It's been okay so far - started off a bit slowly. It's quite easy to get into bad habits, and so the first couple of days was a bit like holiday. And then luckily I've got [Essex captain] Tom Westley living up the road. We've got a social-distancing running club. We go normally at about lunchtime, for about a 5-6km run. And I've picked up some weights from the ground, so I'm managing to try and keep the strength work up as well.
It was. The County Championship was a little bit more predictable. Somerset really ran away with it, [while] we started off quite slowly, losing to Hampshire in the first game. We were kind of chasing our tails from then onwards because Somerset had got off to such a good start. But we knew we had to play them twice, and if we kept on winning, which we were doing at Chelmsford, and finding ways to win away from home. We knew that if we beat them twice, then we could quite possibly catch them.
"I'm quite a passionate and intense person. Especially when it comes to a competitive environment. I expect a lot - sometimes I think I expect too much"
That's a good question. I'm quite a passionate and intense person. Especially when it comes to a competitive environment. I expect a lot - sometimes I think I expect too much. So at the beginning of the tournament, there was probably too much intensity from my part. And as the tournament progressed and we were losing, I started to realise that I couldn't control everything and I had to trust the guys and understand that everybody's trying their best and we needed to just find ways to string together good performances and free the players up.
Yeah, there were some tough conversations. Varun Chopra and Ravi fell out of contention. We felt like it was the right move having Ravi at six, but he obviously felt differently. I think it was quite well publicised that he wanted to bat higher up in the order. But for me the decision was always about: where is Ravi best for the team? And in my opinion, finishing an innings, coming in when there's 30 balls left in a game, that's when he is the most dangerous - in the top three or four batters in the world [at] that.
"It would have been easy for me to just roll into Essex, understand that the standard wasn't going to be international cricket and I could just coast along, but I wanted to try and make the most of my talent"
It couldn't have gone any better. Obviously we were excited to be at Finals Day but I didn't want our attitude to just be that we were happy to be there. The way it worked out, it played into our hands perfectly. The wicket was extremely slow, which suited our bowling - myself, Aron Nijjar, Ravi, and we also had Cameron Delport, who had done an extremely good job for us up the order opening the batting and also was able to turn his turn his arm over and take wickets. Having guys like that in your team on a slow wicket was massive for us. And yeah, I managed to pick up some wickets, which was really nice because throughout the tournament it had always been maybe one - two if I was lucky. To get three and four wickets in the semi-final and final when we needed it was extremely rewarding.
I think I've always enjoyed the challenge. So if somebody tells me that the wickets are green in April and you don't really bowl a lot of spin, I want to prove you wrong. I've had to prove people wrong throughout my career, and I think hearing things like that as well, as an offspinner, that's what I do. That's my job. I'm going to try and show you that we can change perceptions and strategies.
Well, it's public knowledge that the wickets at Taunton normally turn, normally produce results. So we knew with weather imminent and going to play a part that the wicket was going to be a result wicket. The groundsman was standing on the edge of the square and when Somerset won the toss, he gave a massive celebration, fist pumping, jumping up and down. There were grooves in the wicket at a 45-degree angle about a quarter of an inch deep, and that was the most surprising thing for me. But I don't want to get myself into trouble. [The ECB] rated it "poor", they got a 24-point deduction, 12 of which were suspended. It could be a completely different kettle of fish at Taunton this year, but for the last game, I think they knew that was the only way they were going to beat us, preparing a wicket that would only last two days. So they paid the price for that and we ended up winning the trophy at Taunton, which was that much sweeter.
"I've always enjoyed a challenge and getting into a fight when I'm bowling. I think the competition is what fuels my competitiveness, my drive, my desire"
Professional sports is about opportunity and about being in the right place at the right time. I was lucky in the fact that I made my debut for South Africa, because Robin Peterson had stitches in his finger, Imran Tahir came in for the Port Elizabeth Test, and I was in the right place at the right time [in Cape Town] and made my debut.
I think it's more about the level at which I compete. I've played three years of county cricket now and as a natural competitive sportsman, I'm itching for the next challenge. If it's not going to be international cricket, I need to start challenging myself in terms of T20 cricket. So I then need to work on my skill set as an orthodox offspinner, who doesn't normally play an integral role in T20 cricket. I need to find ways for me to be the bowler that a team relies on in order to take wickets. If it is going to be international cricket to then compete on that stage, and to prove to myself that I am good enough to play international cricket. But if it doesn't happen, then that's the way the cookie crumbles. Unfortunately it's not something in my control - whether Brexit happens at the end of the year, whether the UK leaves with or without a deal is going to play a role in whether or not I then become an overseas player or if I stay a Kolpak player. So there's a lot of if, buts and maybes. I've just got to make sure that I'm on top of my game and finding ways to get better each and every season.
I don't think "I can do that as well". It's more, I want to see: can I do that? Can I rock up on day five at the MCG and spin a team out? Or am I not good enough to do that? Am I good enough to take wickets in India? I've tried it once and failed. Can I deal with the pressures of international cricket? It's more about that, more unanswered questions versus looking at Lyon and being, "Oh, I can do that." It's not that at all.
