At 23, Heather finally wakes up to the chance of living his dream

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The Independent Online

This is Sean Heather's first summer as a professional cricketer. He is 23 and has given up his job in the outside world to pursue his dream. Since Sussex have given him only three months to make his case, reality could intrude before the season is out.

This is Sean Heather's first summer as a professional cricketer. He is 23 and has given up his job in the outside world to pursue his dream. Since Sussex have given him only three months to make his case, reality could intrude before the season is out.

"This is fantastic for me," he said. "I'm ecstatic about getting anything because really I've come from nowhere. I'd given up any idea of playing cricket for a living and I know how lucky I am to get this opportunity. I wake up buzzing every morning."

If he makes it - and he has a fighting chance - he will be testimony to the fact that it is never too late, that if you score runs or take wickets somebody will notice. Right now, he wants to be a county cricketer more than he wants to be anything else in the world.

Barely a year ago, Heather was no more than a good club player. As a boy he had played some representative cricket, but that had petered out. By the time he was 19, Heather had seen contemporaries surpass him, and the truth began to dawn. The childhood ambition gave way to less improbable aspirations. He took himself off to Australia for a few months, but that was as much to grow up as to play cricket. "I was very family-orientated and that was a good experience, because it brought me out of my shell."

Returning home to Chichester, it was time to enter the real world. He successfully applied for a job in the computer section at West Sussex County Council, where both his father and mother had worked for years. The cricket was going pretty well, no more. The problem with Heather's batting had always been the same. "I was always a frustrating player, getting lots of 20s and 30s and then getting myself out," he said. "It was the story of my life; I'd go in, look very comfortable and then get myself out."

Heather played for the remarkable village club of Stirlands. Started as a works side in the village of Birdham by a local builder, they went from Sunday social side in 1995 to Sussex County League side complete with new ground within eight years.

At the end of the 2003 season, Heather was 21, and decided it was time to take stock. Stirlands had been relegated and he had played twice, almost as an after-thought, for Sussex seconds without making a mark.

"I had to decide what to do next, whether to stay with my club, try to get them back into the Premier League or give my dream one more go, say a couple of years to see what happened. I didn't do anything in those second-team games but nothing that happened in them suggested to me I couldn't do it."

Heather then made a controversial but, as it turned out, wise choice by moving to Eastbourne, at the other side of the county. There were two reasons: they had players from the Sussex academy who were being watched regularly, and the pitch was fairly dodgy for batsmen.

"The drive from home was well over an hour, but I thought that if they had players who were being monitored and I did well, then they'd watch me as well," he said. "I also had a theory that a lesser batting wicket would help because it meant I needed to work hard."

By the end of May he had scored a century after reaching 30 in the first 30 overs. It was the turning point and, if he makes it as a professional, one on which he will always reflect. "It wasn't the hundred, but the way I made it. I worked out that I could bat for 30 overs for 20 or 30 and still score another hundred in the overs left and take the bowling apart."

He did so again and again, and in the final game of the summer broke the league scoring record, held, naturally, by an Australian. His prodigious scoring and his accurate, varied medium pace earned him a place in Sussex seconds.

For much of the summer he was playing twice at weekends, a three-day match in midweek for Sussex seconds, and working in his proper job for the other two days. "I didn't have a rest and my employers were tremendous in giving me unpaid leave. I felt I was having to work harder than everybody else."

Heather clinched his contract against Essex II in the last game. Sussex were left 324 to win in 65 overs. They made it with one wicket and three balls to spare. Heather made 104.

"I'm so excited about the next two months. I know I've improved my technique over the winter. There are lots and lots of batsmen at Sussex and I just have to take it one step at a time. My goal is to get an extension to the end of the season. My job was OK and I would have been quite content staying there, and I could honestly see that happening.

"But last year I found myself thinking about cricket all the time. All I want to do is make sure I haven't got any regrets. If I don't enjoy this now, I'm never going to enjoy anything else in my life."

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