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Words of Wisdom
Charlie Mulraine, PCA Personal Development and Welfare Officer, asks Robbie Williams, the former Middlesex and Leicestershire fast bowler, about his teaching career and dealing with injuries as a cricketer.
Q. Robbie, you sound like you’ve really found your niche teaching at Cothill School. What does your role involves?
Cothill is an all boys boarding school for eight to 13 year olds. It’s one of only a few now that is full boarding meaning that the majority of the boys board on the weekend as well. My wife and I run the Year Five boarding house together where we are in charge of 30 nine to 10-year-olds. Our role in this part runs from getting them up in morning and ready to go over to the dining hall for breakfast, to making sure they’re amused in the evening and also occasionally getting up in the middle of the night if someone has been ill.
Alongside this, I teach maths to year Four, Five and Six pupils and also provide some learning support for those who need extra help too. All teachers at a prep school will be involved in some way with the sport as well. I take the third XI football, the U12A rugby and the 1st XI cricket, all of which are immensely good fun.
Q. What do you enjoy about the position?
The variety of each day keeps it really interesting. Knowing that every day you will not only teach lessons but also be able to get out on the sports field is great. There are always trips going on, it might be to the Science Museum in London or Stonehenge in Wiltshire, as well as travelling to other schools for matches. All of which give the opportunity to get away from the school ‘bubble’ from time to time.
The boys are the life-blood of the school and at this particular age range they are always full of energy, excitement and curiosity, especially when playing sport. They are an endless source of questions which really keep you on your toes.
On top of this, there are always minor problems that require you to have to think on your feet and be creative. An example of a scenario that might happen could be that a perfectly planned lesson is actually too difficult and you have to re-plan in one minute how you are going to teach it to the class while maintaining order! It sounds worrying but the challenge is what makes it fun.
On top of these things, the teachers at the school are great fun as well. We see a lot more of each other than teachers at a day school would since we all essentially work seven days a week. There are a great range of characters who have come from all sorts of different professional backgrounds too, be it business, film production or sport and who all have interesting perspectives on life.
Q. How do you see yourself developing there?
While I started teaching with no prior knowledge of how to do it, I was able to embark on an Independent Post Graduate Certificate of Education last year alongside teaching lessons, which was a great way to learn more about the history and philosophy of education as well as learning practical ways to teach in a classroom too.
My major focus at the moment is developing how I teach maths. While the concepts being taught are fairly basic for any adult, the process of getting pupils to really understand numbers is immensely tricky. I spend a lot of time researching the best methods for teaching, but the classroom environment itself also teaches you an awful lot too. I am also currently looking at developing our schemes of work, which essentially includes what topics we teach and when we teach them, for years Four, Five and Six with a view to making them accessible to new teachers who come in as well as those already here.
Q. The end of your playing career was blighted by injury. How did that affect you and would you have any advice to any players in a similar position?
As a fast bowler, one has to expect a certain number of injuries a season, some of which may stop you playing, others just remain a pain until the end of September. Having had my fair share of injuries, I found that the hardest part of being injured was in fact the emotions that can come with being on the sidelines. I often found myself worrying that others, both players and coaching staff, would begin to reject me on the premise of being injury prone, that I was losing opportunity to play and that time was somewhat running out to impress during the season.
My elbow injury at Leicestershire was a particularly difficult and distressing one at the time since I was only on a one-year contract and knew that if I had to stop playing to rehabilitate then I felt that I was essentially losing the opportunity to earn a new contract. All these thoughts creep in as result of being out of the team environment. In hindsight, I would have tried to keep myself involved with the team as much as possible, even if that meant going out for lunch or supper with teammates more often, so as not to feel quite as isolated.
Q. It took a while for you to find what you wanted to do when you left the game at the end of 2013. What did you experience during that time?
I think underlying all of the emotions above was the ultimate fear of losing my contract and thus my job and what I would do as a result. When that happened at the end of the 2013 season it was a rather strange feeling since I had finally encountered my biggest fear. I found this liberating in the sense that now I had nothing to lose.
The following season I played as much cricket as I could, trialling at counties, playing Minor Counties and club cricket too, making sure that I did everything in my power to earn another contract.
However, half-way through the 2014 season, and after bowling easily the most overs I had ever bowled by that point in a season, I suddenly realised that I might not actually want to start doing this as a job again. From speaking to others who had been in a similar situation to me, this point of realisation seems to be fairly common.
Alongside the cricket mentioned above, I had thought about doing some maths tutoring on the side to keep me going financially. It meant that I had to relearn a lot of the GCSE syllabus and I sat at home completing lots of past papers to get me up to scratch.
I was fortunate to receive a phone call from a friend about a teaching opportunity at Wellington College, so I popped along to see what it was all about. I ended up teaching my first ever lesson there the next day. I was absolutely scared stiff beforehand, but when I walked out I realised that I absolutely loved teaching, something I never thought I would do immediately after cricket.
Q. From our conversations you clearly wanted to experience a broad range of things before committing to one area. Do you feel this worked?
There are such a huge range of different jobs available outside of cricket that it can be somewhat difficult and daunting to know where to start.
While I was playing I felt I was destined for a financial job in the City after cricket, having studied Economics at university. However, after going on lots of mini-internships during the off-seasons for a week or two at different financial establishments, I found that it was, perhaps, not the life I wanted. From then on I looked to any avenue to ‘have a go at’ and actually found that perhaps the most important part of the process in discovering what to do after cricket was making connections with all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds.
The underlying trait of many jobs it seemed was the importance of communication skills rather than simply knowledge of that area. Providing you are proactive about this process, it is amazing the connections and, more importantly, opportunities that can happen as a result.
Q. Looking back, would you have done anything differently in terms of preparation for life after cricket?
Obviously, had I known how much I enjoy teaching now, I would have done more to develop those skills earlier on during the off seasons.
What I think would have been beneficial regardless of what job I actually wanted to do afterwards, would have been to get more involved in the junior cricket at the county during the winter. Teaching children about the nuances of cricket and seeing how enthusiastic they are about it may well have helped take the edge off the professional pressures that one faces as a county player. For those players in county second teams looking to breakthrough, it would also deepen their understanding of cricket since it requires you to translate what you know into something that can be easily understood by a child.
Most importantly from all of the above however is using the PCA in this process. They provided me with support at every step, doing anything they could to help me try out all these different jobs. The experience and connections that they have access to, when properly and fully explored can be a major factor in helping find the job that suits you after cricket.
Phil Whitticase spent 31 years at Leicestershire as a player and a coach. Soon after leaving the club he was employed by the ECB as one of their new team of Cricket Liaison Officers and he is soon to be starting his third season in the role.
Whitticadr, who played 132 first-class matches for the Foxes, is now enjoying his new role within the professional game.
Q. After a 31-year career as a coach and player at Leicestershire you’re now two years in to a role as an ECB Cricket Liaison Officer. )What’s it like being involved in First Class cricket in a new capacity?
The roles of Head Coach and Director of Cricket at Leicestershire were not just about coaching players but dealing with the operational issues of the game as well as managing issues off the field. A lot of these operational and game issues are transferable and have been invaluable in my new role as a CLO. From a personal point it is great to be still involved in the game and the role allows me to travel all round the country and spend time at different clubs.
