St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
St George's Park - Mark Rushmere
An astrologer would have little trouble working out a birth chart for Mark Rushmere.
It seems since the day he first walked onto a cricket field, his career was predestined to end in the premier arena. His rise to national prominence and superstar status was as natural, as inevitable, as the rising of the sun.
It was the tragedy of South African sport that the ultimate prize, real Test cricket, was denied him for so long. As such he was also destined to feel the frustration that came after season in, season out of playing the provincial cricket grind.
For 1988, though, he was the most exciting batting prospect seen in this country for a decade. Not so much for raw talent or the ability to take attacks apart, but for his admirable temperament, maturity beyond his years and the fact that he realized his enormous potential, even at the early age of 23.
At this age he captained Eastern Province and was the heir to the title when Kepler Wessels left. By 1988 he had scored seven first-class centuries in 64 innings, a remarkably high percentage, at an average of 43,39; holds the record for most runs scored in a Benson and Hedges series, 503, at an average of 71,85; became the first batsman in three decades to carry his bat for Eastern Province, and become the first-choice opening and No 4 batsman for Eastern Province.
He was undoubtedly the hottest property in South African cricket, yet he had numerous detractors. They pointed out a shortcoming in his technique against short-pitched fast bowling (Northern Transvaal seemed to exploit this in the Nissan Shield finals, when he was a failure, for once), which boils down to an inability to keep the ball down when hooking.
If that was all they could find wrong with the most reliable batsman Eastern Province had since Graeme Pollock, he was getting off lightly. It confirmed that the rest of his game was as solid as it seemed.
The predestined rise to his position started with his father, Colin, who played for and captained Eastern Province during the 1950s and '60s and, with former EPCU president Geoff Dakin set a number of batting records.
At that stage Rushmere was instrumental in guiding Mark in his footsteps, and clearly the apple did not fall far from the tree.
Mark was a natural for Nuffield honours, representing the side in 1982 and '83, and captaining SA Schools in both seasons, as well as captaining the SA Schools side who toured England in 1983.
His provincial debut, for Eastern Province B, followed inevitably in the 1983/84 season. Opening the batting, he was dismissed twice for single figures by Corrie van Zyl. His next match was even worse, as Northern Transvaal B dismissed him for 1 and 2. Clearly he had been thrown in too early.
He came into his own the next season, scoring 449 at an average of 89,80 for Eastern Province B, including centuries against Northern Transvaal B and Western Province B. He failed again at senior level, however, making just 22 runs in three innings.
Again that changed in his next season, as he powered his way to 447 runs at 49,66, including his first century for the senior team.
Another century and 410 runs in the 1986/87 season consolidated his position, and by the 1988 season he was firmly established as the leading young batsman in the country, and one of the great hopes for the future.
His presence at the top of the Eastern Province batting order helped give the side a near-international strength top order: indeed, no other provincial side could boast so strong a top order.
Winning the Currie Cup was Rushmere's top priority then. "We have a great bunch of guys here, a good team spirit, and hopefully we can add the Currie Cup to our Nissan Shield triumph in the not too distant future. I want to help EP win as many trophies as possible."
Captaincy comes next. "I have ambitions with regard to captaincy. I have always enjoyed captaining sides and hopefully I'll be given the opportunity." Inspirations have been varied: "My mentor has always been my father and he really has taught me a great deal about cricket.
"He started playing with me and my brothers in the nets at a very young age and I suppose I can consider myself fortunate to have been born into a cricketing family.
"Chris Storie, who coached me at Woodridge College for about eight years, also taught me a great deal and really was a tremendous coach. David Trist has also been a tremendous help."
And Wessels, of course. "He sets such a good example and you learn so much from following him. He really has done so much for Eastern Province and I consider myself very fortunate to be playing under him."
For the previous four seasons the Protea Cricket Annual had predicted big things for Eastern Province, an evaluation based on the enormous amount of talent in the area, talent which simply needed crystallisation and direction.
With players of the calibre of Rushmere, that golden age is around the corner.1988 Protea Cricket Annual