Thu, Dec 7, 2023 10:20 AM

Ton-up time looms for cricketing stalwart


Peter Jones

Reaching 100 runs is one of cricket’s most notable feats. Attaining a century of games for your province is even more remarkable.

On Saturday, when the Marlborough men’s senior rep side stride onto Saxton Oval to take on old foe Nelson in a Hawke Cup qualifying match, Matthew Stretch will achieve that feat, becoming just the fourth Marlburian to reach the milestone.

The 28-year-old’s rep career began in 2011, debuting at the Chapple Cup tournament in Napier as a young wicketkeeper/batsman.

Since then, remarkably, he has missed just two of Marlborough’s rep matches. The first was when he had glandular fever and the second when he travelled to Adelaide last year to watch his father, Greg Stretch, play for the NZ A over-50 side.

Matthew recalls his rep introduction. “I went up [to Napier] as a sort of back-up keeper to Mitch Croft, then he was injured in the first game and I got my first cap … and I have played every game, bar two, since then.”

There have been many highlights along the way, including a match-winning unbeaten century in a Hawke Cup qualifier against Nelson in the 2021-22 season.

“That was pretty cool … of course I would like to have scored more hundreds, but contributing to a team win can mean just as much as personal success. I remember scoring 46 against a pretty strong Canterbury Country attack when I was 16 or 17 … when you look back it doesn’t seem much in terms of runs but I shared in a partnership that helped us eventually win on day two.

“We also qualified for four or five zone finals in a row, another fond memory, although we didn’t quite get across the line to earn a challenge. If we had, I think we had the team to have had a good crack at winning [the Hawke Cup]. When I was younger keeping to the likes of Brendon Diamanti, Ben Wheeler, Nick d’Auvergne and other top bowlers … that was quite a thrill.

“Then there was the off-field camaraderie, that was always great fun, I have been fortunate to play alongside such a good bunch of guys for the last 10 years … whether it was over on the coast or up north we always made it fun, which makes the not-such-good days in cricket much more bearable. I have also made many friends outside of the region through cricket … you build a pretty strong cricketing network.

“Another highlight was playing in the reps alongside my father – I think I had 20-odd games with him”, added Matthew.

Matthew Stretch on the drive. Photo Peter Jones

However, Matthew has a long way to go if he is to match Stretch senior’s longevity. He represented the province from 1986 to 2014, playing a record 209 games. They are the only father/son combination to both play a century of games for Marlborough, a special feat, especially nowadays with players regularly coming in and out of the rep side.

He credits his father with providing support and advice along the way, along with Jarrod Englefield and Colin Wood who have been “key coaches and mentors over the years”.

“They have provided countless hours of coaching and help which has been awesome”.

So, what brings him back season after season? “I still enjoy the challenge of testing myself against the better players from around the region,” said Matthew. “I love playing for Marlborough and trying to perform for the province.

“I guess a passion for Marlborough started early when I was a young fella. I used to be down watching most games the senior team played. I also think sport is a bit like a drug, it has a certain way of keeping you coming back for more of those good days and special moments.”

He began his rep career behind the stumps, as an accomplished gloveman and handy batter down the order. However, when future CD player Ma’ara Ave came on the scene he opted to pass on the wicketkeeping duties and honed his skills as a spin bowler who batted higher in the order. This season, due to a lack of young keepers in the region, he has donned the gloves once more and encourages youngsters to take up the specialist role.

“[Keeping] is really enjoyable. It is also a good opportunity to get into teams … you have the chance to be in the game every ball and if you are half decent there is usually a place for you in various rep sides.”

Matthew Stretch at the bowling crease. Photo Shuttersport

He has also relished his spin bowling role. “I used to bowl seamers when I was a young tacker but soon turned to throwing a few nude offies down and have managed a few decent efforts, usually in a holding role, especially in the one-day stuff,” he adds modestly.

Matthew, who has represented Central Districts at under-16, U-17, U-19 and CD A level, has no aspirations to push for higher honours.

“A few years ago, I realised that playing for Marlborough was the highest standard I needed … work obligations had begun to have an impact and to be able to play without the pressure of unduly worrying about results meant there was more enjoyment.

“That has what has been good over the last few years. Just going out there and playing as hard as possible to perform, but also being able to fully enjoy the things that come with sport, such as the comradeship and the trips away.”

So, no matter how many runs this ‘youthful veteran’ makes for Marlborough on Saturday, he can raise his bat to an innings well played – his commitment a shining example to those who follow.

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