Q. For those players less familiar with the role of a CLO. How would you describe it?
It's a role where we help support the smooth running of the game in hand. We do this by providing a report to the ECB on the performance of the pitch, the umpires and how the game has developed. We do this through meeting the head groundsman, the captains and the umpires before, during and post game to collect information from which we help provide vital support going forward.
Q. The CLOs are now becoming more established. What was it like at the beginning?
At the beginning it was important as a team to set the objectives for the role and then to meet regularly on how we believed it would work and then to feedback and review what has worked and what needs changing to make it more efficient. The role is still evolving and the position will take on more responsibility.
Q. What did you feel you were able to bring to the role as a former player and coach?
As a team of CLOs we all provide different skills to the role. I offer coaching knowledge and through that the relationships and knowledge I had developed over my previous years of cricket involvement. The ability to listen, provide an impartial view and document issues that arise during the game is beneficial.
Q. Did you ever think you’d be doing this kind of role when you were a player? What career plans did you have then?
I always planned to stay in the game and enjoyed coaching and supporting players to help them improve. I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to do this at Leicestershire CCC, and as you progress and improve, your role changes and I moved naturally into a management role, which has helped me with my present role.
Q. Would you have done anything differently in terms of your preparation for the future?
I would have enjoyed and welcomed the support available to players today to help them plan for the future. I would have liked to have started more courses during my playing career to help mould future opportunities and do this around solid guidance.
Q. You’ve been doing a lot of personal development since leaving Leicestershire. What are your plans for the future?
I've just started a driving instructor’s course this winter and feel that this qualification would be very supportive to my winter plans and work nicely alongside the CLO role. I see it as a form of coaching and there are a lot of transferable skills from my previous coaching roles and the opportunity to support further learning.
Born in Kenya and raised in North London, Raj Maru played the majority of his cricket for Hampshire in a career spanning 18 years.
With a record of over 500 wickets at the old Northlands Road ground and sharing a bowling attack with players like Malcolm Marshall, Cardigan Connor and Shaun Udal, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience that should be useful to others.
When most players finish and think about becoming coaches, very often there is a desire to work at the top of the game with high-achieving players who you know are going to be on an upward trajectory towards the professional game or already there. In this instance Raj is using his coaching skills to work further down the talent pool searching for that diamond in the rough:
"I now work at Lancing College and I feel I have the benefit of both worlds when it comes to coaching and lifestyle," Maru said.
" I have 20 weeks holiday a year and yet I am still able to coach good young cricketers. Actually the school coaches have a responsibility to these good young players to set them on the pathway towards the top."
A very good example of this is Mason Crane who burst on the scene in a T20 game against Surrey in 2015 making Kumar Sangakarra his first wicket.
There is a satisfaction that comes with producing players who go on to do well. It is clear to see that working in a school is not the glamorous side of coaching that many professional players aspire to remain immersed in, however there are still opportunities to maintain that identity as former player.
"In some ways, working one-to-one with players makes for a more meaningful relationship and greater sense of achievement when you know the impact you have had on them from such a young age," Maru said.
There are other considerations when it comes to choosing a career after cricket as well. As cricketers, we can all admit to having a selfish streak either naturally or consciously at one stage or another in our careers. Maru is no different. "I was selfish as a player and then when I finished I would take on all the coaching I wanted so was sometimes getting home later than when I was playing," he said.
"What I didn’t realise was the impact that behaviour was having at home. It became apparent that I needed to find something that was going to allow me to spend more time at home with my family. If I had spent more time coaching my boys, rather than other people, they might have gone on to play a higher level."
Coaching further down the food chain should not be a deterrent as Maru points out you get the best of both worlds. "Working in a school offers you a really good balance of working and family time," he said.
"You still get to do what you love and what you are good at and you get to spend that time with the family that you miss out on throughout your playing career. At the same time there are always opportunities to maintain your identity within cricket.
"I also do some work at the Radley College Academy. I work with Jeremy Lloyds, Paul Atkins and we have had people like Andrew Strauss, Angus Fraser and Jamie Dalrymple come along and join in as well, which is fun."
The exciting thing about having the flexibility of a school role is that you also get the chance to give back to the game, which is something nearly everyone mentions when they talk about moving into coaching.
"I have been able to help out atWisborough Green Cricket Club when I started at Lancing and I am now doing the same thing at Stirlands Cricket Club," Maru said.
"I play and also help out with the rest of club. It is my opportunity to give something back to the game. I haveexperience and the club was quite new. It is a great facility and I am able to help them at every level."
Not only is Maru handy at passing on his cricketing experience, but he has sage advice for players thinking about transitioning into coaching,.
"You need to experience both areas of coaching to be able to work out where you feel you are most suited. Very often it is then a conversation with the family to talk what feels right and would work for you," he said.
"The thing about moving into coaching at the top of the game is that you really just replicate the lifestyle of being a player. Consideration should be given at this point to the needs of your family, job security and lifestyle."
Maru has done well and has the best of both worlds. While he still maintains his links with the professional game, he also has a job that he loves and the lifestyle to with it too. It hasn’t all ever been plain sailing, life rarely is, but his words surely resonate with many players considering which way to go after playing.
He is happy and willing to talk to any players who might be looking at this area and it would be time well spent talking to the man.
Darren Bicknell Words of Wisdom by Matthew Wood
When you meet Darren Bicknell you could be easily be fooled by his modest manner and his genuine interest in others to forget that deep within is a sportsman who played professional cricket in 324 first-class matches and the same in List A cricket.
His career spanned more than two decades for two of the country’s leading counties, Surrey and Nottinghamshire, for whom he scored more than 28,000 runs.
We shared a table at the Nottingham Post Sports Awards and I was curious to pick his brains and get a deeper insight to what makes him tick in the PCA latest Words of Wisdom column.
“I massively enjoyed playing cricket and had a huge desire to do well. I loved the lifestyle of being a professional cricketer. I never classed myself as the most gifted so I had to work extra hard to become the best I could be. I was always putting pressure on myself and felt like I had to prove I was good enough every day, even now I still have this streak running through me.
"Twenty-odd years is a long time and, when I look back now, I suppose I just broke my career down into bite-size chunks. In my early years as pro at Surrey I would go to Australia in the winter and then had three consecutive winters with England A.
"After that I got a bit tired so went to work as an account manager for a brewery, Fosters, who were sponsors of The Oval. I had forged links with them and had nearly 12 winters with them. I learnt huge amounts in business and about me and it kept my hunger for the game come summer time. I look now and part of me worries about some players today. It is healthy to be interested in something away from the game.”
There is of course another factor in Darren's competitive nature, growing up with his brother Martin who had a tremendous career with Surrey and England taking over 1000 first-class wickets.
DB: “I remember as kids we used to strap our pads onto our bikes and ride to the local club about five miles away and play all day. It helped that Martin loved bowling and I loved batting. It was fierce; if you were out you were out. In fact it wasn’t just cricket; if Wimbledon was on the TV we would get out two racquets and play tennis on the street.
