Matthew Elliott, born on September 28, 1971, was a prolific left-hander on the Australian circuit who only showed glimpses of his talent at the highest level. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about Elliott’s career.
Some players do not quite make it big despite obvious talent. It is either the fact they do not capitalize on their opportunities or are simply unlucky to be born in the wrong era. Matthew Elliott is someone who had the potential to establish himself in the Australian Test side, but after a few good performances, his form fell apart and he was relegated to the bench. Meanwhile, other talented players grabbed their opportunities and made themselves indispensable to Australia’s cause and Elliott lost out.
Born on September 28, 1971 in the town of Chelsea in Victoria, Elliott first played for the Victoria Under-17s in 1988. He continued to play at the age group levels for Victoria for a few years and made his First-Class debut during the 1992-93 season in the Sheffield Shield. Opening the innings in his first outing, he scored 24. In the second innings, he had a better outing as he scored 66. The youngster had given evidence of his talent and was then considered for the Victorian sides in the following years. During the next season he smashed two tons and it just improved from there on.
The 1995-96 season saw his arrival. Elliott was in great form as he smashed 1,233 runs at an average of 68.50 with five tons and four fifties. That propelled his selection into the Australian side for the next summer when the West Indies visited. He received his first baggy green at Brisbane, but was dismissed for naught by Curtly Ambrose in the first innings. In the second essay, he scored 21. However, it was only during the next Test that he showed a glimpse of his talent as he scored 78 when Australia were setting a total. He was retired hurt in that innings as he collided into Mark Waugh when they tried to complete a run. Elliott picked up an injury and couldn’t play in the remaining matches. Matthew Hayden entered the scene and hit his first Test hundred thereafter.
Nevertheless, Elliott still remained in the scheme of things touring South Africa with one good hit of 85 in the first Test. But, the Ashes tour in 1997 was to be his reckoning. Prior to the Tests, he made his one-day debut and could only manage a solitary run. In the second Test at Lord’s, he hit 112 in the first innings as no one else scored above 50 in for both sides (in the first innings alone).
In the fourth Test at Headingley, his knock of 199 helped Australia win the urn. In the first innings, Australia were tottering at 50 for four after England posted 172. There was some drama involved through as Graham Thorpe dropped an easy chance off Mike Smith. Elliott was on 29 then and went on to take Australia to 501.
The urn was in the bag and Elliott continued to grow at the highest level. Later that year, he scored his first Test ton at home — an innings of 114 against New Zealand at Hobart. Sadly, it started going downhill from that point onwards. He struggled during the South Africa series that followed and then only returned to the Australian side when they toured the Caribbean in 1999. That series too was a struggle as he got three blobs in as many Tests with a highest score of 44. Elliott was discarded thereafter.
It is said that Elliott could not cope up with the mental demands of the game. Steve Waugh wrote in his book Out of my Comfort Zone, that he was a “temperamentally flawed and prone to self doubt.” Coming from Waugh, it seems that Elliott did not fit into the Australian cricket’s scheme of things — which prides itself on being mentally tough. While he was out, others such as Hayden and Justin Langer went ahead in the pecking order and established themselves as a formidable pair.
In 2002, he turned out for Yorkshire in County Cricket and had a very good season. Then in 2003-04, he smashed 1,429 runs at an average 79.38 in the Australian domestic season. That won him the Pura Cup Player of the Year. With those numbers, he couldn’t be ignored and Cricket Australia recognized that effort by handing him a contract. When Ricky Ponting did not play one Test against Sri Lanka at home in 2004, Elliott came in his place at Darwin. But, he scored only one and duck, which ended his Test career.
After his international days, Elliott continued his prolific run in English county cricket. He then moved to South Australia from Victoria in 2005. Initially, his home state side was unwilling to let him go, but he won a battle against them. However, his time at South Australia wasn’t the best and he struggled to get going in First-Class cricket. At one point, he was dropped from the side as well.
But, his form in the one-day tournaments was good and he averaged over 50 there for two seasons for South Australia. At the end of the 2007-08 season, he quit domestic cricket. Elliott’s next big assignment was for the Chandigarh Lions in the Indian Cricket League (ICL).
That a man averaging 47 in First-Class cricket with 50 centuries didn’t do well in Tests was surprising. If only, he could have been consistent, he would have been a part of Australia’s world beating unit.