It's been learning how to adapt in certain situations and finding ways to take wickets when the conditions aren't in your favour. Dealing with success, dealing with failure. Not worrying about what's going on around you, not worrying about who's taking wickets or what everybody else is doing. Focusing all my energy on myself and finding ways for me to get better. There's been a lot on the field and off the field that I've learned over the last few years, but it's probably the stuff that I've learned off the field that's helped me the most.
Yeah, I've always enjoyed a challenge and getting into a fight when I'm bowling. I think the competition is what fuels my competitiveness, my drive, my desire. That's always been something that I've tried to do - get involved in a scrap. And I think it brings the best out of me.
"If I think you're not doing a job on a cricket field, it doesn't therefore mean that I think differently of you away from the cricket field"
The biggest thing is being able to nail your skills under pressure. As an orthodox offspinner, you need to be able to nail a yorker, you need to be able to bowl a ball that doesn't turn. You need to be able to read a batter and understand when they're going to be looking to take you on. Normally as an offspinner, from the first ball you bowl, the batter has already decided that they're going to take you down. So it's then trying to find ways to get the ball to turn away from the batter, and disguising it as well as you can. Whether that be a carrom ball or a conventional legspinner, undercutter, whatever it is that works for you. It's finding ways to add that to your arsenal and being at the top of your run and being able to say, "Okay, I'm going to bowl a carrom ball" and knowing exactly where it's going to land. Because it doesn't help that you can bowl it but you're too nervous to bowl it in a game or you bowl it halfway down the wicket. So I think that's the biggest skill in terms of T20. Obviously, there's a lot of technical aspects that go into bowling a carrom ball, bowling a legspinner, whatever it may be, but it's being comfortable in that skill that you can then implement it in a game when you really need it.
Yeah, absolutely. In terms of four-day cricket, you need to be as consistent over a long period of time as you can be, and looking to keep the batsman at one end. And if you can bowl six balls at a batter, you can put a lot more pressure on him than if he's getting two singles an over and getting off strike. They are two very different disciplines but each one brings positives and negatives.
I agreed terms with Essex that if the UK leaves without a deal at the end of the year, for the last two years of my contract I would then be an overseas player for Essex.
There haven't been any discussions from Cricket South Africa's side, proactive discussions, about what would happen. And I don't know how happy Essex would be if there was a three-month tour during the English summer, to just release me and be like, yep, no worries, you can go. My main responsibility lies for the foreseeable future with Essex. I came over here for the opportunity, and the security that county cricket brings, so there would need to be a lot of discussions between Cricket South Africa about what they were willing to put on the table before I would consider that option, but it's still a long way off yet and a lot can change.
I think it started in the press, with people who didn't really know what the implications were or how it all worked saying that I'd become England-qualified in 2020. Or can we get him involved? I think it's all talk. The way that the visas are structured at the moment, the power lies with the ECB. All the Kolpak players are currently on a tier-five visa, which means that you would have to be in the UK for ten years before you could apply for indefinite leave to remain. There is the possibility of moving to a tier two-visa but the ECB doesn't want to explore that, even though all the counties have a licence to issue tier-two visas. There's still discussions between some of the counties and players and the ECB to try and move the Kolpak players to a tier two.
Yeah, I think they are starting to move in the right direction, in my opinion. I think Graeme Smith has a lot of experience and having him in a director of cricket role, being the bridge between the players and the board, is a smart decision from Cricket South Africa. And it's the same with Mark Boucher. He's got a lot of experience in international cricket, somebody that the players would have the highest level of respect for, and when he speaks about situations or game scenarios, he speaks with international cricketing experience. We know that international cricketers don't necessarily make good coaches, but it's a hell of a good starting point, and especially with a young group of players, which South Africa has at the moment. Getting those players to buy in and to trust somebody, I think it's a lot easier when you've got somebody like Mark Boucher at the helm.
"The biggest thing is being able to nail your skills under pressure. Being comfortable enough in that skill that you can implement it in a game when you really need it"
I think when you are blooding new players, there's always an element of experience and youth. I'm 31, I've played a lot of cricket, but I haven't necessarily played a lot of international cricket. I think somebody like Kyle Abbott has been around the block - he's played in T20 leagues around the world, he's played more than a fair amount of international cricket. So I can't see how it would be detrimental to have guys like that in your set-up. But there's a lot of bad blood towards the Kolpaks, and it would take South Africans and perhaps Cricket South Africa to swallow their pride and seek for those players to return. There's been a lot said in the press about the return of Kolpak players, but the public perception still is not great.
Any cricket to start off with would be great. From there, I'd really like to play in the Hundred. It's a new tournament and I felt like I did well to get picked up in it. With the change of rules that could potentially come in at the end of the year, it could quite possibly be my only opportunity to play in it. Being a Kolpak, I qualify as a local player. If that was taken away, I would then be an overseas player. So yeah, it would be extremely disappointing if it didn't go ahead.
I've registered through Open University, but it can only start in September because of the way the academic year runs. So I'm busy doing an eight-week course through the University of Cape Town in property development and investment. That's been keeping me busy. Property is something I'm quite keen to get into in the UK. I'm invested in South Africa, but it's something that I'd like to do here as well. It's been pretty insightful and has made the days not boring and more productive.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick