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Big Read: The not so glamorous life of cricket touring

Perpetual touring can be an obstacle to building stable family lives in the cricket industry, writes Andrew Alderson.
Ross Taylor (R) and Victoria Taylor (L). Photo / Getty
Ross Taylor (R) and Victoria Taylor (L). Photo / Getty

Ross Taylor did some sums recently. When he flies home from this Indian tour, he will have slept 12 nights in his own bed over the past eight months. Mike Hesson calculated he was away from his Dunedin home 300 days in his first year as New Zealand coach.

The cricketing life conjures up glamorous images of jetting around the world, staying at swanky hotels and playing a sport you love in front of crowds prepared to fork out to witness your talents.

The reality can be different - practising, playing and travelling to and from rooms which can become self-imposed prisons. It's a cricketing riddle: Everything is laid on, yet freedom is restricted.

"I don't know how long that [lifestyle] is sustainable," says 32-year-old Taylor. "Fortunately my family came to England during that period [when he played for Sussex]. But when I was home for a week they were all sick."

Taylor benefits from being married to former Northern Spirit representative Victoria who understands the game's fickle nature. They have two children, Mackenzie, 5, and Jonty, 2.
Taylor's about to miss Mackenzie's first day at school.

"It becomes tougher as they understand more about what Dad does, but this is the job I always wanted to do. When you speak to past players, they say you're a long time retired.

"We're lucky with Facetime, Skype and text messages. Technology makes it easier with videos of the sports days and birthday parties that you're not there for."

Cricket can deliver mental obstacles via a split-second shot misjudgment, a running-between-the-wickets miscommunication, a delivery pitched millimetres from its intended mark or a lapse in concentration when judging a catch. Such mishaps can be stewed over while families complete their routines thousands of kilometres away.

Players can be guilty of exacerbating the situation. No one's forcing them to sign Twenty20 franchise contracts beyond the international game. Such deals are intended to set them up for life when cricket's over, but they risk getting jaded at international level.

Cricket's unnatural environment has been a catalyst for broken partnerships of the marriage variety. Families can struggle to cope when players are away, because of the demands on mums without suitable support networks, and when players are home, their return can disrupt established routines. Add the devotion or single-mindedness required to succeed at cricket and, kaboom, a relationship powderkeg is struck.

New Zealand Cricket policy allows players and support staff to fly partners on one overseas tour a year. After that they can bring families at their own expense.

Such largesse wasn't always the case. A common example was missing the birth of a child like Bert Sutcliffe's daughter Lynn being born during the Delhi test in which he made his highest test score of 230 not out in 1955.

Luke Ronchi faced a similar scenario in May 2013 before daughter Indi's birth during the England tour.

The former Australian representative wasn't eligible to play for New Zealand until January of that year, months after wife Shaan fell pregnant. The couple already had a son, Brody, who is now 6.

"If I'd stayed for another two days it would've been sweet, but the tour would've been missed if I'd waited until Shaan was full term. Because we had moved over to New Zealand for cricket, my wife was sweet with the decision," Ronchi said.

Shaan insisted her husband seize an international cricket lifeline which has since paid dividends. Ronchi appeared in a World Cup final and is establishing himself at No 5 in the test order following Brendon McCullum's retirement.

"I think I've been away more than I've been at home for Indi's life, but they understand Dad's going off to play cricket and they see me on TV.

"You're a long time retired. I started at 32 so have a smaller window to make the most of that."

Ronchi says the problem is that he mucks up the family routines because they are so used to him being away.

"Everything goes to crap," he laughs. "The kids want to muck around with you more and you want to have fun with them but that makes it hard, too. It's a chance for your partner to have a rest and you're standing around stuffing up school lunches with the kids saying, 'I don't want this, I want that'."

A worst-case scenario is that teams end up with a poisonous culture.

In October 2013, before his match-fixing activities were revealed, Lou Vincent told the Herald about the mindset he built on long tours with a young family at home.

"I just had the anxiety of feeling worthless, that I wasn't being asked out with the rest," he recalled. "You're in your room, you're by yourself and nobody calls to say, 'C'mon, let's go out to dinner'. You feel like an individual, not a team-mate. It was partly immaturity, partly the environment.

"The temptations are there. There's alcohol. You have a bad day and there's a bit of built up aggression there, a bit of I-don't-care factor. You think only about yourself and making yourself feel good."

The current team have gone to lengths to expunge such a culture.

Craig McMillan is someone who bridged the gap between the old and new environments as a player and now batting coach. He met his future wife Cherie at school in the early 1990s, and they have two children, Mitchell, 12, and Lucie, 10. Those ages make it harder to take the children out of school and extra-curricular activities for long periods.

"However, this environment is warmer in terms of partners and families being welcome," McMillan says. "They're not seen as a distraction and can come over whenever they want. It makes everyone more understanding of what we're going through.

"The flipside is when I played we didn't have T20 tournaments during breaks so it meant we could spend time at home. There aren't many gaps any more for the top players. They need a mental break to get the best out of them."

McMillan says cricket remains one of the toughest sports because even rugby and league get a more regular home-and-away schedule to balance family life.

"I'm doing a job I love, but I've already spent one-third of the year away. That's difficult on Cherie who's effectively a solo parent for that period but we've got a good support network in Christchurch."

McMillan says that's not to pretend everything's perfect when he gets back.

"We understand one another, but the first week's a struggle," he says with a wry smile. "I tend to forget that routines are set and I'll say, 'why are we doing this?' which doesn't go down too well. The key is realising you have to fit back into their routine, not your routine.

"Modern technology helps. On my first tour to India in 1999, the hotel phone was too expensive so you went down the road to a phone box, dialed a number off a coupon and connected. Otherwise you wouldn't hear from one another for ages."

The dedication required for cricket often sees it tagged a single-man's game. Taylor believes family life actually offers crucial balance.

"Cricket can be all consuming, especially as a batter. Maybe I'm just weird, but sometimes your kids put it into perspective. Regardless of whether you got a duck or 100, they just want to talk to Dad."

- NZ Herald

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