Focus: The cricketers' wives

Do they live in huge houses and guzzle bubbly like the women of football? Emma John reveals the secret home lives of England's Ashes heroes
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The Independent Online

They have every opportunity to live the excess-all-areas footballer dream. Yet you're more likely to see the England team doing some rounds on the golf course than getting in rounds at ChinaWhite. Nine of the players are married or engaged and there are no Victoria Beckhams among these women. Jenny, who Geraint Jones proposed to earlier this summer, used to serve him in the canteen at the Kent county cricket club. Ruth MacDonald, married to Andrew Strauss, keeps her maiden name when she's performing as an actress on the London fringe. And Andrew Flintoff's missus, Rachael, started her own sports promotions company aged 19, and was working at a Test match when they met. "I didn't know who he was at the time," she has said. "[My daughter Holly and I] are the two people in the world he doesn't talk cricket with."

That's not to say the team has no good-time boys. Simon Jones loves celebrity parties - "It's nice to meet the famous, isn't it?" - even though they've got him into trouble. The pin-up of the team, Jones had to explain himself to girlfriend Kim when rumours circulated about him and Jodie Kidd at the start of this year, and a kiss-and-tell revelation earlier this summer ended their relationship. (Jones denies everything.)

Then there's Kevin Pietersen, whose cockiness and exuberance has made him so dangerous a batsman. He admits he has an eye for women - "I don't struggle," he winks - and most recently dated Big Brother contestant Vanessa Simmo.

Pietersen and Jones are both Ferrari fans. But in the England car park, family saloons outnumber flash speedsters. Ian Bell, the 23-year-old batting prodigy who still lives with his parents, is content with a very grown-up Audi A6, which probably gets mistaken for his dad's car. And big Freddie Flintoff sports a fittingly chunky VW Touareg. Marcus Trescothick and his wife Hayley have matching BMW X5s, the new staple of the aspirant school run.

This England team is very much a family-oriented side. Three of the senior players - Trescothick, Vaughan and Flintoff - have become fathers in the past 18 months. "As soon as the Test is over the guys have one big night out together and then they're off to see their families," says Mark Butcher, a regular member of the England set-up who missed out this summer through injury. Trescothick, Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard are all country lads who prefer dog-walking to night-clubbing (despite his current million-pound price tag, one of Flintoff's extravagances is a share in not a racehorse but a greyhound). Steve Harmison, who married at the tender age of 20, loves his family and his home so much that he has a very public struggle with homesickness.

In part it is about the unique demands of the game. England cricketers are better paid than ever: each is on a contract worth up to £350,000 a year - and with a savvy agent some can expect to double that with sponsorship deals. But while their footballing counterparts are out enjoying their dosh, England cricketers, with a gruelling schedule of home matches followed by a three-month winter tour each year, don't really have the time. Andrew Flintoff, who got married in March, hasn't even been able to fit in a honeymoon.

But this is, in many ways, a unique side. It isn't so long ago that the strains of the cricketing merry-go-round were notorious for playing merry hell with players' lovelives. In the hedonistic '80s, the catchphrase was "What goes on tour, stays on tour." Which didn't always work, as Ian Botham discovered when the newspapers reported a cocaine-snorting affair with a Miss Barbados (which he denied) and an Australian waitress (which he admitted).

The game's authorities have wised up and policy has changed. Girlfriends and wives were once kept at arm's length on tours, and had to fund their own trips, but, after Nasser Hussain became captain, family was encouraged. "They realised how important it was for players to admit they missed their wives and kids, instead of hiding those feelings," Steve Harmison said last year. "It's made us gel as a team." The England and Wales Cricket Board now pays for a two-week trip for each family, and is happy for them to be around longer.

But in reality, it's difficult for the women to be on the road all the time. Financially it's taxing, and although few of them work full-time, there are new babies to be cared for. For wives like Stine Giles and Hayley Harmison with older children, there is school to consider. Trips abroad become few and far between, which can leave the men bereft. Harmison famously described the day he left Heathrow for South Africa last December as "the worst day I've known as a cricketer".

That said, Flintoff was scarcely seen without Rachael and three-month-old Holly on that tour, and his close friends Harmison and Robert Key were often called on for babysitting duties. Rachael even booked an extra room in case Holly's crying kept Andrew awake. Marriage has been good to many of the team. Andrew Strauss began to reach his potential as a batsman after he married Ruth. And Flintoff, whose team-mates coined the term "getting Freddied" after his legendary binges, changed completely after meeting Rachael. Between tests the Flintoffs fled the spotlight, first to Devon, then France.

