Every single county cricketer looks forward to October because they tend to be mentally and physically shattered following a long domestic season and a solid six-month block of playing and travelling.
For those players who are not involved in international squads, October and usually November tends to be a completely free period to go on holiday, play some golf or whatever it may be, but get away from cricket.
From December onwards, the build-up to the new season starts. The fitness coach will be on your back and there will be a strict programme in place until Christmas. Often players will be in three or four times a week doing pretty vigorous fitness.
After Christmas is when you will start picking up a bat and ball in earnest. There may still be three months or so until the start of the campaign but it creeps up on you quickly and it’s vital to make sure your body is in tip top shape.
But different guys opt to do different things during the off-season, it’s an individual thing. Some Surrey players liked to hit balls in the indoor school in December to feel bat on ball early, although I never felt the need to do that. Others may need surgery or rehabilitation from injury.
This period also offers the chance for players to do work experience or get a job should they want, although the modern 12-month contract is a little bit more restrictive compared to seven or eight years ago when you would just rock up for the new season in March.
A lot of Surrey lads went to South Africa last winter and did some work with the club’s head coach Graham Ford and it was clearly beneficial as the team had some really good results this year. I spent many winters abroad and I am a massive advocate of it. When I was at Hampshire their physio also worked at New South Wales so when I was recuperating from injury I would often go and do my rehab with him in Sydney.
New South Wales were very good to me when I was younger and I would bowl at their batsmen in the nets and I also played a couple of seasons of club cricket in Perth. Up until the age of 25/26 I used to love getting away during the winter and I would urge any young player to consider spending part of their off-season abroad.
If you are going to make it to the top level you’re going to have to learn to be very independent as a person. You have got to get used to being away from your family for long periods and being on your own.
It’s great experience to go away and mix with new people and go and see what it is like to play cricket in another country, which is always interesting and always different to how it is done over here. You learn so much about yourself because you have to live on your own, look after yourself, wash your own clothes, do your own dishes – all the simple things which your mum and dad have done for you.
Surrey youngster Dominic Sibley is a case in point. He went to Perth last year and came back a much more grown up and mature individual. That’s what happens when you’re taken out of your comfort zone and have to cope on your own. Spending the winter in Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka – wherever it may be – is a great cricketing experience for any young player but I would certainly say it is just as beneficial in terms of life experience.
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