"We are just the same now even though we have retired only it is on the golf course these days. Martin was one of the youngest players to play for Surrey so it was good to have his experience and someone to confide in as I came through the ranks. Obviously I was keen to make my own way and compete for bragging rights at the Xmas dinner table.”
Reflecting on his early days at Surrey I sensed an air of satisfaction that he came through a tough apprenticeship in the game and somehow came through the other side a better player and person.
DB: “Surrey was quite a tough environment to go into as a youngster. I had not played much representative cricket and was pretty fresh from the league. I remember there being two dressing rooms at the Oval. One was huge and was home of the ten or so capped senior players. The other was tiny and had 20-odd 2nd XI lads and young pros.
"I recall my first day there was no room so I had to put my kit under the sink. It helped having Martin around, some of the banter got quite heavy for a youngster. You had two choices, shrink and hide or grow into it, stand up and be counted. I slowly made my way and gained the respect from the first team. Alec Stewart was brilliant he bridged the gap and I spent a lot of time with Clint’ (Grahame Clinton).
"It has stood me in good stead and I am sure made me more resilient. I always had to be improving. Looking at my team mates - Thorpe ,Stewart ,Ali Brown - I wanted to be part of that team.”
Darren eventually left Surrey to make the move to Nottinghamshire, a decision that has seen him stay in the city even after retiring. Surrey at their best was star-studded and loaded with internationals, gaining a regular spot in the team got tougher.
DB: “I believe in taking opportunities and not leaving anything to chance, this has stood me in good stead on and off the field.
"Notts was a great move and winning the County Championship in 2005 is one of my career highlights. It presented a new challenge and equipped me well for what was awaiting me when I retired.
"Since finishing I have had to prove myself again starting from the bottom. Being an ex-pro can open doors and then you have to accept the challenge of moulding your skills to fit another career.
"I am lucky I met some great people, networked well even though I had to push myself to do it. I love working at Belvoir Castle Cricket Trust and Oakham School and I am excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead. As a director of the trust, it is great to have the ability to make a positive impact on the lives of others and being able to give back to give the game is important to me.”
Stephen ‘Pedro’ Peters, or ‘Geezer’ to some, scored over 17,000 runs in a career that spanned 19 years. A county captain and a PCA Rep, Pedro has always been one to keep one eye on the future taking advantage of all opportunities offered to him. Now a year into a new role with Aon as a Business Development Manager, He reflects on his cricketing career with PCA Personal Development Manager Charlie Mulraine.
Pedro you’ve now been out of the game for almost a year now. What aspects of being a player do you miss and not miss?
Well, I know this is a standard response from most past players but I can assure you I’m not missing fielding for 150 overs. To be honest I’m not missing playing much at all, I really felt things were coming to a natural end for me and I had certainly lost some enjoyment and if you haven’t got that then you’re struggling.
The time was right and I wanted to leave the game on good terms with everybody and on my own terms and Northants helped make that possible.
It’s hard to explain I think until it’s gone but I miss that daily feeling of being a professional sportsman and just being involved in sport on a daily basis. I really urge guys to enjoy that feeling because once it’s gone it takes some getting used to.
How did you know it was the right time to retire?
I broke my thumb (again) in about June/July time and I didn’t have the same urgency I had always had about getting back out there, that for me was a telling sign.
I came back and played two games and just knew. Derbyshire at home was my last game and Mark Footitt was bowling and you know if you’re not up for it you can wear one and I just had no fire in my belly which I had always had opening the batting. I drove home that night knowing I would never play again. It sounds sad but actually it was quite a reassuring feeling.
A lot has happened since you signed at Essex aged 16. Can you remember your ambitions back then?
I was hugely ambitious back then but I’m not sure people always saw it that way. Like every young player you want to play for your country but I also wanted to just establish myself as a good county player at Essex at the time.
At Essex there were always things to push for, your second team cap, first team squad and then obviously making your debut. I think at the time I also just wanted to enjoy it and hopefully cricket would help me see the world which it certainly has done that.
Scoring a hundred on debut must have calmed the nerves but when did you feel you had properly established yourself as a player at the club?
Never, is the honest answer. The hundred on debut was great but I never really felt established at Essex. I batted six which I hated and didn’t really have great success in four day cricket. I actually felt more established in the one day side where I had a role in the middle order and a big job in the field diving around the inner circle.
We won the Benson & Hedges cup in 1998 which was a huge highlight of my career. Playing in front of 27,000 people at Lords at the age of 19 was special.
The Essex dressing room included many senior England internationals was this intimidating at all at such a young age? How did you deal with it?
For the first few years it was fantastic. My first five or six games were Graham Gooch’s last few games so it was a special time to be involved.
I got on great with everyone, there were some big characters in there so I suppose you sink or swim in that environment and I just got stuck in. To this day I’m still good friends with many of them and always try to catch up for a beer.
What was it like joining a new dressing room at Worcester after six years at Essex? Who did you learn from most during your three years there?
It was fantastic, a breath of fresh air. I had four years at Worcester three of which were some of my most enjoyable. There was a real buzz about the place and I was one of four or five new signings made by Tom Moody and the dressing room was brilliant.
The existing squad had a huge work ethic led by Graeme Hick who had an incredible work and practise mindset and it rubbed off on everyone.
It was probably the time I started to realise how hard you actually have to work to have a long and successful career. I worked a lot with Ben Smith, Gareth Batty and Vikram Solanki to name just a few who wanted success at the club. We got promoted and back to back Lord’s finals it was a great time.
Your final move was to Northants in 2006. There you made your highest first class score of 222 and were appointed club captain. How had you developed as a player and a person?
Northants was the best move I ever made and I felt at home straight away and have done ever since. It’s hard to explain but I just felt such an important member of the squad from the day I arrived and I thrived in that.
I’ve certainly had the best time of my career and most consistent. For seven or eight seasons on the trot I was the front man of our four day team and I loved that feeling.
I always wanted to captain a side and had done since I was 11 really. I have always felt I could get the best out of my players and hopefully some of the guys I led over the years would back that up.
It’s a tough job and you have to be prepared not to be Mr Popular all the time but as long as you can empathise with people that’s half the battle.
I think I had developed as a person under the guidance of Dr Brian Hemmings, a Sports Psychologist I worked with from about a year or two after joining. The list of things we worked on was endless but Brian got me to learn to deal with disappointment better and move on quicker which had been a real problem for me in the past.
It sounds silly but I always say to young players, learn to deal with disappointments quickly it will help you in the long term.
During your career you’ve been a PCA Rep, sat on working parties and selection panels as well as secure work experience with Gray-Nicolls and AON. Have you always had an eye on the future?
Yes is the simple answer because I always had self-doubt about how long I would play for. Probably five or six years ago and anytime I was in poor form I used to start thinking about it. I actually found it very useful to focus on that if I was in bad form and it seemed to take my mind off the failures.
My involvement in the PCA over so many years has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I have learnt an awful lot and feel so passionate about the work they do. We really do have a players’ union that is looked up to by many of the others.
You’ve been working at Aon now for almost a year. What’s your role and how did you secure it?
My title at Aon is Business Development Manager for a division within the business called ‘National’. We look after all the Insurance Broking and Risk management needs of large corporate businesses.
