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There will be an urge to point fingers but it is more important to help other young players who face the same temptations as those that caused Tom Maynard's death
February 28, 2013
Spike Milligan used to tell a story about his experience of mental illness. The comedian suffered bouts of depression and told a tale of lying in bed alone and crying uncontrollably. On one occasion, as he did so, he noticed his young daughter slowly walking towards him with her arms outstretched and offering a glass of water. She knew it wouldn't help, but she wanted to try and couldn't think of anything else to offer.
For some reason it was the story that came to mind when reflecting on cricket's reaction to the death of Tom Maynard. As the game in England and Wales reels from the loss and the subsequent revelations, it is looking for answers and solutions and, some at least, are keen to find someone to blame.
There isn't a neat solution, though. There are no easy answers and, while this episode might remind some of the dangers of drink and drugs, few could claim they have never heard these lessons before. It would be simplistic to state that cricket has a problem with drink and drugs. It is a society-wide problem that is bound to be reflected in a game which draws its participants from that society. To think that cricket can provide the answers is naive.
Looking for someone to blame is fruitless, too. While some indirectly involved may torture themselves with hindsight and retrospection, they may conclude that this was, in essence, just a terrible accident. It has already claimed several victims: Tom Maynard, his family and friends, the train driver and the police officers involved among them. It doesn't need any more. Nothing and no-one can ensure there will be no repeat. For all the good work and good intentions of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) - the players' union - the ECB and the counties, there is no way of protecting all players from all the dangers of society. Perhaps more pertinently, there is no way of protecting them from themselves.
And that's they key issue here. While some claim a young Surrey squad was given too long a leash and an unhealthy culture of drinking was allowed to develop, the truth is young men have always pushed the boundaries in search of fun. Rarely does it come back and bite quite as hard. Now, with players paid more at a younger age - in some cases, before they are ready for it - perhaps the temptations are greater than ever.
Ultimately, there is no getting away from the sad conclusion that Maynard made a series of judgement errors - the sort of errors many of us make at some stage or another - and paid the harshest penalty. He knew he should not take illegal drugs; he knew he should not drive after drinking; he knew he should not run from the police. It is not Surrey's fault that he ignored those truisms. He was young, certainly, but old enough to take responsibility for his actions. Neither his club nor his friends could be expected to provide round the clock care.
Those who suggest the Tom Maynard Trust - the Trust set up in his name to offer opportunities to disadvantaged young sportspeople - will suffer for the revelations about his drink and drug use are missing the point. The fact that Maynard succumbed to such temptation simply underlines the need for more education, for greater awareness and for more opportunities for those at risk. If the Trust can prevent others from making the same mistake - and it surely can - it will have performed a highly valuable function. The next generation of sportsmen need to be aware of the mistakes the likes of Maynard and the footballer Paul Gascoigne have made with a view to avoiding them. Perhaps just a little good might yet come from this awful case.
There are some signs that the game now takes a more enlightened view towards drink and drugs. When Paul Smith, suffering from seizures and blackouts, was revealed to have a drug problem in 1997, the ECB responded by banning him from all levels of cricket. From standing on the Lord's balcony celebrating a Man of the Match award and Warwickshire's sixth trophy within three seasons, he lost everything. He lost his employment, his home, his family and spent time sleeping rough. At one stage he went for more than a week without food.
"I needed help and they gave me a punishment," Smith, now very much back on his feet, told ESPNcricinfo. "I wanted a doctor and they gave me Gerard Elias," the QC who for years fronted the ECB's disciplinary panels and took a notoriously tough approach to drug-related transgressions. To be fair to him and the ECB, Smith was offered a little help alongside the ban, but it was hardly adequate for a man who confesses he was "never more than 30 minutes" from drugs for several years.
|"Surrey are a much altered club. Recognising a need for greater maturity in the dressing room, they have signed a coterie of experienced professionals in order to provide stability, leadership and an example to their young players"|
The current approach is not only kinder, it is more realistic. County players found to have taken recreational drugs in out-of-competition testing no longer face an automatic ban. Instead they will receive counselling. The emphasis is very much on helping rather than punishing and encourages those affected - or their friends and team-mates - to seek help without the fear that it could result in a career-defining ban. A game that once tried to look the other way at least now acknowledges it has a problem.
