Former BLACKCAPS opening batsman and Wellington Firebirds first-class run-scoring record holder Matthew Bell has pulled up stumps after 17 years of first class cricket.
Bell, 33, today announced his retirement from all forms of the game after struggling with niggling injuries over the past two seasons.
“It’s a big decision because I love the game but I no longer have the commitment required to train and perform at the highest level,” he said.
“It’s a decision that’s been coming for a while now. But it’s time for me to get on with the next phase of my life and to let some of the younger guys have the same chances that I’ve had.”
Bell’s first-class career began as a 17-year old for Northern Districts in 1993/94 when he became the youngest player to appear in a first-class match for that province.
He played 14 seasons for Wellington from 1997/98, including eight as captain, averaging 40 runs and amassing 20 first-class centuries.
His tally of 20 centuries is the second most for any New Zealand province behind Matthew Sinclair who has 21 for Central Districts. Wellington’s next most is 15 by Bruce Edgar.
Bell captained Wellington to two first-class titles, one One-Day title and a Cricket Max title. He remains the only New Zealand batsman to twice score 1,000 first-class runs in a domestic season and has made three double centuries for Wellington – the most by any batsman.
Internationally, Bell rates hitting the winning runs at Lord’s in New Zealand’s only Test victory at the hallowed ground as a career highlight. On that tour in 1999 he topped the New Zealand test averages with 37.75 runs.
Bell scoring his record breaking 16th first-class century for Wellington, overataking the mark set by Bruce Edgar.
Cricket Wellington Chief Executive Gavin Larsen praised Bell’s dedication over many seasons.
“Matthew’s retirement sees one of the great Wellington cricket careers draw to a close,” said Larsen. “His commitment and dedication to Wellington and New Zealand over the years has been total, and I personally thank Matthew for his superb contribution to cricket.”
“On one hand this is a sad day for Wellington and New Zealand Cricket as Matthew will be a big loss to the cricket scene in New Zealand. On the other hand there are fresh new times around the corner for Matthew, and I know he is excited about what lies in store for him.”
“Matthew has indicated that after a break to re-charge the batteries and to set his new course, that an ongoing involvement in cricket is possible. He is a quality person and with his enormous cricket experience we would welcome any involvement from Matthew with open arms.”
“I wish him all the very best for the future. He will be missed.”
Wellington Firebirds Head Coach Anthony Stuart said Bell has been a fantastic servant to the game. “His attitude and discipline was exemplary and I believe this was purely because he wanted to be the best player he could be,” said Stuart.
“As the all-time leading first-class run scorer for Wellington this proves his undoubted ability and his record will take some beating.
“He has been a tremendous role model for many players and his leadership around the team will be sorely missed and I wish him all the best.”
New Zealand Cricket Chief Executive Justin Vaughan paid tribute to Bell’s long career: “Matthew retires from cricket having played 18 Test matches and seven ODIs for his country. He is a great example of longevity in a demanding high-performance sporting environment, which has been achieved through his diligence and constant willingness to learn and improve.”
Bell plans to pursue study and business interests and hopes to continue his involvement in cricket at some stage.
In the short-term he is looking forward to spending some more time with his wife Nicky who is not used to seeing him in the summer time.
“It’ll probably be a challenge for her,” he said.
“Retirement is a bit of an emotional thing but it was important to me to call time on it at the right time for the right reasons.
I’ve played the game since I was six and I’m still passionate about it. I was lucky enough to have the chance to turn that passion into a career and I’m enormously grateful for the opportunities and support I’ve had along the way.”
Bell played 18 tests for New Zealand striking two centuries and three half centuries for an average of 24.30.