June 22, 2015

'I wanted to play a certain way and I can't do that now'

Craig Kieswetter talks about falling out of love with cricket a little bit and eventually having to give it up

"I'm not saying 'never'. If my sight improves in a couple of years, I might come back. I'll only be 30. It would be one hell of a story" © Getty Images

"Not many people get 'Jerusalem' sung to them as they go to work," says Craig Kieswetter wistfully. "I'll miss that."

Kieswetter is coming to terms with life beyond cricket. At 26, an age where many are just starting their international careers, Kieswetter played his final first-class game, and has concluded that he will play no more. Not for country, county or club.

It's not that he cannot. It's that he cannot to the level he once could. And once you have been to the top of the mountain, the view from base camp doesn't appeal.

It looked for a while as if Kieswetter had the world at his feet. Fast-tracked into the England side - he made his debut barely a week after qualifying and declined a late request from Graeme Smith to return to South Africa - he made 107 in his third international match, becoming the second youngest England player (after David Gower) to score an ODI century. Less than ten weeks later, he won the Man-of-the-Match award as England won the World T20 final. He was 22.

The moment that changed Kieswetter's life came in July last year. Struck by a delivery from David Willey that snuck between the grille and lid of his helmet - Kieswetter does not recall whether he top-edged the ball - he sustained a broken nose and fractured orbital socket. While he was able to make a comeback before the end of the season, it soon became apparent that his eyesight was not what it had been. It might have improved over time, but Kieswetter was never really the sort to eke out a career.

"The day games were pretty much fine," he says. "But then I went to play in South Africa, and as soon as I played under lights, I was in trouble. I couldn't see the ball in the field. I couldn't see the ball when I batted. The ball was coming down at 90 mph and I couldn't see it."

He could, he reckons, have fashioned some sort of career. He could have developed into a county stalwart and played at Somerset - the club he hails as "brilliant" for their treatment of him during his crisis - until his mid-30s. But that was never his style.

"I couldn't see the ball in the field. I couldn't see the ball when I batted. The ball was coming down at 90 mph and I couldn't see it"

"I know I can't play at the level I want to," Kieswetter explains. "I liked being a swashbuckling player. And I felt I had the talent to play for England. I don't feel that way any more. I'm not the same player. I'm not as good as I want to be and I never can be.

"This game has been my life since I was nine. It was all I wanted. But I wanted to play a certain way and I can't do that now.

"I can still play. I can still be okay. But when I came back at the end of last season, there was a lot of bravado and adrenaline involved. In the end I just thought, there are too many mediocre players in county cricket - and good luck to them - but I don't want to be another one."

Confidence was a factor too. The man who excelled in the World T20 final of 2010 on a blisteringly fast wicket and against Shaun Tait at his quickest, admits - with some courage - that, with his eyesight impaired, he no longer feels comfortable against quick bowling.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he says. "Of course that's an issue. Going through what I went through - such a gruesome injury - going through the operations and the pain and the uncertainty... I don't want to go through that again. Of course that trauma is in the back of your mind, and of course it effects how you play.

"The specialist tells me that the injury is muscular. And like most muscular injuries, you can work on it. It can improve. But my sight will never be what it was, and after everything that has happened, I've fallen out of love with the game just a bit.

"I still love it. I still respect it. But they say that when you know, you know. And I know it's time to move on. I'm not saying 'never'. If my sight improves in a couple of years, I might come back. I'll only be 30. It would be one hell of a story. But Somerset have always been good to me, and I wanted to give them a chance to sign other players. I know this is the right decision."

The high points of his career almost all came early. He talks of making his Somerset debut as an 18-year-old who was still at school, of winning his county cap, and only a few weeks after a career-changing innings for Lions (the day after he qualified for England, he made 81 against the full side to win immediate promotion to the senior squad), making his England debut, scoring that ODI century and winning the World T20 title in May 2010.

"It was a surreal three weeks," he says about the World T20 success. "Of all the England teams I played in over five years, that was the one that had the best spirit.

"To be honest, I don't remember it that clearly: we played golf, we went to the beach and we drank rum. Training tended to be optional. KP was at his best. So were Broad and Swann. But we were a proper team and everyone got on brilliantly.

