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Martin Love, born on March 30, 1974, was a prolific run-getter in the Sheffield Shield for Queensland. Despite touching glorious heights in the domestic circuit, he played just five Tests for Australia. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at his career.
In the 1994-95 season, when Queensland met South Australia in Sheffield Shield final, the former had in their ranks a bright prospect by the name of Martin Lloyd Love. He hadn’t yet fired on all cylinders, but just like a slew of talented youngsters coming through the ranks, Love was expected to pen his mark in the domestic and international circuit in the years to come.
The final though, was played at The Gabba in Brisbane. Those days, The Gabba was notorious for seam movement on the first day. Now, it didn’t surprise anyone that South Australia was bowled out for a meagre score of 214 in the first innings. When Love walked into bat for Queensland, future star, Mathew Hayden and Trevor Barsby had already erected a solid platform for them to build a huge total. However, it was Love who virtually took the game away from the opposition with 146 runs. It has to be remembered that it was Allan Border’s final First-Class game as well. Love gave a fitting tribute to the great man, as Queensland won the Sheffield Shield after 68 long years. The champagne would have flowed on the youngster all night.
The Mundubbera born Queensland batsman, Love had a unique style of batting. He would stay tall at the crease to essay majestic backfoot punches. It was all about economy of movement for him. He rarely came well-forward, but would do just enough to bisect the fielders mainly through the off-side. His simple strategy certainly proved to be a recipe for success in the domestic circuit, as he aggregated mountains of runs for Queensland.
Unfortunately, Love played in an era when Australia’s cupboard was brimming with supremely talented batsmen. It resulted in him having to wait until the 2002-03 season to get selected to play for Australia. With Mark Waugh being shown the exit door in 2002, a spot opened up for fringe Australian players to show their mettle.
Love was one of the obvious candidates to fill the gaping hole left by Mark Waugh. With Love amassing double centuries in successive games against the touring England setup in warm-up games, he was picked to play in the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the Ashes 2002-03. In that Test, he scored a well-measured half-century.
Such was the fierce competition for the places in the Australian setup that one single failure tended to result in the player being sent into the world of wilderness. Love lost the plot in the Sydney Test of the Ashes series and got out for a duck. When he got another chance against Bangladesh in 2004, he couldn’t open his account either.
In the second Test played against Bangladesh in 2004 at Cairns, Love finally showcased his uncanny ability to find gaps in the field with needlepoint precision and aggregated a century. But with the well-established Damien Martyn coming back from injury, he lost his place. Curiously, he didn’t play again for Australia.
Love though, continued to be a fulcrum of Queensland’s batting line-up. In the 2006-07 season, he crossed 10,000 runs for the state and with it, he went past Stuart Law’s mark for most runs by a Queensland batsman too.
Unfortunately for Love, he suffered from ‘Bell’s Palsy’ — a form of paralysis the next season. However he convalesced from it and went onto play for Queensland in the 2008-09 season. He signed off his career with a rip-roaring double-hundred against New South Wales (NSW) at his home ground, The Gabba. The NSW attack had a few handy bowlers, but Love played with immense concentration and his prowess left the opposition bowlers clueless. Love was also a prolific run-getter in County cricket. In the 2002 season, he essayed a knock of 251 for Durham. During that time, it was a County record for Durham. He broke his own record by accruing 273 the next season itself.
Since walking into retirement life, he has been added to the coaching setup of Queensland. Martin Love can consider himself unlucky that he played in the wrong era in Australian cricket. He though has to go down in the annals of the Sheffield Shield, as one of the towering giants to have graced Australian domestic cricket.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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