With the close-season now well and truly upon us, we thought it would be interesting to catch up with some former Somerset players to discuss how they coped with the long winter months. We even invited Marcus Trescothick along!
We met with former Club Captains Roy Kerslake, Mike Burns, Ian Blackwell and Marcus Trescothick plus former player and coach Peter Robinson and Club legend Andy Caddick.
I think it’s safe to say that the game has changed a lot over the years both on and off the field. What are your memories of the winter close-season?
Roy Kerslake: “Life has changed dramatically in the last 40 to 50 years as we all know and life was a lot less frantic when I was playing. That meant it was possible to gain winter employment much more so than it is now. The pace of life wasn’t the same and people were prepared to take you on and give you some training for various different jobs. For most players, if they wanted to get winter employment, they could. During those days there was very little cricket played during the winter and we didn’t know what strength and conditioning was. That only applied to weightlifters as far as we were concerned! There may have been some indoor nets in January but certainly no training and we didn’t report back until the first of April. Between September and April players were free to do pretty much what they wanted. We weren’t expected to train or do nets. It was up to us whether we did it. Given what we earned as players back then I think it was important for nearly all of us that we had some employment during the winter, especially if you had a family.”
Andy Caddick: “The big difference when I played was that we only had six month contracts, so for the other six months you were almost on your own. That’s mainly why players went off to work in the winter. We used to have winter nets in the indoor school on a Tuesday night with Peter Robinson just to keep things ticking over. That was out of your contract though, so it was down to you whether you went or not and most of the local players did. 20 years ago it was up to you what you did in the winter but nowadays with 12 month contracts it’s the Club’s responsibility to ensure that you are ready for the start of the season. The way we used to be tested was that you would be given a fitness target to hit by a certain date and it was down to you to get fit. Now it’s the Clubs responsibility to know the players and their individual requirements.”
Peter Robinson: “It’s very different nowadays. When I joined in 1965 the Club said that they would find me some digs. We were all due to be back at the ground for the 1st of April and a couple of days before that they told me that I was going to be staying at the Crown & Sceptre pub. I stayed there for two nights but on the third morning the Club called to say that the Secretary wanted to see me. His first words were “we can’t afford to keep you there, you’ll have to find somewhere else”. I don’t think players are treated quite like that now. I eventually ended up sharing a room with Geoff Clayton at the Princess Royal. Four of us ended up staying there. Merv Kitchen and Fred Rumsey shared a room there too. We paid ten shillings a night when we were there and they didn’t charge us if we had an away match. The players have far more home comforts now. We would finish in September and would be wanting a break from it. We would then come back in January and build it up. In the winter the Club used to pretty much shut down. You had the groundstaff and the office staff and that was about it. You had the dog track though which was run by Dave Pipe. You didn’t really go back to the Club in the winter until we had a few indoor nets in January. You’d have a bit of a practice and a pint and that was it. We tried to find any job we could really.”
Ian Blackwell: “It was slightly different a few years ago to how it is now. We all sort of disappeared off around September time and we probably wouldn’t hit any cricket balls until sometime after Christmas. We used to have October off and then Daz would set us a programme and we’d be in the gym twice a week ticking over until the New Year. There’s a greater deal of professionalism in the game now. The guys are expected to be doing things all year around whereas when we were playing you had a definite break. We waved goodbye to certain players at the end of the season and then wouldn’t see or hear from them for six months. Now there’s an emphasis on getting the young players overseas for a couple of months in the winter to get them experience in different areas of the game, which can only help matters. You can spend all the time you want in the indoor nets but there is no substitute for getting outside. They can only benefit from being involved in game situations too. Now you have to be a cricketer all year round if you want to represent your country. The winter break can be a long six months and as a player you’re very keen for the season to get underway. Once Christmas is out f the way you get fed up of the gym and fed up of hitting balls indoors. You just want to get outside. Obviously you need a break from the game at some point but by the time November came around I just wanted the season to start again.”
Mike Burns: “The game has changed a lot now, especially when it comes to training. I’ve just been in to the gym here at the Cooper Associates County Ground and there’s a lot of guys in the gym already even though the season’s only just finished. It’s much more professional now and it’s an all year round job.”
Marcus Trescothick: “It’s obviously changed dramatically in the last seven or eight years with the introduction of 12 month contracts. That’s what’s changed everything. When I first started you used to report back on the 1st of April, do three weeks of training and then go in to the start of the first game. You were really left to your own devices up to that point. We used to come in for net practice on a Tuesday and Thursday evening. That was it really during the winter. Just travelling over from wherever you lived to train once or twice a week. The approach is very different now. Nowadays you get about six weeks off at the end of the season, then you come back in for winter training which is Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. It’s a lot more structured and disciplined now as well as being a lot more fitness orientated especially in that period between November and the New Year.”
A lot of the young players now go overseas during the winter. Did that sort of thing happen in your day?
Roy Kerslake: “There’s far more people going overseas now than there used to be. You used to get the occasional one going abroad but now there are any number going all around the world in the winter. I think it’s a fantastic experience for them and I wish we’d been able to do it when we were young. Nowadays the youth set ups are so much more structured. When I was playing we only had one colts team which I think was Under 16’s and that was the only youth cricket there was and there was no structured programme of graduating year by year. It’s so much more professional now and today any young lad with a good amount of ability who is keen enough will get the chance to progress if he’s good enough.”
Andy Caddick: “It’s good that the guys today go abroad and play because I’ve always been a great advocate of getting out there and bowling. There’s just no substitute for it. The only other thing that I used to do was swimming. I’d do 1000 to 1500 metres every morning followed by bowling. I think it’s good for the players these days to be going abroad in the winter. It lets them see a different environment which is good because the Australian, New Zealand and South African mentality towards cricket is totally different. I think it’s important for the young players to see that. It’s like when all the overseas players used to come to England. The Australians used to send their youngsters over here to learn the trade. They would then go back to Australia with a knowledge of English cricket and conditions. It’s important that they get experience and get some game time. That will stand them in good stead for when they come back.”
Ian Blackwell: “Back then I would say that it was 80% down to the individual player as to whether or not you went abroad in the winter. If you went to the Club and said that you were looking to play overseas in the off season then they would support you and help you as much as they could but nowadays I think the Club actively seek placements for the young players on schemes like the Lehmann Academy. It’s not just on the pitch where things have changed as the PCA now also offer a number of courses outside of the season and that’s fantastic, especially for those who go straight from school in to cricket.”
Marcus Trescothick: “Some of the guys used to go away but nowhere near the same level as players do today. Neil Mallender used to go and play in New Zealand but that was about it.”
Peter Robinson: “One or two players used to go abroad. I remember Fred Rumsey going to South Africa and Chris Greetham used to go too. Ken Palmer went for a season too and went on to play for England when he was out there. By and large though most of us stayed at home. You had to organise those sort of things for yourself back then. Nobody did it for you.”
Mike Burns: “We didn’t always get the opportunity to go abroad, especially when you had a wife and child like I did. A few players did go abroad but it was more off your own back. I once went to a place in the Eastern Cape and everyone there just spoke Afrikaans all the time. I played with some school kids so there was no after match drinks in the bar or things like that so it was quite tough. I also went to Nelson in New Zealand and we lived in a small garage underneath a house near the beach. The garage was just all breeze blocks and very basic and it was certainly character building. Having said that we got to drive around the South Island and see things that we would never have seen if it hadn’t been for cricket.”
The second part of this interview will be published on Boxing Day.