"It was all new to me. I was so innocent. I was just loving playing for England and didn't even think about any of the stuff that comes with it."

It was not always that way. As England became more successful, so the tensions grew between those in the team. The trappings of success became more important and cliques started to grow.

"Success changed people," Kieswetter says. "It wasn't just us competing against the opposition; there was a sense that some of us were competing against one another. By the time we were No. 1 in the world, it was a very different dressing room.

"Cliques developed. There were jokes made in the dressing room if you had South African background. When we warmed up in training, we were split into sides: South Africans v English. There was lots of talk about it in the media and here we were making it worse. It created an unnecessary divide. A sense of them and us.

The world at his feet: Kieswetter's fifty in the World T20 final of 2010 took England to the title © AFP

"The Test players were together so much that, when the limited-overs players turned up, it felt like you were on the outside. The Test guys hung out with each other, the limited-overs guys hung out. The spirit I experienced in those first few weeks was never there again."

While he talks about Somerset with nothing but affection and pride - "the Overton brothers could be phenomenal cricketers" he says at one stage - he describes his relationship with representing England as "love-hate".

"I have some proud memories and I have some frustrations. Sometimes I felt I was messed around a bit, but at other times I was frustrated with myself for failing to adapt to what was required of me.

"I started out playing with freedom. I ended up caged. I guess if I was in the current set-up I would thrive, but I had a good record as an opener and they asked me to bat at No. 6. It's tough, but I'm disappointed with the way I responded to it.

"You are ridiculously well paid to deal with the stuff that is thrown at you. But being dropped is gut-wrenching. Really horrible. And dealing with the media is very, very difficult. To see your game picked apart on TV, to hear it criticised... it's pretty hard to take.

"I think I probably came across as aloof. It was just my way of dealing with things. It was a way of not letting yourself become upset or distracted. I sort of regret that, but it's very hard to deal with that stuff.

"And when I talk about cliques, sometimes the ECB made them. Players were exhausted and asking for time off, but would be told they couldn't have a central contract if they dropped out of one format. They were terrified to miss a game in case it counted against them and they lost their place.

"Just compare how Australia treat Ryan Harris: he's wrapped in cotton wool, he's kept fresh for the Ashes. While our players are forced to play all the time. It's not hard to see why we have so few fast bowlers.

"Cliques developed. There were jokes made in the dressing room if you had South African background. When we warmed up in training, we were split into sides: South Africans v English"

"But I don't regret it. I don't regret committing myself to England rather than South Africa and I never have. There was the quota thing going on in South Africa and I had the option to play in England through my Scottish mother. I never regretted it."

He is generous in praise of his old friend Jos Buttler, but admits that their relationship was strained by the pressures of competing for the gloves with Somerset and England.

"That did become tough. We were good friends and we pretty much grew up together. And it was nobody's fault and nobody's intention, but a wedge was driven between us.

"He's not in the least bit malicious. He's not in the least bit vindictive. Far from it. We both understand that we were two guys competing for one role. It is nothing personal. He's done brilliantly and I'm pleased for him. But we don't talk much these days."

Kieswetter will continue to live in the UK. The family are involved in the alcohol industry and he has the security of knowing there is an opening in the business.

But he hopes his experiences in cricket won't be completely wasted. While a future in coaching does not appeal, he thinks he might have a role in the media, where his forthright views on county cricket - he calls the NatWest Blast "a complete shambles" - and England's limited-overs cricket could be aired.

"I'd think I could add something to the T20 commentary," he says. "A lot of the people doing it never played T20 cricket. And sometimes they are so negative... I think I could bring a bit of entertainment to it.

"I loved playing the T20 leagues around the world, and I can tell you our system is archaic. They are too many teams, too many games and too many players. The standard in the Big Bash is higher. It's as close as I experienced to international cricket. County cricket can be brilliant. But it's patchy.

"I'd hope that all my experiences - the success, the failures, the good and the bad times - could help me provide a perspective that you don't always hear. I hope I've still something to offer the game."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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