My Favourite Game: Neil Mallender

Somerset County Cricket Club have been fortunate to have been represented by some outstanding players who have featured in some memorable games.

During this winter we will be speaking with several former players to discuss their favourite games for the Club.

The latest former player to tell us about his favourite match is fast bowler, Neil Mallender.

Between 1987 and 1994 Neil appeared in 118 First Class matches, taking 329 wickets at 25.78 with a best of seven for 61 against Derbyshire at Taunton. He also scored 1461 runs.

Born in Yorkshire in June 1961, Neil spent seven seasons at Northamptonshire where he made his debut in 1980, so how did he end up coming to Somerset?

“Although Northants had been very good to me I decided that I needed a move to almost kick start my career,” he explained. “I was almost lined up to go to Yorkshire but they had a change in captaincy and were told that they couldn’t approach me until the new year. At that time I was out playing in New Zealand with Otago and Somerset approached me. Brian Rose then flew out and signed me up in Dunedin.

“Brian did a good job on me because I’d never seen the ground before I signed for the Club and he told me that they were good pitches to bowl on at Taunton. I’d played for Northants against Somerset for seven years but it was always at Weston or Bath.

“I loved the ground but when I got to Taunton the pitches were pretty decent to bat on. It’s a lovely part of the country and I still love to go back and umpire there. I’ve got fond memories of my time at Somerset.”

Neil is no stranger to the West Country because as a teenager he spent a couple of years living in Somerset, as he explained: “I lived in Yeovil for two years when I was 13 or 14 and went to Westfield School. I played all sports and was lucky that Mum and Dad encouraged me.

“Yeovil Golf Club was the first club I was a junior member at. I love my golf and have got very fond memories of that as well. I’m playing off two at the minute. I’ve played golf for 50 years and love it. It’s a good course is Yeovil and I was pleased to be able to go back and play there again a few years ago.”

So what about a favourite match for Somerset?

“There are a couple that stick out for me. They were against Sussex and we won both games.

“In 1989 we played them at Taunton fairly early on in the season and I got five wickets in the first innings and seven in the second. It was one of the few times that we had a juicy green top.

“The other time was at Hove in August 1990 when I set a ninth wicket record partnership with Chris Tavare. I was a bit lucky because I was batting with a hamstring injury. We had bowled first and I should have been given out LBW to Tony Pigott before I had scored but got away with it.

“Tony Dodemaide then hit me on the head, so I gritted my teeth and said ‘sod it, you’re not going to get me out now!’ Chris played brilliantly and got 200+ at the other end and I ended up 87 not out as we set a Club record of 183 for the ninth wicket against Sussex.

“Adrian Jones then came in at number 11 to join me and was 24 not out at the close. They said to me the next morning that I could have four overs to try and get your hundred, but I turned it down because I wasn’t necessarily a big hitter of the cricket ball.

“It was quite bizarre because the sea fret came in for the first hour or so of the next morning and it was the perfect time to bowl. Although I couldn’t bowl, we needed to make the most of that hour so declared and ended up winning the game.

“Chris Tavare was a good man and a hell of a player. One of the hardest hitters of the ball you could see.”

Another memorable occasion for Neil whilst he was playing for Somerset was his call up to play for England.

“I also got my chance to play for England when I was with Somerset. I had been on standby a couple of times when I was out in New Zealand when they had a few injuries and I was doing well for Otago, but it all came around when least expected.

“We were playing a Sunday League game at Leicester and I was sitting having breakfast with Peter Robinson when one of the waitresses came over and told me that there as a phone call for me. I thought something must have happened at home and went over to take it but it was Graham Gooch congratulating me on being selected in the squad.

“Initially you think it’s a team mate winding you up, and it did come as a bit of a surprise.

“It was against Pakistan at Headingley where it went well for me. I didn’t know I was playing until the toss which was probably a good thing because half an hour later we were bowling and I was in the game

“That was a great occasion for me and we won that match. I got three wickets in the first innings and five in the second, but then we got hammered at the Oval.”

After retiring from playing Neil became an umpire; a role he still enjoys.

“I got onto the reserve list in 1997 and then onto the main list in 1999. Now I’m the longest serving on the list. The time has flown by to think I’ve done it for 25 years, and hopefully I can do it for a few more yet.

“I’ve been really lucky. I’ve played for three great teams (Northants, Otago and Somerset), met a lot  of people along the way, made some great friendships and travelled the world on the back of it.”

Neil added: “Taunton is my favourite ground out of all the counties to stand at. I love going there and I only wish they’d send me a little bit more.”