No place like home

There is a wonderful saying which well describes a subject of great sensitivity which concerns the majority of a community but about which nobody will speak – at least, not easily.

‘The elephant in the room’ at the beginning of the tour was the presence of the player’s wives, families and girlfriends. I have always regarded myself as being at the forefront of the campaign to have families and partners on tour and there is absolutely no chance of that changing. The life of any professional cricketer is a dysfunctional one at the best of times but at international level, it is positively unnatural.

Anything that can be done to normalise social lives and maintain an emotional balance between work and the real world is to be actively encouraged. Nonetheless, there can be no denying the fact that overall team performances have been known to take a dip when the ‘distractions’ of the real world are close by.

While some players undoubtedly prosper, others find it impossible to dedicate as much time as they would like to the team and to their loved ones and find that both suffer as a consequence.

Neil McKenzie and Ashwell Prince both have young children, their first-born in both cases, and have been immensely relieved to have them as part of their lives on a daily basis. As all first-time parents will attest, there is nothing worse than being separated from the new family addition for more than a couple of days, but when the little ones have a runny nose or a wheezy chest and Mum is battling to get enough sleep and cope with everything, it can leave Dad feeling very useless and inadequate. Suddenly a game of cricket, however important it may be, can drop down a place or two on the priority list.

For other players, younger and older, the equation is not always quite so simple, especially being based in London where the list of things to see and do for older children and younger girlfriends and wives is endless. But it’s not just their desire to visit Madame Tussauds and have dinner in a restaurant outside the hotel every night, sometimes they can cause ‘disruption’ simply by ‘being there.’

Some players know instinctively when their teammates need a psychological lift or an arm around the shoulder. Sometimes they want or need that treatment themselves. But when your mate is living on his own timetable in between official team engagements, such treatment is impossible. Team unity is inevitably affected, even just a little.

Families simply must continue to visit their partners on national cricket tours – to even contemplate cancelling such arrangements would constitute retarded administrative thinking of the worst kind. But equally, with the greatest love and respect for all the ladies and kids involved, it might help all concerned if the elephant in the room was recognised and spoken about rather than ignored.

South Africa may have done even better than most people realised in escaping from Lord’s with a draw.

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