Mark Pettini is a bristling and of late saturnine presence at the top of the Essex order, a county cricketer unremarkable not in the pejorative sense, but in the way that lots of talented and hardworking men ply their trade without their names appearing in newspaper headlines or at the bottom of IPL contracts.
Yet his record contains some of the more arresting statistics in the first-class game. There is his 24-minute, 27 ball hundred against Leicestershire at Leicester in 2006. And then there is his career return as a bowler: 18.5 overs, 191 runs, 0 wickets, at an economy rate of 10.14 per over.
These records are not unconnected. Pettini's century came in the second inning of the last game of the season in Div Two, 2006. Essex batted first and made 486, scored at 3.30 runs per over. Leicester replied with 372-4 at 3.96 per over. Essex went in again, and scored 186-0 from 9.4 overs at a rate of 19.24 per over in an innings that was concluded in under half an hour. Pettini's 114 from 29 balls included 12 fours and 11 sixes. His partner, AN Cook [yes, him] made 66 from 32 balls, and managed a six of his own, too. Pettini's bowling figures were compiled in similar circumstances in other games: he is one of Essex's declaration bowlers, a reliable purveyor of floated flotsam, useless trex, hittable junk. It's a skill of sorts, but as of last week, one that is probably now confined to the past.
Collusion in county cricket has been longstanding, but it is impossible to see it surviving into our new and cynical age, an age in which the domestic fixture is 'at greater risk' than an international game, according to the ECB's Head Of Corruption Chris Watts. The era when one skipper would knock on the other's door and with pen and fag packet scope out an acceptable chase before working backwards to the number of dreck-filled overs required to set it up, must now be gone. For this was a calculation that would quite often be known to the local radio man and the BBC stringer as well as to the players on both sides, and no doubt the members who bothered to ask, none of whom would have dreamt of phoning the local bookie.
These were innocent passages of play regarded by all - except perhaps the fielding side - as a fitfully entertaining requirement of the wider contest. There were deeds both famous and ludicrous: Glen Chapple also made a 27-ball hundred, his in only 21 minutes, against Glamorgan at Old Trafford in 1993. Murray Goodwin got a ton in 25 minutes at Southgate. Andy Afford, the former Notts spinner, recalls a spell early in his career when he and Paul Johnson were required to bowl at Viv Richards while Somerset set up a game: for some reason Richards blocked everything that Johnson sent down but hit Aff for a six that rang the bell in the Trent Bridge pavilion, to great amusement all round. When Pettini got his hundred, Leicester opened the bowling with batsman Darren Robinson, who returned the figures of 4.4-0-117-0. As recently as 2010, Alastair Cook was required to turn his arm over against Bangladesh A, and bowled five overs for 111.
It already seems anachronistic, its astounding figures somewhat compromised by the accelerated glories of the Twenty20 game. The thought that a section of a professional match might be arranged by both sides so that they can compete to an unrehearsed conclusion is surely dead in 2012 under the gimlet eye of Chris Watts. Another connection with a less complex past has been cut.