April 23, 2013

"I was ready to give up... I hated the game"

Ed Kemp
The death of a friend and team-mate made Surrey keeper Steven Davies wonder if he wanted to continue playing

"Losing a friend is something that I've not really gone through before. Losing a team-mate and someone that I really cared about - and was a massive part of the team - was a huge shock. Everyone reacts in different ways, and I just really struggled with it."

After the death of Tom Maynard in June last year, Steven Davies suffered from depression. The daily demands of the county game meant there was no escape from the tragedy, and Davies sought help from a specialist, recommended to him by a friend. It helped a bit, but playing cricket no longer felt important, and certainly wasn't fun. Although his glovework remained competent, Davies' form with the bat completely disintegrated - having passed 1000 first-class runs in each of the previous three seasons, he managed just 438 in 2012, 104 of which came in one innings against Somerset in May.

"The cricket environment was the last place that I wanted to be," Davies said. "Every time I went to a cricket ground it would remind me of Tom and I didn't want that. I was out in the middle not really wanting to be there. The county season is relentless and it just kept building up. There was an occasion when we played Notts away [in the Championship in July] where I rang my parents to tell them that I was going to quit, that I'd had enough of cricket. I was ready to give it all up, because I just didn't see it coming to an end. I was in a bad place, I hated the game."

That call prompted his parents to visit him in Nottingham. Together they talked things through and agreed he would see it through to the end of the season, then take the winter off, and attempt to "find the love again".

"I just couldn't wait for the last game of the season, just to get away from it," he said. I've always loved playing cricket, so it was a strange feeling, to really hate the game that much. Looking back, I should have taken the break during the season. But I felt I had a responsibility to keep on going to try and look after the younger players that have come into the squad [although only 26, Davies sees himself as an experienced head in the Surrey dressing room]. In the end it didn't benefit me and it didn't benefit the team, really."

As well as seeing the specialist, Davies was also on medication, though it gave him headaches and he came off it as soon as he'd got through the county campaign. "I'm not seeing anyone anymore. It was the family time that I needed. I just spent three-and-a-half months with them, forgot about cricket for a while, and that was the best therapy for me. I'm really glad I decided to take the winter off, because there is more to life than cricket."

Davies knows that better than most. When he first told the world he was gay back in February 2011 he "couldn't believe" the attention.

"I genuinely thought it would be a tiny bit in the paper," he said. "And I swear, when I went to get the papers, I could see my face on every front cover from about 20 metres away."

But the experience of coming out has been "100% positive" - part of his winter break included joining Elton John (a friend ever since Davies made his announcement) on tour for four weeks.

"He knew I was having a hard time and asked me to join him. It was a great experience. Coming out has changed my life, and changed it for the better. So I want to try and give back."

To that end Davies is setting up a company called Real Talk - his own idea - which will put online resources into schools to try and educate youngsters on issues of sexuality. "It's in its early stages but it will just be to let people know that they shouldn't be scared of coming out; that there's nothing weird about being gay and that you should be who you are.

But it's also to educate others. I know a lot of people who don't know any gay people, so it's just to say that we're normal people, exactly the same as you. Being in the closet for so long and being in pro sport, I was worried about coming out, and now I have and I've seen the impact it's had on some people. The response I got was amazing. I feel this resource can really change people's lives, and it could even save a life."

So what now? "Back in love" with cricket, since Christmas, Davies has worked hard to get himself in nick for the season - and an attempt to reaffirm his England credentials. Though he was on the Pakistan tour to the UAE in early 2012, he hasn't played international cricket since being dropped from the ODI team just before the 2011 World Cup - and this year he's targeting a return to the one-day set-up.

"I just want to focus on getting back to where I was, on having a bloody good year and getting back into the England side. I'm really energised and excited for the year, and I've got a feeling it's going to be a good one."

No one would begrudge him. As a person, Davies has already had more to deal with than most cricketers his age. But as a player, the serious stuff could well be yet to come.

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of All Out Cricket magazine. Click here for All Out Cricket's latest subscription offers