The role came about after I had sent my CV over to Steve White-Cooper at Add Victor,a recruitment company that helps ex-sports people and Military personnel transition to business. I ended up going for an interview at Aon and securing three weeks’ work experience followed by the offer of a one day a week contract through the off season to get up to speed with the business with a view to joining full time when I finished playing.
Northants were very supportive about that and it was a great opportunity. When I broke my thumb last year I went to see Aon and said I was looking at finishing and would you want me full time and luckily they said yes.
Has your background in cricket helped? And if so, how?
Definitely! Many skills are transferable and to be honest the doors opened by being a former professional sports person aregreat. People are generally interested in what you did before and it’s an easy conversation starter. In the office it helps with your communication amongst colleagues which is helpful when there is lots to learn.
What’s the future hold Pedro?
Who knows? I certainly don’t. At the moment I just concentrate on trying to develop my career at Aon. I would like to live and work abroad at some point so if the chance to do that comes up I would jump at it.
I have made a conscious decision to get away from the game and try to develop my skills in a corporate environment and, yes, it has stung a bit but long term I hope it pays off for me.
I can’t stress to guys enough about building your network whilst you’re playing, not only has it helped me with my work but you make some great friends along the way that will be there way past yourplaying days.’
The star of Kent swing bowler Richard Ellison, shone brightly in the glorious summer of 1985. Recalled to the England side during the Ashes, he produced match figures of 10 for 104 at Edgbaston and seven for 84 at The Oval, as a rampant England side, riding on the back of vintage performances from Graham Gooch, David Gower and Ian Botham, regained the famous urn.
Ellison’s game never quite reached those dizzying heights again. The loss of the whole of the 1987 season through injury halted his progress and although he returned triumphantly for Kent with seventy one wickets in 1988, he never made it back on to the International stage, eventually retiring at the age of 33.
His had been an excellent, if interrupted, career. Eleven Test matches and 475 First-class wickets, just touched the surface for a man who was rightly considered one of England’s finest swing bowlers.
We caught up with Richard to talk about his time in the game and what he is up to now :
What are your overriding memories of your England career?
My first memory is of my debut against the powerful West Indies side of the early-mid eighties. They were a tremendous side and will go down as one of the strongest in history. I was also fortunate enough to be involved in two tours abroad and the Ashes series against Australia in 1985.
When you first got selected for England did your life change much?
I suppose a little bit but in a way that is difficult to quantify. In those days you just got on with playing. I probably signed a few more autographs, but the Kent changing room had a fair few experienced Test players like Derek Underwood, Alan Knott and Chris Tavare and they ensured you kept pretty grounded and that you conducted yourself appropriately.
Was there a favourite match and any characters that particularly stood out?
Definitely my debut (against the West Indies in 1984) because it was a very special moment and the Ashes Test match at Edgbaston in 1985 (Ellison took ten wickets in the match). I played with a lot of characters. Ian Botham and Allan Lamb stand out because they had a strong presence in the changing room and away on tour. Generally, you remember the friendships you made with your own team-mates and the chance to meet all the players from the other teams. I still reflect on what a wonderful way it was to earn a living surrounded by a group of like-minded people.
Was it difficult to make the transition back to county cricket after your England career ended?
In reality I suppose it was a bit of a struggle but, realistically, I understood why it had happened. I was not away from the county scene for a large amount of time, but after returning from my time with England, I did have some tough times trying to recapture my form and confidence.
What sort of ‘off-field’ support was there for you when you first started in the County game?
Not a great deal. There was a manager and a 2nd XI coach, but you were mainly left alone to get on with things. You basically found your own way by trying things out and you played a lot. Probably too much at times but it was a lot of fun.There weren’t the resources there are now. I remember leading the warm ups before Sunday League matches because I was training to be a PE teacher.
When did you first start thinking about what you would do when you left the game?
I never thought a great deal about it and I don't know why I didn't. I then had two pieces of really good luck at the end of the 1994 season, after my final game for the Kent 2nd XI in Greenwich. I received a couple of phone calls; one from a prep school in Kent and the other from Millfield School in Somerset. I have been a teacher since that time to the present.
Was that initial transition into life after cricket difficult?
I was quite lucky in that I didn’t really have time to think about it. Those phone calls allowed it to happen straight away after playing. I was fortunate.
What are you doing now? What do you miss most about playing?
I am still a teacher at Millfield School in Somerset and have been Master I/C cricket there for the past 22 years. Like most players I miss being part of a team and around a changing room. It was great fun playing all around the country against some of the best players in the world, but I definitely miss not seeing a number of players who are no longer around.
If you had your time again would you have prepared earlier for life after cricket?
I was lucky in the way things worked out. What I would have done is made sure I looked after myself better when I played to prolong my playing career, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Would you have enjoyed playing cricket in the modern era?
I think I would have done, but the governing bodies need to look after the bowlers a little bit better. They need to put more strands in the twine of the seam and move the boundaries back. I also think they need to look at the thickness of the bats. It's not a fair contest at the moment.
The thing is though, I also loved the time when I played, so I am a bit torn between the two. Test cricket must stay sacred and not become dependent on the finances that come from too much one-day cricket.
Stephen James and a words of wisdom article – if ever there was a fitting job task on my to do list it was this.
You see I've received my fair share of wisdom from the former Glamorgan and England batsman over the years. So, when I was considering candidates to feature in this section I nearly let it go because it would look like an easy option for me. However it would have been unjust to have done that considering the vast amount of experience and knowhow he has gathered on and off the pitch in a cricket career of highs and lows and an ever more successful life after sport.
My playing career was probably given more chances as a result of Steve’s misfortune, and him retiring meant a huge opportunity opened up. When his knee finally gave in, it was the first time I had to witness a player retire through injury, and at that point I never gave what Steve was actually going through much thought, other than the token “sorry to see you go mate”. That has since been a route I have had to witness so many players take, and I guess it’s an emotion only those players collectively can understand.
Steve however talks positively about it now “being honest the overriding emotion was relief, my knee had been bad for so long and the pain meant I was mentally struggling too.”
In his final full season Steve admits to the torment of
struggling physically with daily tasks, but the feeling towards still playing
affecting his thought process.
“There were times when I had to go down the stairs on my backside due to pain, I was playing well. I shake my head now at what I was doing, but nobody wants the good times to end.”
Watching Steve talking to current cricketers about his time in and away from the game has always presented an enthusiastic atmosphere and may be retiring with ability still in his tank, helps him to do that. Too often I see ex-players lose perspective about their time as a professional cricketer but Steve’s perspective is a lesson to us all.
“Everybody misses it. A lot of us try to deny it, of course, there are bits you do not miss but they are the best days of your life and you are not going to replace them. I suppose the key is to realise that at the beginning, and not go searching for the unattainable. You need to lower your sights in all respects, whether that is in terms of salary or job satisfaction. You need to be very humble."
He has always been a contemplative and mature character, but one that enjoyed the fun and frolics of being a professional athlete and its exclusive environments. In his current role now, as Rugby Union correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph he has continued to observe sportsmen at close quarters and we regularly talk about the life and challenges it presents.
