Tag Archives: cricket

‘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.”

harry gurney

Harry Gurney on the art of bowling at the death

England fans have painful memories of Ben Stokes’ inability to nail that yorker and protect 19 runs in the final over of the World T20 in 2016.

Carlos Brathwaite’s four consecutive sixes for the West Indies in Kolkata will forever haunt both Stokes and his team-mates and those watching aghast on the sofa at home.

It sounds a lot, 19 runs, but bowling at the death is not easy.

Back on our shores, Nottinghamshire head coach Peter Moores told me that of the three competition successes his side enjoyed in 2017, the T20 Blast victory was the most pleasurable.

And for that a great deal of credit must go to left-arm seamer Harry Gurney, whose tight bowling late on secured both the semi-final and the final.

Elephant Sport met with the bowler to discuss the art of bowling at the death.

Having a blast at finals day

Gurney celebrates beating Birmingham Bears in the final

In the semi-final of the T20 Blast against Hampshire, the dangerous trio of Liam Dawson, Gareth Berg and Kyle Abbott all fell victim to one Gurney over, the 18th of the innings, leaving Hampshire with one wicket remaining and too many to get.

And in the final, the 31-year-old opened his box of cutters and back-of-the-hand slower balls to which the Birmingham Bears had no reply.

The removal of New Zealander Colin de Grandhomme in the 15th over and Sam Hain in the 19th – the former with a T20 strike rate well above 160 while the latter was well set on 72 – edged Notts ever closer to their second white ball trophy of the summer.

In that final, Gurney was the right man for the job.

“In T20 cricket, I’m the captain’s go-to man. If he feels like there is a situation arising where he needs a wicket or a tight over I’m the man he’ll come to.

“De Grandhomme was starting to motor [in a partnership with Hain] and we thought if he gets going here they could still win this.”

But the seamer outfoxed the danger man, with the Kiwi misreading a slower ball and chopping onto his own stumps.

Gurney returned to bowl the penultimate over of the match. The Bears needed 34 from 12 balls, a difficult task but Hain was playing beautifully while Aaron Thomason was more than capable of clearing the rope.

Destiny

Gurney said: “I have always bowled the last two overs from one end [in T20 cricket]. I enjoy bowling at that time, I like to be in control of my own destiny.”

And enjoy it he did, conceding only five runs and removing both occupiers of the crease, leaving the Bears requiring 29 from the final over with two new batsmen.

Birmingham simply could not decipher Gurney’s action, his variety of lengths and speed making him near impossible to dispatch to the boundary.

Jake Ball followed the script in the final over and the Outlaws won by 22 runs. Gurney finished the day with figures of 7-34, the best ever in the history of this tournament finale.

Hard work

But how does a bowler develop these skills? Any professional can land the ball where they require but scoreboard pressure can alter the trajectory of a delivery far more drastically than seam position.

“But I also might find a ball out of nowhere that takes a wicket”

“The main reason is hard work. At the end of practice, when everyone else is done, I take myself off to a pitch on the side, put a cone down and I won’t be happy until I’ve nailed that yorker a few times.

“I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic with regard to those variations and that is now combined with a few years executing those skills in the middle.

“People know I might leak the odd boundary but I also might find a ball out of nowhere that takes a wicket”

But it is the slower ball that makes the left-armer such a threat.

“I’ve got two slower balls, the one that comes out the back of my hand and the one where I roll my fingers down the side. Then I pair those with either a length ball, a bouncer or a yorker.

“But I didn’t bowl a bouncer on finals day, it just didn’t feel right.”

Have England missed a trick?

Representing England in 2014

On finals day Gurney was spot on. His economy for the day was a staggering 4.86 runs per over.

Those figures are enough to win any T20 game and this was no accident with the precision and skill of his bowling being the clear product of hours of hard work.

“It’s a funny phrase isn’t it, ‘hard work’. There’s only so hard being a professional sportsman could be.”

But it paid off and many took notice, including Rob Smyth writing in The Guardian, who said: “England must be a bloody good T20 side if they don’t need him”

They certainly could have done with Gurney on that night in Kolkata.

Five successful sporting switches

We all have an occasional urge to do something new to freshen up our lives, and trying out a new sport is one way of doing it.

