In late autumn 2005, Warwickshire all-rounder Alex Loudon was selected by England for their tour to Pakistan.
The 24-year-old had enjoyed a strong first season at Edgbaston after signing from Kent, harvesting 771 championship runs and 34 wickets.
In late spring 2007, Loudon scored three centuries in four home games for the Bears: 104 against Lancashire, 105 against Durham and 103 against Hampshire. The second of those innings was skilfully and elegantly compiled on a difficult pitch. In the third, he reached his hundred with 14 in three balls from Shane Warne. This guy could bat.
In autumn 2007, Loudon, aged 27, retired from cricket.
“If I had three or four lives I would have loved one to have been in cricket,” he reflects almost a decade later. “But there were other things I wanted to do.”
Many people were surprised by his decision to quit. Some, desperate to carve out a life in cricket, found it hard to fathom. Why turn your back on a potentially excellent career?
But actually, when you hear Loudon’s reasoning behind that decision, it’s not so hard to understand.
He enjoyed cricket, up to a point, and happened to be pretty good at it. But it just wasn’t what he wanted to do.
“I reflect very fondly and gratefully on my time at Warwickshire,” he said. “In my first year, 2005, I had a decent year and it turned into a pretty momentous one when I was picked for the Pakistan tour. Ashley Giles was carrying an injury and England were looking at other spin options and I played in a couple of warm-up games before going off to join the A tour of India.
“I played for England A in ’06 and ’07 and was around the senior one-day team in ’06 so was around the set-up for 18 months, but really I was picked ahead of my learning curve. There was a lot of talk about my doosra but, to be honest, I always regarded myself as a batsman who bowled a bit. I was a decent bowler on my day but never a front-line spinner.
“Going into 2007 it was clear that, to have an England career, I had to score 1,500 runs and take 50 wickets a season over a number of years. I tried to work out how likely it was that I could play at the top level and, to be honest, captain there. I have always been very motivated by leadership. I asked myself ‘could I captain England?’
“That sounds very arrogant but, with other interests I wanted to pursue, if cricket was not going to take me where I wanted, I was happy to look elsewhere.
“At the start of 2007 I played well and scored three centuries and even that did not totally satisfy me. To do that and still not feel content and not be totally inspired suggested it might be time to call it a day.
“I had joined Warwickshire with John Inverarity as coach and Nick Knight captain and they had just won the championship, but then the club had to rebuild under Mark Greatbatch. That process always takes time and I asked myself did I want to be one of the people driving that?
“Towards the end of 2007 the answer became clear. I found myself thinking at each ground this might be my last visit. In my last game, at Old Trafford, I said to a couple of friends ‘if I get a century I’ll carry on in cricket.’ I got 80. I think I might have backtracked if I made a hundred because really my mind was made up!”
So while Warwickshire’s rebuilding began under Ashley Giles, Loudon left to study for an MBA, specialising in finance, at London Business School. Degree secured, he became a corporate financial analyst, specialising in mergers and acquisitions, for SABMiller, based in London and, for a year, in Africa.
Some business experience banked, Loudon co-founded a fitness business, Power of Boxing Ltd, in Battersea, and has recently launched a growth equity fund. Aged 36, his business career has only just begun.
He could still have been playing county cricket had he chosen that route, of course. These days, though, his cricket is limited to around ten games a season for the Arabs (a nomadic team founded by EW Swanton) and other clubs.
A waste of talent? No. It’s his talent and if it wasn’t fulfilling him then staying in cricket would have been the waste.
Loudon remains very comfortable with his decision to bail out.
“I never regretted it,” he said. “After I retired I spoke to one county about playing some games on a casual basis but they wanted more time from me than I could give. I was interested in playing on a part-time basis and I think there is possibly a wasted resource there for counties. I would love to see some sort of arrangement whereby people who, for whatever reason, can’t commit to it full-time could still play county cricket.
“One of county cricket’s great strengths is its diversity and everyone benefits from that. Some people playing as amateurs could have a lot to offer in terms of mentoring and mindset.”
Interesting thoughts from an interesting and thoroughly genuine guy who remains highly-respected at Edgbaston and who reflects warmly upon his time there despite his three years comprising a thin time for the team – and concluding with the rancour and recrimination of double relegation under Greatbatch.
There were happier moments for Loudon the Bear. A Lord’s final appearance, in the C&G Trophy against Hampshire. A T20 five-for (one of only three ever recorded by Bears bowlers) against Glamorgan at Swansea. And, most memorably, a stake in one of the most dazzling partnerships in the club’s history.
On a damp morning at Edgbaston, Loudon went in to join debutant Kumar Sangakkara with the Bears 23 for four on a green pitch against a high-class Durham pace-attack. The pair added 229 – Sangakkara 149, Loudon 105 – as the Sri Lankan unfurled a batting masterclass of which his partner was thrilled to have the perfect view.
“Kumar had just arrived from Sri Lanka but played brilliantly,” he said. “I remember there was almost no technical chat out in the middle, we just kept it quite light-hearted. When you are batting it is two against 11, but batting with Kumar it seemed much more even than that.
“He is the most skilful cricketer I ever played with or against and it was a privilege to bat with him.”
A typically generous appraisal from a man who remains utterly content with his career-choices. For the record, Loudon also batted well – very well indeed – that day. But it’s others, rather than he, who are tempted to look back and ask ‘what if…?’
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