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Deep Cover: ‘We’ll play topless with nipple tassels if we’re paid enough’

by Deep Cover 9 minute read

Inspired by the Guardian’s ‘Secret Footballer’ series, Wisden introduces the cricketing version. Over the next few months, our man, a current trophy-winning county cricketer, will be reporting from deep inside the dressing room.

Why would you choose to stay in England for the winter if you can play or train abroad? Either just straightforward warm-weather training, or earning some cash in one of these lucrative T10/T20 leagues around the world?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a run outside on a fresh crisp morning, but not so much in slushy muddy fields, or on concrete-hard frozen ground as a bitterly cold wind bites through you. It’s an all-year-round job these days, even for a standard county pro.

As winter sets in, the boozy October binge and end-of summer holiday seems a lifetime ago, for when November swings round all the county pros are back in, four or five days a week, training together. The actual cricket side of things is not a priority yet. We’ll start that in the new year.

I for one don’t mind getting back in and getting fit again. It’s nice to actually feel and look like an athlete – even if it’s just cricket. Then there’s the fact that you may actually be good friends with some (not all) of your teammates – and let’s be honest, winding each other up on a daily basis is something you missed in October. Others might just wish to escape the wife/girlfriend/kids for a few hours. And it beats working for a living.

I’m not saying we don’t train hard and professionally. But the lifestyle of a professional cricketer and the changing room atmosphere is why the vast majority of us do it. Throw in the fact that you can be handsomely paid if you’re good enough and able to sustain  a lengthy career, while showing off your skills to the paying and (sometimes) adoring public – it’s not really that hard, is it?

I won’t lie though. The thought of one day having a job outside of playing cricket is a tad daunting. I have had work and work experience out of cricket and played enough club cricket with people who play purely for fun. I know you’ve got to stay grounded to really enjoy the playing career as much as possible.

I’ve been fortunate enough to win some silverware in my time in the game, but the phrase ‘You’re a long time retired’ still resonates almost daily with me, particularly when a bad day’s play or poor personal performance arises, and I think of what else I could be doing. But I try to bear in mind that as bad a day as you can have, someone somewhere is having a way worse time of it. Dropping an important catch, nicking off for a globe or bowling a heap of dross is nothing compared to what other people go through in their daily lives.

***

The TV was on in the gym last month, with the Sri Lanka Test series getting all the airtime as the lads went about their business. It seems to me that this current England team is capturing the eyes and hearts of fellow players and supporters, who not only want to see England win, but win with style and flair. And you couldn’t always say that in years gone by.

I haven’t heard any negativity this winter from my teammates about the national team. Even when the Foakes/Bairstow issue arose, it split opinion but it was all from a positive angle. It’s nice to see and hear fellow pros getting excited about the game, because there are no bigger cricket badgers than a lot of the players.

Jonny Bairstow

Jonny Bairstow lets it all out in Colombo

You could pretty much guarantee that Bairstow would score a ton on his return to the side. The man loves to prove a point. His emotional celebrations were both good to see and slightly cringe-worthy, but this is top-level sport, he clearly felt he had a point to prove after sitting out the previous game.

He plays on the edge and is an intense character but then some of the best are. His post-match interview was a little bizarre and equally emotional, but as long as he picks his battles and keeps performing I have no problem with it. Sometimes top-level sport these days lacks characters so it’s refreshing to hear somebody speak from the heart.

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Another headline grabber has been the Hundred. I have to say the whole situation and how it’s been managed is a shambles. OK, fair play, start a new format and get some games on terrestrial TV. Theoretically, it’s to generate a lot more cash for the ECB to put back into the game in this country, and make players more wealthy. Whether this happens remains to be seen, but I know for a fact that a lot of current players, regardless if they end up participating in this new tournament or not, are not overly enthusiastic for it.

In time, no doubt, this will change to a more positive attitude. Don’t get me wrong, we are pros and we’ll play topless with nipple tassels and flashing footwear if we are paid enough. But we don’t want to be lied to or pushed around with no idea what is actually going on. I just hope it’s actually a success and brings a new audience, or even just terrestrial viewers, to the game, who feel a connection with cricket. And in turn that gets the game pumping again at grassroots level.

This article first  featured in issue 15 of Wisden Cricket MonthlySubscribe here

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