Cricket: Astle looks for life after missed tour

By Todd Nicholls

Todd Astle at the crease in Colombo. Photo / Photosport
Todd Astle at the crease in Colombo. Photo / Photosport

Recently discarded Black Cap Todd Astle was not surprised to miss selection for the South African tour but hopes his performance in Sri Lanka was not a one-off.

Astle (26) will be watching on television when his former team-mates play in the first test on Wednesday and may, on the face of it, have every reason to feel aggrieved. He scored a vital 35 in the second innings in Colombo and rounded it all off by snaring his first test wicket.

In-form Auckland off-spinner Bruce Martin was chosen instead.

The Canterbury leg spinner (just the third selected since Jack Alabaster retired in 1972) knew well the selectors' thoughts about the type of player they wanted for South Africa. As with Ross Taylor's captaincy, their plans appeared pre-determined.

"Mike [Hesson] made it clear before the Sri Lankan tour they would be focusing on the quicks in South Africa, which is understandable.

Deep down I knew my chances were slim."

"There was some talk when Daniel Vettori was ruled out that I would get the call but I think my best opportunity may be when we tour the sub-continent again."

First chosen for Canterbury in 2005, Astle's story is one of persistence, reflected by his decision to concentrate on his legspin bowling in 2010.

"When I decided to make the change [from opening batsman to legspinner] I realised there were going to be some good days and some bad. The key for me was to be persistent and keeping working hard at my game."

Chris Martin played a central part in the change: "He got called up to the Black Caps in 2010 so I got my chance as a bowler against Otago and took my first five-wicket bag. I am not sure I would have got my chance otherwise."

Astle says Canterbury captain (and recalled Black Cap) Peter Fulton had given him the overs needed in recent seasons to bowl sides out.

"He's also provided plenty of protection with the fields he has set for me."

Fulton's faith has paid off: in 59 first-class matches, Astle has taken 130 wickets at 37.08, with 68 taken in the past two seasons. He has also scored a respectable 2179 runs at 24.21.

Astle's persistence is also undoubtedly a reflection of the influence of his father, Alec. A first-class cricketer himself, Alec is most noted for his work in education.

"He taught me to never give up and keep working hard," Astle says. "I remember when I was 12, heading along with dad on a tour and just continually working on my cricket. Because my initials are TD they started call me throw-downs because of the time I spent doing them with dad."

In recent years Astle hasplayed not only for Canterbury but spent off-seasons in England, mixing it all up with study in Sports and Recreation management. His is not the the story of a youth academy player. Astle had few expectations when selected for the Black Caps.

"I really didn't have too many expectations except reaching the goals that I had set for myself. I wasn't expecting to take a five-wicket haul, for example, if I did manage to get a start."

Astle's elation turned sour when the first test was lost: "The feeling in the changing-room after the first test was dark. Luckily the mood quickly changed within the camp and, when they said they were taking two spinners into the second test, I was hopeful."

Astle says batting with Ross Taylor in a crucial partnership in the second innings and taking his first test wicket were special moments.

"I just wanted to contribute and I think I managed that. Playing in that environment was a unique experience and something I will never forget."

- Herald on Sunday

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