The harsh realities of life after cricket

OUT: Bevan Griggs in action for the Central Stags.
OUT: Bevan Griggs in action for the Central Stags.

Imagine plummeting from a tidy $60,000 salary for six months summer work, to nothing.The cold slap of the selectors' pen hits professional cricketers harder than most, and Bevan Griggs can vouch for that.

The Central Districts wicketkeeper, who played 83 first-class matches in a decade of loyal service, suddenly got the "don't come Monday" line from his employers nearly a year ago.

From one of the highest-ranked CD players on the pay scale, Griggs, 32 at the time, was axed from their list of 12 contracted players in favour of gloveman Kruger van Wyk, who had moved from Canterbury to Napier in search of greener pastures.

"I felt like I was starting to really become a senior player and I was starting to win games and contribute in the way I always wanted. If I hadn't got moved on I would still be playing," Griggs says. "I found it tough to think that I'd been doing something for my whole life, then all of a sudden they say to you, `you've probably played your last game, that's it'."

It still rankles for Auckland-based Griggs, who cut all ties with CD and barely took an interest in their results last summer. But he wasn't to be hurled on the career scrapheap. He had planned for that eventuality, slightly further down life's track, and took up a fulltime role in the ANZ Bank's commercial section, having decided five years earlier to get a foot in the door with a big company in the cricket off-season.

While Griggs is a post-cricket success story, many aren't amid the pool of New Zealand's 100 or so professionals. It's a big concern for the Cricket Players' Association, which has ramped up its career and life assistance, which extends to personal relationships.

Cricket has a few disturbing tales to tell. David Frith's 2001 book Silence of the Heart quoted research that found professional cricketers were 75 per cent more likely than the average British man to take their own lives.

"There's lessons in that," says NZCPA boss Heath Mills. "You hear some horrific stories from the United States, and in cricket in England there were a number of suicides of guys who had just finished playing. That's alarming for anyone. I don't think collectively, in the professional sporting space, we are doing enough to help guys transition out of sport."

Cricket's contract system is as unforgiving as any, amid the winter chill. Next month, the new national selection panel will rank its top-20 players [see graphic] for the next year starting August 1. Then the six major associations will choose 12 each for six-month contracts. The drop from NZC's year-long contract to a domestic deal is significant, as is the cut Griggs experienced.

"Most organisations have performance reviews annually but it's not often you can drop from No1 to No9 in no time," he says. "There aren't many industries where you lose a lot of money in a short time, apart from being fired."

Aidan Hobson, a former chief analyst with the Labour Department with a PhD in Education from Auckland University, is the NZCPA's career and personal development manager. He set up a mentoring programme with about 300 businesses and individuals (including some former players) who link with cricketers with a view to a post-retirement career. Meetings and, potentially, interviews are arranged.

AMONG them is former international Mathew Sinclair, who spoke recently of his struggles to find other work and had committed to yet another first-class season for CD unless his luck changed. "Mathew's a classic example of someone we need to help. He's a great servant of the game," Mills says.

Of the 100 current professional cricketers, the NZCPA says only 10 to 15 have got an established career outside cricket. New Plymouth teacher and CD opener Peter Ingram springs to mind.

For Mills it's a relevant issue for cricket and rugby; players who were identified at 16, handed their first contract before 20 then played professionally for more than a decade before being "spat out the other side". Some at the top level were financially secure, but others weren't. It's also an issue for NZ Cricket from a form perspective.

"It impacts on the high performance of the sport," Mills says. "I've seen examples of players at 25-26 who have done well then been dropped and hit a rough patch. There is a genuine fear, thinking, `I must succeed next time I go out to bat, if I don't I'm going to miss a contract and I've got nothing to do'. It almost creates a performance anxiety if they don't have that part of their life sorted."

Griggs used Hobson's programme to widen his industry networks, and even complete an Outward Bound course. But his new job was largely a product of his own motivation to secure his future, instead of heading to England every winter for club cricket, which paid the bills but little else.

"I knew I would never be able to retire on the money I made from cricket, but the carrot is always there for domestic players to keep playing because you're only one good season away from making the New Zealand team from the player pool that's there.

"Instead of going to England in the winters, five years ago I decided to try and work in a big company that's big enough to absorb me when I leave for summer."

Griggs admits he misses top cricket, and is as fit as before. If Auckland came calling he might consider it, but for now he's comfortable with a dose of realism, financial security and a feelgood story for one of professional sport's most pressing issues.

What They Earn: New Zealand Cricket's 20 contracted players $177,000 annual retainer for the highest-ranked, dropping in $6000-$7000 increments to a $72,000 retainer for players ranked 18-20 Match fees: $7325 a test, $3175 an ODI, $2075 a T20.

Major association contracts (12 for each of the six teams): $37,500 six-month retainer (October-March) for highest-ranked, dropping in varying increments to a $20,250 retainer for the 12th-ranked player. Match fees: $1475 per first-class match, $715 per one-dayer, $460 per T20.

The Dominion Post