It was quite sad to read yesterday that Ian Blackwell had been released by Durham at the age of 34.
A chronic shoulder injury may end any hope of a continuation of his first-class career, although dwindling returns, an ongoing battle with his weight and his age are unlikely to do him any favours. 11,000 runs at 40 and nearly 400 wickets at 36 are statistics that a player can be proud of, but I still think that Blackwell will finish his career as a talent that was largely unfulfilled from the player who emerged from Derbyshire Second XI.
From his early days at Derbyshire it was patently obvious that Blackwell could hit a long ball. With Ross Whiteley and Phil de Freitas he remains one of the cleanest hitters I have seen in club colours, though one could never see Blackwell playing the back-to-the-wall innings that Whiteley gritted out - against his nature - on occasions last summer. It was also clear that his biggest problem was a lack of footwork. Like David Gower, when the wicket was true and his eye was in, he was a wonderful sight. Yet any lateral movement saw him come undone and a bat far from his body gave it away more times than it should have.
His move to Taunton and Somerset was a dream. The best batting track in the country, coupled with fairly short boundaries meant that Blackwell built a reputation as a one-day player of some standing, capable of niggardly spells and some brisk and savage knocks. Yet he was largely found out at higher level, with only one fifty in 29 one-day innings, along with an average of just 14 and 24 wickets. Maybe it was a lack of opportunity to build an innings, but there were accusations of carelessness, poor running and immobility in the field.
Between 2003 and 2005, Blackwell was one of the most punishing batsmen on the county circuit and at Taunton the sixes rained from his bat. He eventually moved to Durham, where he gave solid service without quite replicating that earlier form, tempering his game a little on the more sporting northern tracks and proving a key component of a fine side.
Last year he didn't appear for them after May, partially due to injury, but went on loan to Warwickshire, who declined to sign him on a permanent basis. With known problems with his shoulder, it is hard to see who might take a risk on him in the future, unless it was on a pay-as-you-play deal. He could be a T20 asset to someone, but not if he can't bowl or throw.
It is a shame. Whenever I think of Ian Blackwell, my mind goes back to August 1996, when a visit to Chesterfield with my wife and young son saw us head into Queens Park for a stroll. There was a Second XI game in progress (which didn't surprise my wife...) and we took a seat in the old wooden stands that ringed the boundary at the lake end.
My eyes were drawn to a then slim left hander who was hitting the ball a country mile in taking us from 221-8 to 382-9. A further fifty then came for the last wicket before a declaration, with Trevor Smith making three of them. The young player finished unbeaten on 132 and I chatted with the then coach, Alan Hill, who told me that the young player was Chesterfield's own Ian Blackwell.
Maybe he should have stayed longer at Derbyshire, but this was a poor dressing room for a young player and Blackwell sought fame and fortune elsewhere. I'm sure he's made a few bob from his career, but the fame which could have been his never quite materialised.
That's a shame, because at his best, Ian Blackwell has been a very good cricketer.