In asking him to reflect back on his own dressing room and approaches to post cricket preparations he witnessed an all too familiar blend of characters.
“I saw bits of everything. There were a lot of us in the Glamorgan side who had degrees and had made early plans as to what to do afterwards but there were also quite a few who had no idea and were sleepwalking towards retirement. There was not the support there is now so that was perhaps understandable.”
The conclusion we both agreed on was how little support and guidance there was 15 years ago, and how players of the modern generation have to not waste that support.
Often I watched Steve train with an intensity and obsession, he was quick to make sure people followed suit and on several occasions pushed me and others to be better. Sometimes it was not good listening. He really should have become a strength and conditioning coach!
Players today should try and put a price on listening and talking to senior players, there is always some gold nuggets to be had. Even now, he talks about fitness with passion and how it plays a vital role in his current vocation.
“Basically when I was a professional cricketer I used to wake up every morning and think about how I could become better and a lot of those thoughts involved getting fitter, so cycling now replaces that in a small way. I actually find it quite therapeutic when I’m on my own. And quite often I find it stimulating too, because a lot of my better articles have stemmed from ideas borne on a long bike ride.”
Now with a long established career in sports journalism and one that’s duration will no doubt double in length when compared to his time in cricket he is content and proud of where he has got to so far.
“It would have been a distant dream, to be honest. For a long time I knew that I wanted to be a journalist but to be a correspondent is always the ultimate. So when I was appointed as the Sunday Telegraph’s rugby correspondent it was a huge thing for me.
"Getting the job in a different sport from cricket actually gives me great satisfaction because, even though in my own mind I was always better at rugby than cricket, I think it shows that, without wishing to brag, I must be a half-decent journalist.”
Steve James top 3 words of wisdom for any young players in professional cricket:
1. Get some qualifications. I did not want to go to university because I could see my cricket career developing, but my father was very strong in saying otherwise. I ended up going to university for five years. “You won’t end up sweeping the roads now,” he said!
2. Go abroad in the winter. I cannot believe anyone would not want to. It will help your cricket skills and your life skills. You will encounter a whole host of new responsibilities and circumstances that can only be of advantage.
3. Having gone away for a few years as a youngster then start thinking about what you might do after cricket. In other words start to get some experience. I began writing on rugby in the winter 10 years before I retired.
Graeme Hick – The Player and the Coach
Ahead of joining the Australian coaching team for the up-coming limited-overs series against the West Indies and South Africa this June, we reflect on the career of ex-Worcestershire CCC & England player Graeme Hick and talk about his journey to becoming a Cricket Australia High Performance Coach.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Graeme recalls two early influences in his cricket development. “At school the coaches that helped me the most were Rob Altschul, our Under 12 coach, a master who committed a lot of time to us and always made training and playing enjoyable and Wrex McUlloucgh the Under 14 coach and eccentric geography teacher who worked hard to iron out any issues and develop discipline whilst still managing to keep things enjoyable.” When asked about influences later in his career as a Worcestershire and England player, it was the legend of the game Basil D’Oliveira who Graeme credits as having the biggest influence on his professional career saying… “Basil believed in me the most”.
A quiet and modest man, Graeme’s cricket credentials speak for themselves. Rather than list a plethora of impressive statistics, we turned to former teammates to give us their insight into the man and the performer.
New chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, and long standing Worcestershire teammate, David Leatherdale smiles when he says “Hicky was in a different class to us mere mortals… Bowling at him in the nets to realise that he was practising with a bat that was half as wide as everybody else just added to the aura he had…and the fact he didn’t recognise how good he was shows some of his other qualities” David is under no doubt that Graeme and his performances were very much the catalyst for the clubs success in the late 80s and 90s and put Worcestershire on the map. His all-round abilities put most to shame. “When you had someone of Hicky’s qualities in the team you always felt you were one step ahead and a game was never dead.”
These same sentiments are shared by Steve Rhodes, fellow Worcestershire teammate and current Director of Cricket at Worcestershire CCC… “Graeme was a terrific player who played some of the best innings I have ever seen. He had an uncanny knack of not missing out on a 4 ball.” A very loyal person (one man Club) and icon of New Road, Steve recalls how well Graeme entertained in the way he played… “When he went out to bat the bars and dressing rooms emptied as everyone wanted to watch.” Asked to share his highlights of playing with Graeme, Steve says, “Many innings stand out but one in particular against Lancs in ’88. They produced all types of wickets in the past to try to beat us. Pacey, seaming and eventually in ’88 they tried spinning. Graeme got 212 and nobody else made a 50 in our innings and we won by 10 wickets. Also, the 405* against Somerset in ‘88 cannot be ignored, with Graeme moving from the nervous 290’s! He was on 288* and the next 2 balls were sixes!”
Current Captain of Worcestershire, Daryl Mitchell who grew up under Graeme shares his experience. “They say you should never meet your hero's but in my experience with Graeme this couldn't be further from the truth! Growing up watching Hicky destroy bowling attacks you often wondered what the secret to his success was. Having got to share a dressing room with him towards the back end of his career, the secret was there was no secret. He kept things very simple, he played straight, a big strong man he hit the ball extremely hard, kept the good balls out and was ruthless in dispatching the bad ball off front and back foot. If the bowler missed it went to the fence. An imposing figure and reputation to bowl at, inevitably that pressure meant the bowler missed more often than against us mere mortals.”
“A quiet man, he never really imposed his thoughts on you individually or in team meetings but if asked he normally had the right answer to the question. As I became more involved in the first team and got to know 'G' I was fortunate enough to tap into that wealth of knowledge and experience on the various county ground balconies or over a beer.”
“His contribution to Worcestershire Cricket has been immense, his stats speak for themselves, 136 FC hundreds alone, that will never be repeated. He certainly inspired my generation, probably the generation before and after too, as well as entertaining cricket lovers of all ages from all counties over his 25 year career.”
When reflecting on his most memorable cricketing moments, Graeme doesn’t mention specifics. “What I enjoyed the most about playing cricket was winning and knowing that I had made an important contribution to the result of the team,” says Graeme. “Towards the end of my career it was exciting to see the young players enjoying those moments when I had played well as it’s important to learn to enjoy other peoples’ success, and in turn I loved seeing the look on their faces when they achieved their first milestones.”
Graeme’s support and enjoyment at seeing others perform well is recalled by Warwickshire player Richard Jones who started his career at Worcestershire and played with Graeme as a young lad...“Graeme was stood at second slip when I took my first wicket on debut vs Warwickshire, and I remember him congratulating me and saying that I'd never forget it. That was a great moment for me, growing up a Worcestershire fan getting to play with one of my childhood heroes.”
“As a player, he was one of the best I've ever played with” says Richard. “Having him in your side meant you were pretty much guaranteed runs and everything would be caught at slip. As a person he was quiet and reserved, but would always lend an ear and a valuable piece of advice to anyone who tried to tap in to his wealth of experience.”
Richard continues… “His legacy at Worcestershire will last forever. The pavilion is in his name and his run-scoring feats will probably never be beaten in the modern era. He's the very definition of a legend. With 185 appearances for England, it speaks volumes that most people would suggest that he was harshly treated by the selectors, seemingly always being the first player dropped following a poor team performance.”
