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Sam Northeast: 'It feels like England selection has almost been and gone - and that's fine'

Hampshire batsman at peace with podcasting rather than playing during England tours

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Sam Northeast smiles at Arundel, Hampshire training, July 6, 2020

Sam Northeast has turned his hand to podcasting over the last 12 months  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

This time last year, the prevailing emotion among county cricketers was boredom. The UK's first lockdown caused a delay to the season that would last four months and left them unable to train, while the vast majority were furloughed by their clubs, meaning strict regulations regarding official contact with coaches and team-mates.
Sam Northeast was no different. Returning from Australia following an England Lions tour, Northeast had hoped to drive Hampshire's bid for the County Championship title from their middle order, but instead found himself doomscrolling and binge-watching his way through the ennui.
A few weeks in, he came up with an idea: alongside a handful of other cricketers, he would start a podcast. He knew that Vithushan Ehantharajah of the Independent used to co-host one alongside the Evening Standard's Will Macpherson, so gave him a call to discuss the logistics.
Northeast picks up the story. "I thought I might as well use the time to do something practical, and I'm someone who enjoys listening to podcasts anyway. So I rang Vish up and it all happened from there. There was no chat about actually doing something together as the three of us, but Vish had a discussion with Will and said they'd be quite keen to start something up again."
Twelve months on, there have been 18 full-length episodes of the self-descriptive 'Two Hacks, One Pro' with a stellar cast of guests, as well as close-of-play shows throughout England's Test series in India (Northeast missed the majority of those due to pre-season training). There have been moments of candour, including Northeast's reaction to missing out on England's 55-man training squad last May and Darren Stevens' account of his imbroglio in an anti-corruption trial in Bangladesh, but much of it has been "like you're in the pub - but someone's recording it too", in Northeast's words.
"When you're playing, you probably can't go into some things that you think, but that's why the balance is quite nice with two journalists and then a player who sees things a bit differently," he says. "Yes, there is a bit of chat about selection or whatever it might be, but we're generally trying to keep it as light-hearted and fun to listen to as possible.
"I think we've probably gelled better as it's gone on. The guests have been really good but when it's just been the three of us, at times I've enjoyed that as much as anything. I thought the one we did with Jimmy Adams, reminiscing on our Kent days, was quite good value - I've always enjoyed just talking cricket and listening to different perspectives on the game.
"There are a few guys in the Hampshire changing room who don't like to admit they listen to it, but they'll slip it in and I'll think to myself 'that's another secret listener'. Mason [Crane] might say 'oh, good episode' to Will or Vish - it's nice to hear that a few people are engaging with it, even though they wouldn't tell me to my face."
The immediate outlook for the podcast is quiet, with Northeast's Championship season starting away at Leicestershire next week, but he hopes that the untethered daily shows continue through England's home summer. "That was some good listening during the India series - hearing Will swearing and Vish saying 'I don't know what we've been talking about' 20 minutes in. They were good value."
Listeners will forgive Northeast for being distracted by his day job. Entering his fourth season at Hampshire following his controversial move from Kent, he borrows some NFL terminology to describe the squad's prospects for 2021, a year in which several key players are approaching or at their respective peaks.
"It feels like a bit of a 'win now' scenario for us. You've got guys in the peak of their careers - [Liam] Dawson, me, [James] Vince, Abbo [Kyle Abbott] - among the senior players, and then some young players coming through who have had a really good taste of it now. If that all comes together it could be a really special side.
"Last year was such a weird year and you never really got going - it feels like it didn't really happen in some ways. We finished third two years ago in Division One so we should be there or thereabouts. The different format means you're going to have to start really well - you have to hit the ground running but we have good enough players that we can make a real run at it."
Hampshire's pre-season preparation has hardly been ideal: their friendly against Northamptonshire was rain-affected, and Northeast seems sceptical about the value of a week spent practising T20 skills in the build-up to the Championship campaign, to the extent that he admits feeling "slightly undercooked" heading into their final warm-up match against Sussex. Keith Barker and Aneurin Donald are both injury doubts for the season opener, but Mohammad Abbas has flown in from Pakistan and forms half of a mouth-watering (and conjugatory - Ed) new-ball partnership with Abbott.
Elsewhere, the club are hoping to improve their dismal recent record in the T20 Blast - no county has won fewer games since 2016 - and will look to extend their proud recent record of 50-over success, albeit with at least four first-team players guaranteed to miss the Royal London Cup due to their involvement in the Hundred.
As for Northeast, it is hardly a surprise that he plays down any question of an England call-up. He has been mentioned in dispatches for a decade as an international-in-waiting, but at 31, he is in danger of taking James Hildreth's crown as the best uncapped England batsman of his generation. Lions recognition has arrived over the last couple of years, but 181 runs in seven Bob Willis Trophy innings last summer means selection does not seem like a pressing issue to him.
"It doesn't feel like there is anything weighing down on me - not that anything was, but I guess I've always felt in the past like I was pushing for something," he reflects. "It doesn't feel like that's there anymore. Previously there's always been one eye on something else. With England squads, sometimes you look at them and think 'maybe I could slot in here' but that hasn't crossed my mind.
"It's purely about getting back out there, scoring runs, and doing it for myself, to be honest. I take some pride in my own performance and in winning games for Hampshire. When I was growing up, that [England] was a really big motivating factor and I felt like I was a long way away from it. You're always striving, but for whatever reason, it feels like that's almost been and gone - and that's fine. If it does happen, brilliant, but the big driver for me is putting in performances for myself and for the club."
And if the call came through for the Ashes this winter? "The pod is the most important thing," he laughs. "I'll have to tell Ed Smith that as long as I can do the pods during the Ashes series then we can work it in. Just thinking about playing in the Ashes and then Will and Vish swearing every two minutes about my shot after I've snicked off… their debrief of me would be the worst bit."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98