyn too could dominate, but in his own away. He would merely caress and thread the ball through the gaps with that delicate approach. On his day, the bowlers had a tough task of dismissing him as he could dominate in a flash; an hour or two gone by and they would find him in total control.
Born on October 21, 1971, in Darwin, Northern Territory, Martyn honed his skills in Western Australia as a youngster. On debut for Western Australia Under-17s, he hit 86 while opening the batting against Victoria Under-17s in 1988. A year down the line, he smashed his first ton for them. With all the experience at the age group levels, Martyn was a part of the Australia Under-19s side until 1991. He also made his First-Class debut in January that year during a Sheffield Shield game against Victoria and also made appearances for the Leicestershire second XI. He did play one First-Class game for Leicestershire, that too against the formidable West Indians. Martyn’s 60 in the second innings would have been a great boost to his confidence given the quality of the attack he dealt with.
Martyn made swift progress through the ranks and got his maiden Shield ton against Tasmania. By the end of 1991, he had played for a few Australian representative sides against the touring Indians. He finished the 1991-92 seasons with 822 runs in 11 matches at an average of 51.37. He made it to the Australian side for the tour to Sri Lanka in 1992, although he did not get an opportunity to play a Test. With more runs coming early next season, Martyn was handed the baggy green in November when the West Indies arrived. Facing the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson and Ian Bishop on debut at Brisbane, Martyn scored a calm 36 batting at number five. In the second Test at Melbourne, he scored 67 not out in the second innings to help Australia set a huge target for the tourists.
That summer also saw Martyn make his one-day debut against the West Indians at Sydney. Over the next year, he was a part of the Australian setup featuring in ODIs and a few Tests. He didn’t play any of the Tests during the Ashes tour in 1993 and came back into eleven for the home series against South Africa. The game at Sydney was to be that fateful Test. In a low-scoring game, Australia managed to take a sizeable lead in the first innings and then bowled South Africa out quickly, leaving them with 117 to get in the final innings. Fannie de Villiers and Allan Donald wrecked havoc and destroyed the Australian top and middle-order.
At 75 for eight, it seemed a lost cause, but Martyn held firm with Craig McDermott. The duo took Australia closer and Martyn was in a battle of attrition having scored six from over 50 deliveries. At the doorstep of victory, Martyn decided to smash a delivery through the off-side and only ended up spooning a catch to the cover fielder. A run later, it was all over as de Villiers snapped McGrath off his own bowling to record a thrilling five-run victory. Martyn paid the price for that drive and was axed from the Test and ODI side that summer. On the domestic front, he was appointed the captain of Western Australia.
For nearly four years, Martyn found himself out of the Australian side, although he did make a few appearances for the A team. Then, during the 1997-98 season, he had a prolific time in the one-day tournament and was called up for the limited-overs squad during the tour to India in 1998. Thereafter, Martyn remained a member of the one-day setup, even playing the 1999 World Cup, which Australia won. His stakes in the one-day game kept rising and a maiden ODI ton came against New Zealand in the year 2000. And, another Test call finally came, after six long years; Martyn donned the white flannels for the Australians against New Zealand. In a series that was won by Australia 3-0, Martyn did make a mark with two fifties. However, he played only one Test next summer and was on the sidelines during the tour to India. While a regular in One-Day Internationals, he was yet to establish himself in Tests.
On the Ashes tour to England in 2001, Martyn cemented his spot in the Test side with an admirable performance. He set the ball rolling with a ton in the first Test and followed it up with another in the fourth. Then came revenge! When South Africa toured later that year, Martyn slammed a ton at Adelaide and then faced his nemesis at Sydney, the place where it all happened almost eight years ago. Setting up a base for an Austraian victory, Martyn’s ton in the first innings piled up the agony for the tourists. Martyn had well and truly recovered.
Martyn’s second wave was vibrant, but the best was yet to come. In the World Cup final of 2003, he hit 88 not out against India and largely went unnoticed thanks to Ponting’s carnage at the other end. That he was playing with the pain of a broken finger was an admirable thing as the World Cup was in the bag.
Australia were dominating each team that came along its way, but the sub-continent presented a major Test. That was to bring the best out of Martyn and when they landed in Sri Lanka in March 2004, Sri Lanka had taken a huge lead in the first Test and Australia needed something special in the second innings. Tackling a spin-attack spearheaded by Muttiah Muralitharan, Martyn hit 110 and contributed to a huge score of 512. Sri Lanka never recovered from there. In the second Test, he was back in business in a similar situation as he churned out 161 to ensure a huge victory. Australia won the contest 3-0 and he was their batting hero.
Later, on the “Final Frontier”, Martyn emerged as the soldier who breached a fortress and inspired his team-mates. Staring at a defeat in the second Test at Chennai, Martyn kept a rampaging Anil Kumble at bay to steal a draw. He combined with the obdurate Jason Gillespie to setup a tricky run-chase for India. His 104 was a major factor in keeping them afloat, although rain also played its part and washed out the final day with an intriguing setting on show. In the next Test, Martyn dominated the Indians on a greenish track at Nagpur with knocks of 114 and 97. The 114 came in testing circumstances as the Indian bowlers were looking to make inroads. However he sealed the deal in Australia’s favour and the 97 in the second innings put India out of the contest. The series was in their hands with an unassailable 2-0 lead and he was named the Man of the Series.
Martyn’s great form continued that summer at home and in New Zealand. He smashed two tons against a good Pakistan pace battery that summer and also hit 165 at Wellington. But, then came the rude shock. On the Ashes tour to England in 2005, he ran into tough times and scored over 30 only once in the five Tests. Despite the weight of runs from the previous year, he was shown the door from the Test side as the urn was lost. However, he did continue to play ODIs.
Then, early next year in South Africa, Martyn’s Test career was given a lease of life. In a tough run-chase in the third Test at Johannesburg his 110 held the Australians together and helped them seal a two-wicket victory. Many felt he was truly back. In the lead-up to the next summer, he had a great time at the ICC Champions Trophy 2006 and helped Australia qualify to the semi-finals. Then in the all-important final, Australia were jolted by two early wickets in pursuit of 147. However, Martyn looked in great control and his 47 not out ensured that they won the championship without further damage.
England then arrived Down Under for the Ashes 2006-07 and the talk was about revenge. Martyn also would have liked to get one back, but it wasn’t to be. In the second Test at Adelaide,he fished away from his body and spooned a catch at gully as Australia were in pursuit of 168. His wicket wasn’t a huge breakthrough as Australia were still in command of the game. Little did anyone know it was his last Test. Martyn shocked everyone by announcing his retirement with immediate effect and walked into sunset much to the surprise of his team-mates. There were some talks of a dressing room altercation, but they were put to rest. He later revealed to the Wisden Cricketer that he wanted to announce it after the Johannesburg Test but waited.
“Everybody in the group, if you walked around a team and told 15 blokes what you were thinking of doing, of retiring or doing this or that, you’d have 15 different answers. Some will be your mates who just don’t want your mates to go, some probably want you to go, you get a million different answers, so it’s something you just have to do yourself, stick by it and deal with it,” he said.
Post retirement, Martyn turned up at the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and for the Rajasthan Royals during the Indian Premier League (IPL), 2010. Recently, he was also seen trying his hand with commentary. An active member on the social media, he voices his opinion about the game on a public platform regularly. If only he had a glorious finish as an international cricketer.
In Photos: Cricketing career of Damien Martyn