‘Mental health is massive in cricket’

If any young sportsman knows the importance of staying fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, it’s 21-year-old Gloucestershire fast bowler Ollie Currill.

“Mental health is massive in cricket just due to the nature of the game, it’s slower paced, and of all the team sports there are, cricket is the most individual,” says Currill.

“The sport itself is made of up of batsman versus bowler and although it’s a team sport, it can feel like it’s just you out there.”

No fear

Currill comes into the 2018 season ready to deliver on his undoubted potential, aiming to regain the first team spot that eluded him for the majority of the last campaign. Struggles with injury restricted him to a sole first-class appearance.

“My goal for this year is to solidify myself in the first team again, as well as to really prioritise staying fit.

“I was in the first team at the start of last year, had a tough first game, and then played a lot of second team cricket, got injured, and that was it for the season.”

But despite it being a frustrating year for Currill, his outlook is positive these days, citing a “no-fear cricket” approach, inspired by former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, that he and his teammates have adopted.

“No fear cricket,” the fast bowler explains, “is trying to keep that relaxed attitude, where you’re backing yourself and your teammates abilities 100 per cent.

“You’ve got to realise that we’re not robots, we’re not perfect, I can’t put the ball in the same place six times in a row as a bowler. You have to accept that you’re gonna make mistakes, and just not to worry about them.”

Tough spell

“It’s the way to be in modern cricket”, the 21-year-old believes, and it’s hard to disagree. But in a sport that is, in the words of former England international Graeme Fowler, “based on failure”, keeping a positive outlook can be harder than it may seem.

And Currill himself went through a particularly hard period in his days at age-group cricket, a battle with mental health that could have derailed his promising career.

“I did have a bit of a tough spell myself mentally when I was about 15. I’ve been with Gloucestershire since I was 11 years old, and played with the age groups until I was 14, and then I didn’t get into the county squad at age 15.

“I had this perfectionist approach to everything at that point so it actually affected me quite a lot.

“I was going to district training sessions and training and it was really affecting my play and lowering my standard, because of my mindset at the time, so it was very hard to get through.”

He credits Gloucestershire, as well as the PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association) who are making strides in making support available for cricketers, for “making sure we’re not by ourselves” with the Mind Matters programme and 24-hour helpline.

But Currill, like so many other teenagers aspiring to make it in professional sport, did not have the same level of support during his struggles as a 15-year-old.

“When you’re at that kind of young age, it is a lot tougher to get to the people that can help. The higher up you progress, the more professional it gets and also the less people there are to look after. Going up the levels helps to shrink the player pool because not everyone can make it.”

It’s as true in cricket as it is in any other sport: every year, thousands of teenagers who harbour dreams of making a career from professional sport are told that there is no future for them.

It’s a huge setback for anyone to take, and an area where many people feel there is much room for improvement when it comes to helping young people overcome that disappointment.

“When I was having that spell, to be honest I didn’t really get any professional help from anyone else, it kind of came from sheer determination from within, as well as support from my parents.

“I was lucky to bounce back quite quickly getting back into the squad next year. I’m sure there’s a lot of others around the country that didn’t get so lucky.”

First-class ambitions

Nowadays, Currill looks back at overcoming that period as his “turning point”, and now he finds himself on the cusp of being a regular first-class cricketer. There is plenty of optimism around the Bristol County Ground with the season to begin next month, with the side aiming to better their sixth place finish in the 2017 County Championship.

“Without meaning to get ahead of ourselves, and you are gonna get this answer from people at every county, but we are genuinely all shaping up really well. We’ve been training hard this week and had a good camp and all shaped up really nicely, both bowlers and batsmen.

“We’ve recruited really well, with Ryan Higgins and Andrew Tye. They’ll strengthen the side no end with their ability and we’re in a good place going into the season.”

“Personally, all I want to do at the moment to be honest is just stay fit, and get myself into the red ball first team, and not give anyone else a sniff really. After that, it’s just to keep improving as much as I can and backing myself 100 per cent, and go as far as that takes me.”