The message needs reinforcing, though. It was revealing that Jade Dernbach was under the mistaken impression at the inquest that anyone found to have taken recreational drugs would suffer an immediate ban. The players have to be made aware that there is non-judgemental help available. Perhaps, if Maynard had known that, things may have been different.
Things are changing for the better. Even as this article is being written, a batch of new county professionals are receiving advice from the PCA on the dangers of drink, drugs and gambling at an Edgbaston seminar. Angus Porter, the chief executive of the PCA, remarked during a lull in the Maynard inquest that gambling unrelated to cricket was quickly emerging as the greatest concern to his association.
Meanwhile the PCA is urging the ECB to extend the incentive scheme - whereby clubs are rewarded for fielding younger, England-qualified players - by two years, to benefit those attending MCCUs (the six universities affiliated to the MCC which allow young people to continue their education while benefiting from excellent cricket facilities and coaching). The current system, it is argued, disincentives young players from gaining a university education as, by the time they leave, they are approaching the threshold where the counties receive no funding for their selection. One of the downsides of 12-month contracts in the county game is the fact that players have less opportunity to learn transferable skills for their life after cricket. Anything that eases that transition has to be sensible.
The PCA and ECB are keen to see greater drug testing, too. The evidence of the Maynard incident would suggest that testing is not the deterrent it might be and, while there has been a recent emphasis on combating depression, the game may have as much of an issue with decadence. It is worth noting, too, that when Warwickshire - unsettled by a succession of drug problems - attempted to bring in their own testing system in 2005, it was the PCA that blocked them. The world and the PCA have changed a great deal since those days.
Surrey, in particular, are a much altered club. A year ago Surrey, recently promoted and crowned CB40 champions, had recovered a bit of the strut that had once characterised their style. They were a vibrant club with a golden future, stuffed with brilliant young cricketers enjoying life on and off the pitch. It all seems rather innocent in retrospect.
They have a different feel now. Wiser, perhaps; sadder, certainly. Recognising a need for greater maturity in the dressing room, Surrey have signed a coterie of highly experienced professionals - including Graeme Smith as captain - in order to provide stability, leadership and an example to the young players who remain. A different culture will be instilled. Plan A, which included the appointment of a 22-year-old captain, was not a complete failure, but there is no getting away from the fact that it ended in disaster.
Chris Adams, Surrey's director of cricket, has admitted he has asked himself over and over whether he could have done anything differently. Perhaps, in retrospect, there were warning signs: Maynard had been hit by a car while out drinking in Brighton about 10 days prior to his death but, while the club disciplined him, there was no suggestion of a drug issue or a habitual drinking problem. Maynard's form was good and it was his first disciplinary setback at the club.
"I have looked at what I did and asked myself many times could I have managed the player differently and could we have known," Adams told the Telegraph. "But there is absolutely no way on earth I think we could spot the signs of social drugs use to this level.
"I can 100 percent guarantee that there was no partying culture at Surrey. We have 23 professionals on our staff and the majority of those players are outstanding individuals who live good lives. We are aware we had a small minority group last year that away from cricket were getting entrapped into the pitfalls of London life and it is our responsibility now to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Whether they have embraced the extent of the problem remains unclear. Surrey's chief executive, Richard Gould, said he was satisfied that Maynard's drug use was a "one-off" at The Oval, though it is hard to share his optimism. Certainly it was notable that none of the witnesses at the inquest claimed to be aware that Maynard had ever taken illegal substances. Cocaine and ecstasy are social drugs. The fear remains that others are wrestling with similar lifestyles issues that require help.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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