With an England career spanning 10 years including 65 Test Matches and 120 ODI’s, and achieving top 10 rankings in the all-time stats for first class runs, hundreds and double hundreds, what is Graeme most proud of? “I always wished to make my parents and family proud of me and I know the success may help a bit in that, but deep down it was important for me to conduct myself correctly as a sportsman, we were always taught that as young kids. Hopefully I achieved that.”
With the demanding schedule of playing county and international cricket the ability to switch off between games was important. “A round of golf, a bit of social tennis, watching other sports and having a good time with friends all helped me to switch off but spending so much time on the road meant my home time was special to me. Throughout my career I tried to avoid taking ‘my job’ home, if that makes sense. If I may have felt disgruntled by something, there was no need to then go home and spoil that time too. My wife, Jackie has always been a very supportive and understanding influence on me as a person, giving me a great home to go back to and get away from it all.”
At the end of the 2008 season, after 25 years with Worcestershire CCC, Graeme felt it was the right time to leave the game and announced his decision to retire. “I was ready to go, so apart from the initial emotional announcement I was happy with my decision. At 42 the body and mind had had enough. I was pleased it came to me during a game at Cheltenham College v Gloucester, I had got out, wasn’t too bothered about it and that made me realise the edge had gone.”
Shortly after retiring Graeme and his family moved to live in Australia but how this came about was quite strange as Graeme explains…”We were over here as a family and I was playing in a XXXX Gold Beach Cricket promotion, my children were 12 and nine, having a great time. After about a week, we were out eating one night and they asked us why we lived in England, when it was so much more fun here. We tried to explain to the children that they were on holiday and it wasn’t quite the same… that seemed to fall on deaf ears. It sowed a seed and Jackie and I started talking about it and it snowballed from there. So in the end we decided to uproot for lifestyle and opportunity for the kids. We had a plan that if it didn’t work out after two years which completed my son’s education then we would return.”
Graeme and his family enjoyed life on the Gold Coast for a couple of years, with Graeme doing a few “bit’s and pieces” around the game and having a bit of free time. “I wasn’t thinking of full time coaching at that moment and having spent some time away from the game meant I actually enjoyed being around it again.” So how did the opportunity to Coach at the National Cricket Centre (NCC) come about? “I was doing a little local coaching and I was asked to come to the NCC and help out in a few sessions. Fortunately Stu Law took on the Queensland Cricket Head Coach role and the opportunity opened up here. I applied for the role and was very pleasantly surprised when I was offered the position. To date I have been extremely fortunate to be work with some really good people.”
Graeme completed his UKCC level 4 coaching qualification whilst playing, but how easy was the transition into full time coaching? “I think the challenge as a player going into coaching is to keep an open mind, to treat each person individually and avoid the temptation to coach how you played.” He goes further saying, “Each individual has his own character, style, strengths and weaknesses and as a coach it is up to you identify them and develop him as an individual, not clone him into something he is not.”
Graeme reflects on how the game has evolved since his playing days.”T20 is the obvious big change and I think it has at times made Test Cricket a little more entertaining with the game being played at a faster rate. I loved the “Pink Ball” Test match that was played last year at Adelaide Oval. It was a great spectacle and I think we will see more of it.” Coaching the next generation of elite players in Australia, skills and qualities aside Graeme acknowledges the special ingredient of ‘luck’ needed to be successful at the top level. “We are very lucky here at NCC, where we are working with the elite and we have very good people around them to help develop them as people and players. There are certain “traits” or “qualities” that you can look for in players but there are still no guarantees of success. There are so many hurdles they need to overcome to become a great player so if you can find one/two players a year and get them there, you’re doing well. “
June 2016 will provide an exciting opportunity for Graeme. “With the main coaching group having a break there was an opportunity for these roles to be filled. The timing is great for me as I’m now more comfortable in my role and had been hoping to spend a little time with the National Team, see how they operate and then bring that back to my role developing the younger players……and one of my favorite restaurants is in Barbados, so it will be good to have a meal there again!”
Looking further into the future, what are Graeme’s coaching ambitions? “I will continue my role here at the NCC and embrace the opportunities to develop further as a coach and then I will decide. I have a couple of paths I wouldn’t mind taking that I have thought about, but I’ll keep those to myself for now.”
Journeyman Cricketer to Journeyman Sports Reporter
20 years on the county circuit, playing and travelling with friends, one would have thought would have provided a comfortable living and all the opportunities you would need. However, the life of the cricketer, regardless of its length, who just wants to play can be anything but certain. PCA PDM Nick Denning spoke with Kevan James who made the transition from roving cricketer to roving reporter.
The experience of Kevan James, the former Middlesex and Hampshire all-rounder is a case in point. Kevan, son of a police officer and who grew up in north London started playing cricket around the age of 10. “My earliest memories of cricket were playing with my father. I think I was about 10 and standing in to make up numbers. One of those scenarios where the opposition say ‘he’s just a lad bowl slowly’ and the bowling got faster and faster because they couldn’t get me out. This all lead on to Edmonton cricket club and around the age of 11 or 12 I got a letter from Middlesex asking me to play in an annual fixture against Warwickshire where I scored a hundred.” From that moment, things went from strength to strength. Kevan played for all the Middlesex age groups and in 1980 signed his first professional contract after finishing school.
Fast forward 5 years and the strong Middlesex side of the mid-eighties meant limited opportunities for Kevan and a move to Hampshire ensued. ‘I knew I wasn’t going to play regularly in that Middlesex team of the mid-eighties so I was lucky enough to move Hampshire. I just wanted to play and not always have the uncertainty of wondering whether I was going to play or not. At Hampshire I enjoyed being a regular in the team.” It was a happy team as well with one-day cup wins in 1988 (Benson & Hedges Cup), 1991 (NatWest Cup) and 1992 (Benson & Hedges Cup) where Kevan says the leaders created an environment that encouraged positive play. “It came primarily from Mark Nicholas and Colin Ingleby –MacKenzie. We were called happy Hampshire because we always wanted to try to make a game of any situation. Sometimes it came off, sometimes it didn’t. But it was better than playing drab, uninteresting cricket and only wanting to draw.”
Then one day in May 2000 Kevan had a funny feeling when he woke up one morning. “I woke up and I found it really hard to be interested in going to practice that day. I thought I was just tired and that everything would be fine when I got there, but it wasn’t. We finished and I went home thinking I would fine the next day, but when I woke up I had the same feeling. I just couldn’t be bothered. I spoke to Tim Tremlett who was Second X1 coach at the time who admitted to having experienced the same emotions at the end of his career, but not in training. It was in the middle of a game and he was in the middle of spell of bowling as well!!
I went to speak Tony Baker, the CEO at the time, who was very understanding and said they would support me, but asked me to keep myself fit just in case I was needed at some point. I was lucky as I was in the middle of a benefit year so I still had something to focus on, but it felt weird. Normally I just wanted to be there and I lived for it. Now it just didn’t matter anymore. At that point I wrote a letter to the board thanking them for their support for the 15 years I played for Hampshire. They were a massive influence on the person I am today.”