Ashes success has brought new pressures. "What changes is the way people treat you," says Pietersen, whose friends stopped calling, thinking he was busy. "The trouble is, if people treat you differently for long enough you behave differently. I don't want to do that. I want to stay as me."

'When he said he played cricket I thought it was a hobby'

Ashley Giles's wife, Stine, is Norwegian. They met in Birmingham when she was working in a local hotel, and live in Droitwich. Last year, she had to support him through the lowest point of his career as bad press and poor form left him close to quitting the game.

When I met Ashley, I didn't know anything about cricket and I thought it was just his hobby. One morning after we'd first met he said he was going off to play cricket. I expected he'd be back by lunchtime, so when he got home late in the evening I was fuming. I didn't know he would be playing all day!

But I really enjoy it now. Even my Norwegian family are cricket nuts. I was with the kids in Norway during the last two Tests and there's no TV coverage, so we had to watch it on the internet.

Things have changed a lot since Ashley has been playing for England. He's away so much more, especially in the winter. It's a lonely life sometimes, being a cricket wife. But there's a good set-up and the other wives are very friendly. That's the positive side. We have all got something in common. Even more now that there are quite a few babies popping up! We have a really good family feeling.

If Ashley's not at home, I speak to him twice a day - normally by the time he rings in the evening I already know if he's had a good or bad day. After the Old Trafford Test I could tell he was disappointed [England failed to force a victory] and I couldn't do very much - I felt very guilty at the time.

I know he's thinking about this week's game but we try not to talk about it too much. We try to put cricket behind us when we're at home and get on with the everyday.

ASHLEY GILES, 32

Intelligent and thoughtful team man. Best friends with Michael Vaughan. Collects art with his Norwegian wife Stine. Born in Surrey, plays for Warwickshire but lives in Worcestershire, with their five-year-old son Anders and three-year-old daughter Tilly.

ANDREW FLINTOFF, 27

Cricket's biggest star. Big-hearted, lovable Lancastrian. Enjoys walks in the country and a good old-fashioned pub. Married Rachael, who runs a sports marketing firm, this year. They live with one-year-old daughter Holly in Cheshire.

MARCUS TRESCOTHICK, 29

Quiet West Country lad from Keynsham. Obsessive about cricket, spends his spare time studying his innings on video. Likes golf and sausages - nickname Banger. Lives near Taunton, Somerset, with his wife, Hayley, and became father earlier this year to Ellie.

KEVIN PIETERSEN, 25

Native South African, caused ructions when he moved here in 2000. Now a qualified Englishman and a big-hitting sensation. Enjoys being the team's playboy and experimenting with hair-dye. Last seen out with Big Brother's Vanessa Nimmo.

ANDREW STRAUSS, 28

South African-born public schoolboy. Charming and polite thanks to Radley - nicknamed Lord Brocket as a result. Would have been a City accountant if not a cricketer. Married to Ruth, an Australian actress several years his senior, and lives in Ealing.

SIMON JONES, 26

Fiery Welshman whose father also played for England. Used to work as a fitness instructor, and has a physique to match his pin-up looks. Broke up with Kim Spencer after tabloid-kiss and-tell. Rumoured to have had a fling withJodie Kidd - both deny it.

MICHAEL VAUGHAN, 30

Level-headed Yorkshireman (despite being born in Manchester). His laid-back captaincy is key to team's success. Bit of a fashion victim. Lives in Sheffield with wife Nichola and baby daughter Tallulah - he dashed from a Test match to attend the birth.

STEVEN HARMISON, 26

Home-loving lad from Ashington. Best friends with Flintoff. Loves Newcastle United, hates going abroad. Married childhood sweetheart Hayley six years ago and dotes on her and their two daughters, Emily (6) and Abby (3).

IAN BELL, 23

The baby of the side. The schoolboy cricket prodigy struggled under too much pressure too soon, but this year has found his feet. Quiet and polite; lives with his mum and dad, Barbara and Terry, in Rugby. Girlfriend Lucy lives in London.

MATTHEW HOGGARD, 28

Team clown, but his antics hide a sharp mind. Loves long walks in the Yorkshire dales with his dog Molly and would have liked to be a vet. Beloved by the Barmy Army, who have set up a Matthew Hoggard Fan Club. Married Sarah last year, lives in Baildon.

GERAINT JONES, 29

Born in Papua New Guinea to Welsh parents and raised in Australia. Team's cheerleader on the field but quiet off it. Also, bizarrely, a qualified pharmacist's technician. Engaged to Jenny, who used to work in the club canteen at Kent.

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