DateLine: 14th November 2005
The case of Mark Saxelby will forever be a sad reminder of how professional sport plays with the emotions and personalities of it’s participants. Saxelby committed suicide in October 2000, after his First-class career had come to an end. Although impossible to know, it was widely thought that the closure of his professional career had been a contributory factor, and led to calls for more to be done to support the vast majority of professional cricketers who devote their 20’s to an insular, unreal profession which then deposits them back to society and largely lets them get on with it.
Saxelby had enjoyed a steady few seasons at Nottinghamshire, where he consistently averaged 30’s without scoring a First-class century. However, when Durham were looking for reliable solid professionals for the 1994 season, he fitted the bill, especially after leaving a calling card with an unbeaten 100* in the Sunday league in September 1993. Despite his home county being keen to keep him and his older brother Kevin having earlier served over a decade at Trent Bridge, he chose to start afresh in the North-East. The move provided the full season in the first team he had craved, and he cracked 181 on his Championship debut as Durham racked up 625-6 declared at Chesterfield. Both scores were then records for Durham. His next Championship match saw a fifty and another century. Although such a run was unsustainable, Saxelby’s form held sufficiently for him to post 1000 runs in a season for the first time. However, the first half of 1995 brought patchy form, and an average of just 17.96, and Durham released him, despite the fact that after a successful season as opener he had been dropped down to no.5 (to accommodate new Captain Mike Roseberry as opener).
Saxelby played Minor Counties cricket for Cheshire in 1996 and Cornwall in 1998. Following prolific form for league side Heanor Town, Saxelby was registered by Derbyshire for their Championship match against Lancashire with just seven minutes to spare. However, he then had to bat at no.6 (behind wicketkeeper Karl Krikken) as he was playing for the 2nd XI in Essex at the time and had to rush back to Derby after Matthew Dowman (who ironically took Saxelby’s place at Nottinghamshire in 1994) was a last minute withdrawal through injury. An unremarkable match saw him make 17 and 6, although if judging a player on one match was ever fair, it certainly wasn’t on this occasion, after his far from perfect preparation for the match.
His death was naturally came as massive shock, even to brother Kevin, who revealed that his quiet and reserved younger brother had always been more comfortable with the smaller crowds and more subdued settings of the Championship. It was thought that Saxelby had suffered from clinical depression for much if his adult life, although his death still raised pertinent questions about the level of support available for players on their departure from the professional game.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)