So after 20 years on the circuit and 15 years as a member of the ‘Happy Hampshire’ club what was to become of a seasoned county professional who, having won competitions with his club, you would have thought was something of a local celebrity? “I hadn’t planned for my career ending. I knew it was coming, but there was a feeling of ‘what am I going to do now?’ During the last few years as a player, BBC South Today had given me a camera and asked me to do some behind the scenes diaries. Just 2 minute videos, but it opened up a door for me. When I had officially finished playing, I was asked to edit a magazine which was a tour guide to England’s tour that winter. At the same time I was asked to do bits of radio work and lots of other random jobs, which allowed me to spend some time with the BBC who showed me how it all worked. At that point a job became available working in the sports department which I applied for and got.”
So as it appears, without actually planning to do anything, Kevan was provided with a living once his playing career finished. There were benefits to doing the subconscious preparation that he had. “Having had 20 years in professional sport, I knew a lot of people and working locally to where I had spent most of my career meant that I had access to them when I started reporting and doing interviews not just in cricket, but also in football. It is also a great way of staying involved with the game and the people who make it so enjoyable. ”
But surely there must still have been a lot to learn about the media in general? “It was a massive learning curve and still is. Media is similar to professional sport. It is difficult to get into as there are a lot of people who want to do it – especially at the top end with Sky. It is also a shrinking industry with the way so much of it is going online and it moves very fast. You have to be very technically savvy and unless you do move with the times, there is a very short self-life. For radio, Test Match Special is the pinnacle and they are giving more people a chance with this so you have to be ready if your opportunity comes around.”
Kevan has done well to get to where he has and is now presenting the Saturday sport show for BBC Radio Solent. But what do you need to do to get to this point? “You need to become an all-round sports journalist. Football takes up much of the air time so you need to do your research. BBC Solent covers 4 football teams in the area – Southampton, Bournemouth, Eastleigh and Portsmouth. So to be able to talk knowledgeably about all those teams takes time. You need to know the club and the people associated with it. In the same way a football specialist would need to do a great deal of work on their cricket knowledge. It all starts with pitch-side reporting and press conferences.
Not blowing my own trumpet, I’ve now moved on to presenting the BBC Radio Solent Saturday sports show and they say that if you can present a station’s Saturday sports show, you can present any radio show anywhere in the world.”
Is there a way that people who are interested in media can make themselves more attractive to production companies? “Be prepared to work for nothing and develop your skills in whatever areas are highlighted by the people you volunteer with. Offer something that gets you in the door whether it is knowledge of a different sport or specific skills. Take every opportunity available to you – you never know where it will lead. Finally, sets your sights realistically. Everyone wants to work in the glamourous side of the industry for Sky or Match of the Day, but understand that there are other media jobs out there that translate to the level of cricket that you have played.”
The media is an enticing area for players wanting to move into from playing cricket, especially at the top end where Sky and BBC have a monopoly on the highest profile sports and the highest profile players. But that does not mean that covering sport and staying in touch with cricket and its people is out of reach. Consider the possibilities that local media can offer as experience of it is accessible at every game. If you want it, go get it.
Richard Blakey - What you see is what you get
Imagine playing 744 matches in a professional career spanning 20 years for One County. Then imagine never missing one day through injury and you start to get a feel for the extraordinary career of ex Yorkshire and England wicket keeper Richard Blakey. Add into the mix a very relaxed preseason routine, not much S&C and no nutritional information and it is hard not to be curious about his methods. Sure there was some luck involved and yes some high skill levels yet there is a common theme to this interview and it was not just his mind set throughout his playing days. Having retired in 2004 after a brilliant career, Richard was already on his way - running his own events company and making the most of life with other business opportunities. A team mate of the legends of the game Gough, Vaughan, Botham, Boycott and Lehmann he has been around the block a few times and looks in great shape to give us an insight.
“As a cricketer I developed some good habits and routines that have stood me in good stead. Fitness has always been and is still very much a part of my lifestyle and daily routine. As a player I knew that itwas my responsibility to look after myself not the job of the coach or physio. I always enjoyed the pre-season training and loved the team warm ups but also made sure that I went the extra mile to give myself the best opportunity to perform at optimum level. Naturally, there were plenty of aches and pains. Any player will tell you that once the relentless county cricket circuit gets underway, then you are very rarely “100% niggle free.” I once played with a broken nose and the odd cracked finger or two but with careful management and good recovery I think you can learn to get by. I was lucky that my body was able to take the strain of being a wicketkeeper/batsman, but looking back, my disciplined training regime definitely gave me the best possible chance. I always enjoyed a beer after play but made sure I was ready for the next day. My philosophy has always been - If I can train today, then I’ll be able to train tomorrow. I never gave myself long periods off so my base fitness was always good. Nowadays keeping fit is one of the most important things in a day. I make time for it and I enjoy it”
As a man of simple means, disciplined and still loving life, the theme of ‘Personal responsibility’ oozes out of the conversation. Now working for himself on his own terms the daily choices are in alignment with his goals, these have become embedded in him and something that drives him. He relies on his instincts and has the courage to act on them. “The things that stand out most in my career are the people I met and the opportunity to travel the world free of charge. We won a few trophies and playing for England was great, I got huge satisfaction from meeting people and always embraced going to see the sponsors. I made time for people and they appreciated it. I got to know many good and influential people really well and now my events company Richard Blakey Leisure helps provide them and their clients with memorable, bespoke sporting events. I also feel very lucky that I still get plenty of free time to spend with my family and can work my own diary.”
The idea of marketing, advertising, events and sport was not a coincidence. Early in his career back when contracts were just 6 months Richard would either be nurturing his skills on the pitch overseas or gaining experience in the business world at home.
“I remember the first winter I didn’t go abroad my local club Elland CC asked me to do a fixture card. So I went to all the local businesses and sold 24 adverts on the fixture list. I made a few quid; it was pretty easy and thought maybe I could expand on that. It helped Elland, helped myself and I went out and did it!
I have seen the benefit of setting goals since my early playing days, it is the same now. In business if I think there is a challenge and I could achieve it, I like to go and do it. Of course, I have made some mistakes and I think I have learned some valuable lessons along the way. There were definitely things I would have done sooner in my career and with regards to money without question I would have started investing a lot earlier. 20 years was a long time yet went so quickly! I was very fortunate to be awarded a benefit towards the end and it came at a time when I had learned to respect money. I can recall reading a couple of books which gave me valuable lessons - “The Richest Man in Babylon” gave simple but valuable advice on how to build your assets and “The Compound Effect” confirmed that your life is all about the choices you make!! Good choices, made consistently over time, executed with good discipline can only lead to success!!! It can be easy to chase material things at a young age and I can see the trappings for young players now but thankfully there is so much more information and guidance available and the PCA is doing a wonderful job in trying to guide the younger players.”
There is something refreshing in Richard Blakey, some will remember him as a cool unassuming thinker behind the sun glasses out in the middle where not much flustered him and yet 10 years on after his playing days you realise he is just the same bloke. Authentic.