But imagine if that urge could lead to a potentially lucrative and dazzling new career when you’re already made a name for yourself as a sportsman.

The most recent star to switch from one sport to another is former Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who made a successful WWE pro-wrestling debut in Munich.

We look at five other moves that paid off.

5. Andrew Flintoff – from cricket to boxing to cricket

Flintoff strikes a pose. Pic by Adam Cool© , flickr creative commons

Many cricketers have shown their talents for other sports. Dennis Compton, for example, played 78 Tests for England but also had a successful career as a footballer with Arsenal.

England legend Sir Ian Botham also played football whilst playing Test cricket, while South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes played hockey and was actually selected to represent his country at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A more recent familiar example is Andrew Flintoff’s decision to try professional boxing after retiring from cricket. The former England all-rounder made his pro debut in Manchester 2012 against Richard Dawson from the US.

It ended successfully for Flintoff as he won the fight, which was filmed as part of a TV documentary about his switch from the pitch to the ring.

However, ‘Freddie’ decided to quit while and he was ahead opted instead to make a cricketing comeback.

He came out of retirement to compete for Lancashire in the 2014 Natwest T20 Blast, and also went to Australia later that year to play in the Big Bash for the Brisbane Heat, before finally calling it a day.

4. Adam Gemili – football to athletics

Team GB sprint star Adam Gemili’s footballing career started at Chelsea as a youth player since at the age of eight, and he went on to ply as a defender for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC.

Maybe he suspected deep down that soccer stardom was out of his reach, so he opted to develop his other talent – for running fast – instead and left football behind in favour of athletics in 2012.

His most successful achievement on the track to date came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he finished second in the men’s 100m final.

Still only 23 years of age, he’s surely on course to add to his medals tally on the international stage in the next few years.

3. Fabien Barthez – from football to motorsport

MOTORSPORT - GT TOUR 2012 - PAUL RICARD - LE CASTELLET (FRA) - 26 TO 28/10/2012 - PHOTO : FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI - BARTHEZ FABIEN - TEAM SOFREV ASP FERRARI 458 ITALIA - AMBIANCE PORTRAITFormer Manchester United star Fabien Barthez was known as a fabulous shot stopper, and was named ‘keeper of the tournament as France won the 1998 World Cup.

He also helped his country to win Euro 2000, and won plenty of league titles and cups at club level for the likes of United, Marseille and Monaco.

After retiring in 2007, he swapped football strips for racing suits as he developed a successful career in motorsport.

He has competed in competitions including the Porsche Carrera Cup France, the FIA GT Series and Caterham Sigma Cup France.

In 2013 he was crowned French GT champion, and in 2014 took part in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari 458, he and his co-drivers finished 29th overall and ninth in their class.

2. Sonny Bill Williams – from rugby league to boxing to rugby union

Sonny Bill Williams has had an extraordinary career. An true icon to many, the New Zealander has achieved a ton of success in his time.

From winning two Rugby World Cups and several honours in rugby league, to remaining unbeaten in his boxing career, Williams is surely on of the greatest athletes in the world.

He started out in rugby league, playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters as well as for New Zealand.

He then decided to make a switch to boxing and was unbeaten in seven fights, winning them all, including three by knockout, and claiming the New Zealand heavyweight crown and WBA international belt along the way.

However, rugby union came calling again and he returned to the 15-man code in time to become part of the All Blacks squad which won the 2011 World Cup, helping them to retain it in 2015.

1. Brock Lesnar – multi-sport athlete

Not only he can fight, he can play American football too. Brock Lesnar has success written all over him.

Winning multiple championships in the WWE and New Japan pro-wrestling – as well as dominating the MMA/UFC scene – he also had a brief spell at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Lesnar signed with WWE in 2000, making his main roster debut in 2002. He went on to become the youngest undisputed WWE champion at the age of 25, a King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner as well as ending Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014.

Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Lesnar put his WWE career on hold in 2004 in order to pursue a career in American football as a defensive tackle. He was recruited by the Minnesota Vikings for the 2004-05 campaign and played several pre-season games but was then cut from their roster.

UFC came calling, and it was a fresh challenge for Lesnar. He had nine fights, winning six of them, but has now returned to the WWE and has a bout against Goldberg in the Survivor Series on November 20th.