Gloucestershire target Finals Day as off-field struggles bring squad together

Professional Cricketers' Trust has supported Tom Smith, Benny Howell and Gareth Roderick

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Tom Smith celebrates a wicket, Birmingham Bears v Gloucestershire, Vitality Blast, Edgbaston, September 2, 2020

Tom Smith - and several of his team-mates - have received off-field support from the Professional Cricketers' Trust  •  Getty Images

If Gloucestershire are to reach T20 Finals Day for the first time since 2007 after three quarter-final defeats in the last four seasons, it will be no exaggeration to suggest that they would not have been able to do so without the Professional Cricketers' Trust (PCT).
The PCT, which offers mental health services to cricketers past and present in the UK - and is facing a £250,000 shortfall this year due to the impact of the pandemic - has provided support to a number of players and staff in their dressing room over the past few seasons following bereavements. Among them are Ian Harvey, the assistant coach, who lost his wife; Gareth Roderick, whose father took his own life; and Tom Smith, whose wife Laura, died in 2018 following a battle with cancer.
"After Laura died - in these last two years - I couldn't have played cricket without [the PCT's] support, both financially and the mental support I've received," admitted Smith at a virtual event on Tuesday. "As a group of players, everyone is extremely emotionally intelligent. We're one big family and to survive all of that as a group of players - generally most of us have been there the whole time throughout all of those scenarios; it's a very loving environment.
"There's so much around bereavement that it's normalising grief now, and I think people are a lot better at discussing it and having conversations. I know as a widower that the care and support I've had from team-mates and the wider cricketing world has been immense. I think that stems from the Trust."
And that support is not limited to bereavement, either. After incorrectly being prescribed anti-depressants several years ago, Benny Howell contacted the Trust to help him see specialists for his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). "It's a bit of an unknown to a lot of people but it helped me figure out how my mind works and how I can figure out how to navigate through the chaotic mind that I have," Howell explained.
"It's still an ongoing process with me, but they've helped me a hell of a lot. I know people who don't have the opportunity to have the Trust on their side; they go through the NHS, and sometimes it takes three months to see someone, so I'm very grateful to have the Trust."
"One thing I've really reflected on is that the Somerset game, where I got the winning runs, I certainly felt happiness there. I felt everyone else's joy - it meant a lot to all of us to get that home quarter-final, and a lot about this is enjoying other people's happiness as much as mine"
Tom Smith
"The stigma in men's sport about mental health is certainly a lot better than it was," Roderick said. "In society it's not as talked about as it should be but in men's sport, the light has been shone on it really, really well. [Players] see other guys going through similar journeys as them and it makes it easier for them to step into the light and ask for help and start their own conversation and their own journey."
"As cricketers, a lot of people still see you as a sportsman, so you should be happy and everything should be fine, but actually whether you're a billionaire, a plumber, a sportsman, a journalist - whatever it is - everyone has their own challenges and everyone needs help at times," Howell added.
Smith's story is perhaps the most remarkable. After his wife passed away two years ago, he was helped by the Trust and Rainbow @ Grief Encounter, a charity that provides support for bereaved children and their families. Not only has he managed to continue his career, but has also thrived with his left-arm spin: in this season's Blast, nobody has more than his 14 wickets, which he has managed while conceding just 5.91 runs per over.
"With me being a single parent with two young kids at home, [lockdown] was a really tough period of time, as I'm sure many parents experienced," he said. "The thought of not getting any cricket and being in lockdown with my girls put me into a very dark place.
"Because I've been so excited to play cricket after lockdown, it's maybe freed me up. I've felt very relaxed on the field. I've enjoyed every moment, probably because of what I did experience during lockdown.
"I talk a lot about feeling five out of ten, and not feeling the big highs and lows. That's something that after lockdown I really wanted to address, and wanted to make some changes in my life to feel some more emotion. That's not going to be an overnight thing, that's going to be a thing that happens over time.
"One thing I've really reflected on is that the Somerset game - where I got the winning runs - I certainly felt happiness there. I felt everyone else's joy - it meant a lot to all of us to get that home quarter-final, and a lot about this is enjoying other people's happiness as much as mine. Throughout the tournament I've had far more sixes and sevens, not necessarily from my own success but being around a team, a group of people pulling in the same direction that want to win."
This year's Vitality Blast Finals Day will be in support of the Professional Cricketers' Trust, with both funds for - and awareness of - the charity being raised throughout the day. Professional cricket's leading non-profit offers life-changing assistance to PCA members and their immediate families when they need it most. For more information, click here, or to donate, click here.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98