“In the Badger’s Sett with Paul Nixon”
PDM Charlie Mulraine discovers what shaped his uncompromising and effusive approach to the game
Paul Nixon or Nico as he is more affectionately known, has a reputation for being a high energy, fast-talking individual whose glass is permanently half full. Much has been written about his cricketing exploits and I wanted to know a little bit more about the man before he came under the spotlight. How did his upbringing shape his character and where did this infectious positivity come from?
“I was a Cumbrian farmer’s lad. Brought up in a little village called Langwathby. My father was the arable man and my grandfather was the stockman. It wasn’t a tough existence…it was a very loving upbringing with a high work ethic and all about being in a team. Many winters for me were spent in the potato shed; which was our indoor school and sports hall when it rained!”
Nico was an only child but became the ‘5th brother’ to another farming family in the village. His father was a frustrated sportsman, playing for Penrith in the local Northern leagues, and was clearly a huge influence on him.
“Dad was calm and level-headed, a conservative wise old owl. He had high standards in life and in sport. My Mum was a shy, quiet lady whose best bit of advice I use with my little one is “Just do your best.”
There was a great camaraderie in the village with the village green being the centre for sports events most evenings.
“It was magical you know. The village parents played alongside the kids. My visions of 60 year old blokes with beer bellies and comb overs, flying down the left wing with their shirts out is engrained in my memory!”
These matches were not for the faint-hearted and their edgy, rough and tough style were a good grounding for how Nico would approach his professional cricketing career.
School was not easy for him. He suffered from mild dyslexia which impacted on his reading and spelling and admitted to being a hyper-active child. In many ways, sport gave him an outlet to express himself and release some of the frustrations he felt in the classroom. He played county football, rugby and cricket up to the age of 16 when he focused his efforts on cricket which he felt was more natural and instinctive. He played for Young England a year young in the same era as people like Mark Ramprakash, trialled for Lancashire and Warwickshire before ending up on the Lords’ Ground Staff when the aforementioned counties signed Warren Hegg and Keith Piper ahead of him. This early disappointment didn’t faze him.
“You always think you’re the best but my Dad was very good and said ‘life’s all about timing’. I was always driven as a kid and I think loving the game so much stopped any feelings of doubt.”
Nico was signed by Leicestershire in the era of Gower, Taylor and Willey. Far from being over-awed by these characters, he looked at those around him in the county game and knew he could play for England.
“I loved the fight, it reminded me of those days on the village green! I felt there were a lot of soft people around me.”
Rather than tone down his raw approach to the game, Nico was uncompromising and played with passion and a freedom of expression that he said was encouraged by the 2nd team coach Ken Higgs. When his opportunity came, Nico played the game as if he were still in the Cumbrian Leagues, getting the guys to high five each other and getting under the skin of the opposition batsmen.
“I was never shy. I was thick-skinned and said it as I felt it.”
Nico always took practice very seriously. He prided himself on being the first at training and the last to leave. There is the story of him finishing a bleep test during an England training camp only to towel himself down to do it all over again to support one of his teammates in another group.
After a broken thumb, courtesy of Allan Donald, looked to put a halt on his England ambitions many players might have given up on their international hopes. His mantra was “keep going, you never know” and his dream was realised when he was drafted into the England One Day squad for Australia in 2006/7 and the subsequent World Cup. His combative and vocal approach was encouraged by Duncan Fletcher as was passing on his t20 knowledge to the squad.
Nico was always involved in little businesses and did a negotiation course through the PCA. He liked opportunities to interact with people and made the most of any opportunity as a player to attend county and sponsor networking events with half an eye on his future beyond cricket.
“I remember seeing Peter Willey limping round the boundary in a warm up and thinking to myself I don’t want that to be me. Then some years down the track it was me. I remember one particular game when I didn’t want the ball to come to me. I had a fear of letting down the lads and realised it was time to go.”
Nowadays, Nico has a multi-faceted career. He is an Ambassador for the PCA in addition to having property investments, a Cricket Foundation, an involvement in a Sporting Holidays & Events company (together with Austin Healey and Will Greenwood) amongst other varied business interests. He has been busy!
“I committed to saying ‘yes’ to everything when I left the game and in hindsight could have been a bit more targeted. Cricket has opened so many doors and I’d love to give back in a coaching capacity in the county game. The one thing I have found is that the corporate world is not as instant as cricket…you need to badger people to make things happen.”For someone whose nickname is ‘Badger’ this should not be too difficult…
THE JOHN CHILDS STORY
The John Childs story is an interesting one. One of the most likeable players on the circuit, his First Class career spanned 21 years and 381 matches and culminated in the ultimate joy of finally being picked for England at the age of 36. Being the oldest debutant for 41 years, you could definitely say that he earned it!
The timing wasn’t easy. England were in the middle of a series against the all-conquering West Indian side of 1988, and were in the process of using four captains as the team resembled a revolving door at times. Childs held his own though. The wickets of Carl Hooper, Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge in his two Tests, and the ability to bowl with good control, saw the Devonian picked for the winter tour to India that year before its cancellation due to issues over visas for rebel tourists. The chance never came again. The slow left-armer who had helped bowl Essex to the County Championship in 1986 with an amazing 86 wickets at 15, had played his last Test.
It didn’t end there. Childs continued to prosper for Essex, taking 64 wickets in the Championship winning team of 1992, at the ripe old age of 40, until finally calling it quits in 1996.
It was then that Childs faced the question all sportsmen do at this stage “what do I do now?”. To many this situation can produce a wave of panic as the realisation of the number of years ahead and the prospect of trying to keep pace with a mortgage and school fees, come into sharp focus. Childs had been lucky enough to look ahead from an earlier age: “Before my first contract I completed an apprenticeship in signwriting. I was glad I did it because after being released by Gloucestershire in 1984 I had planned to go back to Devon to start a business. That was looking like a reality until I got a call from Essex in the January of 1985 and the rest as they say is history.”
Childs, knew little of the PCA in those days: “At that stage I didn’t know a lot about the PCA apart from their Annual Meeting at Edgbaston, which was probably poor on my part. There was little support from the Counties in those days, but I was confident that my apprenticeship would work either on my own or with a company. At that time you also have to remember that a cricketer’s money, even for a capped player, was still only a six month wage for a family person.”
Childs, then faced the question of which choice to make in retirement. The answer didn’t take long with Essex taking the decision out of his hands by offering him a job as a Development Officer with the County Board. This was the start of a long association with the County with his career direction finding familiar ground with jobs as assistant coach and 2nd X1 coach, following. He is currently the Academy Director, doing what he does best by helping young players navigate their way through to a potential career in the game. He more than anyone knows the challenges: “If I had my time again I would have done much more to have made the most of all the contacts I met through the game over the years. As players we got to meet a lot of corporate contacts and I think that I could have been much better at staying in contact and seeing if they could have helped me with my future plans.”
For Childs, though, the transition from player to coach has been a smooth one. He still enjoys bumping into old colleagues and opponents as he travels around the country and is a well-respected part of the county scene.
His career highlight is an acknowledgement of what the game has given him: “The obvious answer would be to say representing my country, but for me playing against the world’s best cricketers in the 80’s and 90’s is right up there.”
Many players around the country who experienced that era would nod in agreement.