Branching out: life after stumps for a journeyman bowler

I got bored at Hampshire Cricket Club this week. I had two hours to kill waiting for a meeting of trade union activists to finish (long story). The Rose Bowl is a good-looking place, although in thick fog I could only see about a fifth of it. Clearly, there would be no play before lunch. I stared glumly out towards the middle idly wondering if the fog would lift enough to give me a glimpse of the square.

I got bored at Hampshire Cricket Club this week. I had two hours to kill waiting for a meeting of trade union activists to finish (long story). The Rose Bowl is a good-looking place, although in thick fog I could only see about a fifth of it. Clearly, there would be no play before lunch. I stared glumly out towards the middle idly wondering if the fog would lift enough to give me a glimpse of the square.

I'd been worrying what to write about this week. It was only Tuesday - the panic doesn't normally set in until Wednesday night - but it's still disquieting if nothing's come to mind. Then, a brainwave: this being a cricket club there might be a cricketer here to interview - smart thinking or what?

"Most of them are playing Down Under," said the receptionist, "but John Crawley and Billy Taylor are in." John Crawley I'd heard of, but of Billy Taylor, to be honest, I knew nothing. "He's a tree surgeon in the winter," another member of staff told me.

This was precisely the kind of stereotype I was angling for: the honest pro who's reached his level in the game and, realising he can go no further, has a job on the side to fall back on when the captain's thrown him the ball to bowl for the last time. But, gratifyingly, Billy Taylor's story is a bit more complicated than that.

He's 27 now and looks back on an early career strewn with setbacks, knock-backs and all manner of indications that would have convinced a less determined soul he would never make it in the game. "When I was 17 I had a season of second-team cricket but I was told I wasn't good enough and wouldn't make the grade."

There you go, that's the difference between him and me: I would have given up at that point, and it would have felt like the end of the world.

"It felt like that for a bit," he says, "and I went to work 12-hour shifts in a warehouse and I didn't enjoy that at all." By now he was 21. "I wrote to every county for a trial but hardly anyone even replied, but then I had the opportunity to go to play in New Zealand."

His luck changed. "Out there I played against the MCC and bowled really well. Keith Greenfield from Sussex saw me and I got a three-day trial with them when I got back. At the trial the weather was awful, it was like winter, and we had to keep coming off, but I was lucky that my side bowled first and I did well."

On the back of that he got a game in Sussex seconds and took five wickets, then took 22 wickets in the next five games. He went from strength to strength - in 2002 he took hat-tricks in consecutive weeks - and he played a big part in Sussex's Championship-winning season. But he moved on to Hampshire in search of more regular cricket.

By his own admission he is paid well, so why the tree surgery? "The money from cricket's not going to be there for ever and there'll be a lot of life to live after cricket."

But the work, it turns out, also has a therapeutic and even motivational purpose for him. "I enjoy it. It takes my mind away from the cricket. It makes me appreciate what I've got, how lucky I am, and how I should enjoy it while it lasts."

Quite what his insurance bill must be like, being a sportsman and tree surgeon, doesn't bear thinking about. His employers at Hampshire are apparently relaxed about all this, though he's not totally sure that they quite understand how much of his work does involve swinging about on trees. "If the chairman or the coach saw what I actually do when I'm climbing the trees they might change their minds, or have heart attacks."

For man who has won a County Championship and taken two hat-tricks in a couple of weeks, it's odd to hear him talk with as much pleasure of tree surgery as taking the opening batsman's middle stump out - though it's woodwork of sorts in both cases, I suppose.

"It's great when you've done a job and you stand back and you see how happy your client is. I get a lot of satisfaction from that."

All of which leads me to suspect that his mind is on a future up trees, rather than the present in cricket. But it's quite humbling to find out how wrong I am. He trains, at The Rose Bowl, five days a week, all winter. He's in at 9.30 and works out in the gym until noon. Then he'll have a bowl in the nets for three-quarters of an hour.

I find this level of dedication awesome in someone who, in most pundits' minds, probably hasn't quite got what it takes to make the next step up. Steady but unexceptional. A journeyman.

One former international put it to me like this: "He does everything nicely but nothing outstandingly well."

But what's in the experts' minds is less important than what is in his. "All the knock-backs I had early on made me determined. And if someone says I can't do it I'm determined to prove them wrong. I'm getting stronger and fitter every year and my ambition is to play for my country at some stage. I wouldn't be in the game if didn't want to." He pauses, then adds: "I miss the tree surgery, though, as much as I miss the cricket when I'm not playing."

I asked him if his favourite tree is willow. "No, it's oak. It's very strong and a lot more secure. Oak's my favourite." How appropriate.

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea