Mal Loye: "I believed I was a better player than Michael Vaughan"

T20 BLAST FROM THE PAST - KISHAN VAGHELA speaks to the former opening batsman about sweeping fast bowlers, his fleeting international career and concussion

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"There was method in the madness". The antithesis that Mal Loye employs not only emphasises just what a unique cricketer he was for his era but also symbolises the early inklings of progressive strokeplay that is seen in the game today.

His head coach duties with Derbyshire's second XI and work with the academy makes him wonder how he manages ten minutes to himself, but at the crease that period of time was often sufficient in exhibiting his truly destructive mannerisms wielding the bat.

His trademark weapon was the sweep shot off the quicks, but amidst trying to comprehend what brought him to pull off the extravagance against a resolute force such as Brett Lee, the opposites did really attract. There really was a thought process in performing the unthinkable.

"In one-day cricket they [the fast bowlers] were consistent up front, you knew their line and their lengths, so it was a calculated risk that came off and put them off what they were trying to do which was to create pressure.

"I would like to say to you that I did practice it, but I didn't! It was a shot which if I was going to play it, I was going to get some runs for it. In the nets it doesn't quite work like that, so I suppose I played it in the heat of the battle and the adrenaline.

"I just knew if I was in a good position and I backed myself to roughly know where the ball was going to be, I was going to get some bat on it. That is how I prepared for that, at the time there was a little person on my shoulder that would say 'go on, have a go' and luckily for me it generally came off.

"Today it is very different, batsmen play many types of sweeps, and they practice it rigorously as well. They wear it on the head, on the chest on the shoulder, because they know the skill of the bowler has gone to another level and they can adapt as well.

"It is nice to be known as one of the first to invent or create the sweep shot against the fast bowlers, but it is nothing new now and maybe in the Hundred-ball competition another shot will be invented. It is just the way the game is going now."

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Loye was credited as a pioneer in the county game

It is however the invention of The Hundred as an enterprising, pioneering project which has drawn the most controversy from detractors and sceptics alike.

But the anxious wait the ECB and the cricket community face in the next 12 months before the litmus test gets underway reminds Loye of the disregard with which T20 cricket was treated upon its inception in 2003.

The tactical knowledge was scant and underdeveloped, yet it was the buzz in Loye's first 20-over encounter for Lancashire that instantly made him believe the format would kick off in the country.

"A couple of years before it [T20 county cricket] came about, everybody was a bit skeptical. They felt like the game was almost going backwards.

"But I just remember the first game, it was at Trent Bridge, I was playing for Lancashire and we looked around and there were 15,000 people there and we thought 'they are on to something here' and the rest is history.

"Nobody knew tactically how to go about things, but it was something that evolved. We only had four or five games then back in 2003, but the game has evolved massively since then.

"When people talk about The Hundred ball and are a bit negative towards it, I always go back to that moment when everybody was saying it was like going back to junior cricket, this 20-over-a-side that we always played in the midweek, and I just think with The Hundred ball and the amount of money that is being put into it, it has got to work, and I think it will work.

"It will be something incredible that will freshen up the county game and is a little bit different to T20 cricket as well. It is something different, something new and it is heavily backed, so it has got to work."

Those very descriptions applied to the former Northants and Lancashire opening batsman, particularly in the limited-overs format, and saw him excel on the county level.

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But that England call-up still hadn't arrived. Would it ever? The saying goes that a loss for one person opens the door for another, and the opportunity finally landed at his doorstep when Michael Vaughan had torn his left hamstring.

Coverage of the news described Loye as cover for the former England captain, and despite seven England ODI appearances the man himself believes his selection ahead of Vaughan should have been a more permanent fixture.

"I don't think I was cover for Vaughan, I actually believed that I was a much better player, especially in that form of the game, than him.

"It was a selection that even now I feel that they got wrong with his ability in the ODI format.

"Maybe I was a bit unlucky, maybe I was getting to an age where you are not really looked upon as an up and coming player, but at the time I felt that I probably deserved a shot, and I got a shot, and I kind of changed the way we went about taking on the opposition in the top 10.

"It probably wasn't just my age. I put my hands up, I probably wasn't an extremely athletic fielder, I think that was one major issue.

"But I think that during the 2007 World Cup I know I should have played just because of where the game was going. As a side at the time with someone like Vaughan in it, it was going backwards, not forwards.

"The proof was in the pudding; we missed a trick and they failed."

While England's World Cup victory this summer was the light at the end of the tunnel which began with nearly moments such as the 2007 World Cup, one of the major talking points to come from this summer's tournament was the discussion around concussion.

Loye himself experienced something similar to what Hashim Amla, Hashmatullah Shahidi and Alex Carey all suffered this summer when he ducked into a bouncer from Glenn McGrath at the SCG in 2007 that he had top edged into his grill.

Stitches were required to close the gash on his chin and X-rays revealed no broken bones, but even the undetected issue of the impact would not have forced him off.

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Loye played seven times for England

"I was concussed that day. I had a point where I blanked out a little bit, but when I look back now it was a situation where it was poor judgement on my part.

"Vaughan was always coming back into the side because he was captain, and I felt I had to bat on. It is as simple as that. Knocked out or locked out I wanted to play for England, and I was desperate.

"I would never have said anything to the physio or anything that I blacked out for a second there, which I did. I knew I needed a score, so that I gave the management a bit of a headache and that they had to pick me ahead of Vaughan.

"Because it is not a physical injury that you see I think that comes down to the experts and the physios and the doctors on site and how they make a call and make a judgement on whether that player is concussed.

"There are players out there like me before who don't want to admit concussion, not just in cricket but in all sports, because of the time they are going to be out of the game, and you don't want to lose your place."

Whether participating in this era or in previous, that competition for places was a relentless game of cat and mouse for Loye.

However, despite his international frustrations, it was in domestic circles where he extracted all possible enjoyment from the game.

A player who embodies the term 'ahead of his time', Loye has no grudges of playing in an era when he was one of the few, not the many, to go about his game in an astonishingly audacious manner.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the era I played in. It was very much an evolving time going into T20 cricket and how the one-day format changed as well, that was a lot to do with T20 cricket.

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The former opener has sympathy with the current generation

"Now I think players' athleticism has got to be as high as their skill level, whereas in my day you probably got away with that a little bit and the era before very much so.

"I have no regrets of the era I played in and I feel sorry for this generation because there is such a focus on the shorter format of the game that it is very difficult to adapt to the longer format, whereas the foundations of my era with four-day red-ball cricket, it was easier to adapt to the one-day and T20 stuff.

"As a coach now I know everything is scrutinised, everything is analysed to the ball and the over. Every player has plans now, there is something in place for every situation, different scenarios, different pitches and different grounds. Tactically it is at another level.  That is backed up by the support staff that we have in the competition, and that is the same all around the world.

"The game, certainly from a playing perspective, the opportunities out there is huge to play T20 all across the world with different franchises. It is a wonderful opportunity and with that the players have got a lot lot better, they play in the different conditions they are in and they are always going to get better."

Players deliberately eschew from embroiling themselves in cricket politics, but it is player improvement which brings about the thought processes that result in competitions such as The Hundred.

But there have to be physical bodies, inspiring, charming and swashbuckling players which can act as the driving force of its development. Loye himself, as he continues to train the next generation, was one of those.

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