February 21, 2014

What's the best job in cricket?

Streaker guard? Grass cutter? Bat maker? Or a sushi-eating cricket missionary?

The job of a fielder can be particularly arduous © Getty Images

My job was to catch naked people at Lord's. Sitting on a bench before the egg-and-bacon ties of the members stand, donning a green MCC tracksuit rather than the geeky steward vest, I had the best view in the home of cricket. It was a shame that Shaun Pollock was destroying England, and that I was partnered with a wisecracking South African as my fellow "streaker guard". It was also disappointing that I didn't get to rugby-tackle a drunken nudist - not a sentence I ever expected to write. However, who would complain about being compensated to watch Test cricket? Okay, the peanuts wage was 30 quid a day, and if I had been one of the stewards in the hi-vis bibs who were forbidden to even look at the match I might have whipped off my uniform and slipped in with the fans. But I was one of the lucky ones, a punter who was paid to be part of a sport he once dreamt of being a professional in. And streaker guard was more glamorous than my first job in cricket as a teenage groundsman.

While scything outfields with a strimmer I would daydream of the innings I was going to play for England. If not cutting grass or creosoting fencing, oiling the roller or hunting moles at dawn with a shovel - thankfully they never surfaced while I was on watch, as I doubt I would have been merciless enough to plonk one on the head as they dug up the square - I'd take the ball I'd packed in my rucksack and bowl at a single stump in the vacant nets. When I worked with my team-mate, Rich, another cricket-mad boy with dreams of glory, we'd wait for the boss to clear off and bat with whatever length of wood we could find. On the days we were driven into the sticks and marooned clearing weeds at an overgrown cemetery, the long afternoons were punctuated by work, rather than work punctuated by cricket.

Still, sneaking off work to whack a ball isn't really a cricket job. Not like the proper non-playing careers in coaching, scoring, umpiring and commentating.

So what is the best career without actually being a player?

Pity the poor coach. Despite Flower's overall winning record the England meltdown is apparently all his fault. Whatever preparation the boss makes, the drills and the Winston Churchill team talks, he's not at the crease. Days of nail-biting and shredded nerves await as he watches all his good work come undone. Brian Clough drank and Maradona snorted. An exciting job, perhaps. When the trophy cabinet gleams, fantastic. But the best in cricket? I don't think so. Not if you value your health.

Perhaps commentating, adding poetry to the image, or, if on radio, creating the picture for the avid listener, is the dream job. Writing in Fatty Batter - How Cricket Saved My Life (Then Ruined It), actor and author Michael Simkins fulfils that dream by joining the staff of Everyball, a phone-line commentary team that, when he's lucky, operates out of a rotting caravan. "Being paid to watch and talk about cricket may be a whole lot better than digging coal... but it's a different thing from watching it of your own volition."

So how about umpiring? Many former pros swap flannels for the long coat, and it's the one guarantee that you'll still be in the middle at close of play. If the game is true, and the decisions clear, and the fielders accept your omnipresence as law, then it's the best view in the park. But when the spirit of cricket has flown, and the players sledge, insult and barrack each other (and the umpire) then the middle is a forbidding place. Consider Mike Gatting's finger in Shakoor Rana's face, or the ramifications of Darrell Hair no-balling Muralitharan.

If one has the traits of a statistician, the focus and mettle to watch every single ball of a game, then official scorer is an ideal career choice. The peace and quiet of the score box is only troubled by the clunk of runs and wickets. Or that awful scene when the number-keepers find that digits have gone astray, and there is quiet panic as pencils track back over byes and wides, and the erasers rub out mistakes and reputations. I can barely remember my own phone number, let alone record five days of a Test match.

For the latent carpenter in any cricket lover crafting bats must be a satisfying trade. On a trip to the GM factory in Nottingham I was stunned by the focus of the workshop, men investing themselves in each and every blade that touched their hands. Pride of place was a beaten and cracked bat once owned by Jonty Rhodes. "The best I ever made," said the master bat-maker, his eyes close to welling up.

I love the thought of Zen days planing willow, but my GCSE in Creative Design Technology might not suffice.

There is one job, however, that I would suit. I recently came across a blog called Samurai Cricketer, a journal recording the efforts of an ICC-sponsored officer to raise the profile of the game in Japan. I've lived and played cricket in Japan - it was bowling at a star bat from the women's team that reignited my love for the game - and my experience was of dedicated and keen cricketers with ebullience and natural ability. I certainly envy a man who gets paid to share his enthusiasm for cricket while eating sushi for lunch and soaking in a volcano-heated bath in the evenings. And I can't see him quitting any time soon.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His first novel, Show Me the Sky, was nominated for the IMPAC literary award