In a new feature celebrating the true cult marvels of county cricket, Scott Oliver salutes the inestimable Luke Fletcher.
Name: Luke Jack Fletcher
Clubs: Nottinghamshire (and this season, Surrey on loan for the Championship)
Best of times: Beating Yorkshire at Headingley in 2011 after being 200 behind on first innings
Worst of times: Playing two of our four straight home T20 quarter-finals defeats
In his own words: “This is my eighth season. I do see this place as home. I think the fans warm to me because they know how I feel about the place. I’m wholehearted, and a local lad – and we’ve not got many. For me to leave Notts, it’d have to be their decision, not mine”
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Tony Hadley out of Spandau Ballet. If you want to talk proper Notts – one of the more difficult accents to pull off, voice coaches will tell you – then this is the sentence you have to master: Toneh Adleh aht ter Spandaah Balleh.
It’s an enunciation that poses few problems for Luke Fletcher, ‘The Bulwell Bomber’, one of two locals regularly featuring in a powerful Nottinghamshire side these last few seasons. Yet it’s not so much Tony as Sir Richard Hadlee whom Fletch would hope to emulate as he cranks that massive six-feet, six-inch frame into life from the Radcliffe Road End – a stand in which the Sky cameras often pick him out, having ferried a brew over to his parents.
After three months working as grill-man at Nottingham’s Hooter’s (the last in the country), he moved on to his first contract at Trent Bridge – working as a steward while the new stand was built, “because the club wanted to keep an eye on me when I was trialling. My job was to let the lorries in and out, and after that I’d train with the first team”.
At the time, he was turning out alongside Mark Footitt and Phil DeFreitas for Papplewick and Linby in the Nottinghamshire Premier League, but he “never took cricket seriously at all. I was just a club cricketer having a crack with his mates. I’d be out Friday nights, and Saturdays, then play Sunday league”. Age-group cricket wasn’t seen as a stepping stone to a career, either: “I enjoyed playing county juniors ‘cos you got a couple of days off school in the week”.
As a youngster, he could have gone into football. Having been scouted by Man City, Leeds, Forest and Notts County while playing in goal for Nottingham City Schoolboys at Wembley, he chose the latter “because my mates were there. I only lasted a few months, mind. They wanted agility, and I wasn’t the most agile between the sticks”. The player he says he’s most alike? Neville Southall.
His first bonus from Notts was spent on a shopping trip with Andy Carter, the pair buying identical G-star clobber from House of Fraser: “Me and him were normally in Primark, but we went big on some Ralph Lauren kit: XL jumpers, mainly”. Indeed, with their medieval tradesmen’s names and air of provincial nightclub bouncers (a delivery of which both are fond), Carter and Fletcher have been the comic epicentre of Notts’ dressing room latterly. In Fletch’s case, that hasn’t always been intentional.
On one occasion, twelfthersing over-enthusiastically at Canterbury, he shoved too hard at the dressing-room patio doors, sending glass cascading into his skipper’s kitbag. “The whole ground stopped and I was stood there with a big red face”.
On another, at Taunton, his time-keeping was found wanting: “Ready [skipper Chris Read] wanted me to start off after lunch. I was on the toilet – sitting down. I heard the bell go, and didn’t even wipe or anything. I literally pulled my kecks up and ran out there and bowled an over. At that end of the over I told the umpire I’d have to go off and sort myself out, for obvious reasons. I got back out just in time for the next over; everyone was in stitches”.
For all the mirth, and the girth, Fletch is no comic cricketer. A doughty tailender with a PB of 92, and a bowler with great stamina, heart and control, he may be unlikely to Waqar his way through a side like the bacteria from a badly grilled chicken thigh – in fact, a couple of years ago you could have squeezed him into a box marked ‘Honest Yeoman County Medo-Fastoes’ – yet so assiduously has he devoted himself to ‘hitting the hole’ that he’s being touted as a leftfield yorker specialist for England T20 honours. “It’s not something I go to bed thinking about”, he says, only half-convincingly.