Home Mens Interest Five cricketers who also love other sports

Five cricketers who also love other sports


Cricket and fieldsports share more than just a common dress code and a shared spirit of conviviality. They are both seasonal sports.

Anyone who was born in Britain during the 1960s and watched television as a kid will remember Mr Benn. The animated series’ eponymous hero was, at first blush, quintessentially English, leaving for work in a dark suit and bowler hat. He did something bizarre, but it was actually revealing of national character. He went to a fancy dress store, where he was transformed into a spaceman or a magician, and then exited via a hidden door, ready for a new adventure. I feel a sense kinship with Benn. I spend most of my time wearing sober clothes for work, just like Mr Benn. Twice a year at the start of winter and as the days grow longer, I change my costume to welcome new adventures.


We have many seasonal sports but there’s something uniquely complementary about shooting and cricket. Both days are festivites, where the normal rules of life are suspended. Both days offer solitude and conviviality, which is unusual. A batsman who is taking guard in the field finds himself alone. Unexpected peace is found by the gunner waiting at the drive peg with his sound dampened by ear protection. The bothy and the pavilion were filled with noise just moments later.

Both sports are a product of Victorian codification. The Game Act of the 1831 set up a statutory season of shooting for pheasants from October to Febraury. The Marylebone Cricket Club adopted a new cricket code four years later. Consequently, both cricket and game shooting maintain the genteel anachronisms of that era, whether that’s ‘elevenses’ between drives or ‘tea’ to divide sessions of play.

There is also linguistic intermingling, so that a fielder might ‘pluck’ a catch from the air. They also have ‘captains’ to maintain order, plus a slightly 19th-century obsession with posterity and record-keeping. Before selfies there were scorecards and gamebooks. Both sports, à la Mr Benn’s pace, require some dressing up. Also, preparation is required: gun oil for a shotgun and linseed for a beloved bat.

This is the perfect place for amateurs who are passionate about their sport. I’m no longer an elite athlete, but I’m a stumbling 50-something. Shooting and cricket, game crop and greensward, offer me a sporting brace that can’t be beaten. The one is more enjoyable when the hedges have been trimmed, and the other when boundary oaks in full bloom. They are both tests of athleticism, vision and patience. Here’s the thing, though. This connection between shooting and cricket has another corollary – not for duffers like me but for household names. Some cricketers are hailed as world-class stars by the age of 25, but their careers can end less than 10 years later.

cricket fieldsports

The time of top-level cricketers is limited. The demands of tour, practice and the sheer toil on the field are too much for some. Cricketers have disproportionately higher rates of depression and even suicide. The game can be a bit edgy. In reality, it’s hard yakka. Shooting involves deadly weaponry, yet it can be a balm to the weary and a restorative remedy for the wrung out.

It is clear that there are many top-flight international cricketers who enjoy wearing gumboots instead of spikes. Shooting, though less demanding on an aging body, offers the same level of skill and nerve as their earlier days of cricketing. It also provides a sense of camaraderie, which was a hallmark of their salad days. Helpfully, they’re also less likely to pay for their sport, since an elite cricketer with a back catalogue of first-hand anecdotes is always a popular guest.

According to former Surrey all-rounder Graham Monkhouse, who was nicknamed ‘The Farmer’, the social aspect of shooting is a big attraction for many players. He cites the “comradeship” and a “shared love of wine” as two draws. Given that Monkhouse retired from the game to farm in Cumbria, his shooting is more often functional than recreational “to thin out the pests around the farm: rabbits, crows and the occasional fox, when he’s cleaned out my free-range hens for the fifth time”, he says.

Perhaps the most famous cricketer-cum- countryman is another Mr B – not Mr Benn but Lord Botham, whose heroics against the Australians at Headingley in 1981 struck teenage fans like me as a kind of miracle. Lord Botham is a lightning conductor for those who want to ban shooting. The former England captain’s presence at a grouse shooting in the Peak District last summer was the catalyst for national media coverage. Saboteurs were attempting to disrupt the shoot when they discovered that the former England Captain was present. If ‘Beefy’ wasn’t deterred by the 90mph chin music of Alderman and Lillee, he’s unlikely to have been intimidated by the sledging of a handful of militant vegans.

What is it, other than the camaraderie, that makes formerly full-time Cricketers so excited about shooting? “The reason they enjoy it? Shooting requires a lot of concentration, similar to batting,” believes former England spinner Monty Panesar. “The precision and hitting your target accurately is similar to placing the ball into the gaps. It challenges your hand-eye coordination but is a mental exercise rather than a physical one as there’s no running between the wickets.”

The similarities in technical dexterity do not only apply to batting. Anyone who has stood for what seems like an age waiting with cupped hands for a cricket ball sent high into the sky to come to earth will know that there are wide variations in an individual’s ability to predict trajectory. “Butter-fingers!” goes the cry when a catch is grassed. The human brain is a remarkable tool. It can track a small red ball moving in a large blue sky.

These everyday sporting feats, like many aspects of our subconscious mental maths, defy even the most intelligent computerised artificial intelligence. In shooting, the same system of tracking eyeballs is employed. When a wicketkeeper watches a red leather piece rocket into his glove, and makes a series rapid and intuitive adjustments in order to line up the capture, he is tapping into the same part the brain which allows a gunman to bring down high birds. In either case, a low sun or tricky winds are only partial excuses.

Are all former cricketers interested in shooting? No, of course not. It seems that the virus is more prevalent among batsmen than it is among bowlers. Former England captains David Gower, and Sir Alastair cook are both excellent shots. George Digweed taught Rob Key – the current manager of the England national team and former Kent batsman – how to swing the bird.

And it’s not just about predicting flight paths. It’s the psychology too. Both batsmen and gunners spend a great deal of time visualizing what a good shot feels and looks like. They are trying to eliminate unhelpful trigger movement. Muscle memory is developed in the peg or batting crease through a pantomime of practiced shots. The distinctive chunter that is heard when a batter or gun misses a freebie sounds strikingly similar. A good shot will be praised, usually with a flourish or a follow-through. A bad shot is followed by a new round of self criticism. “Most top sportsmen are, by nature, highly competitive,” reminds Monkhouse. “They are incredibly single-minded. They have to be to succeed.” Both activities also demand an ability to decide which shots to leave well alone. A batsman because he’s apprehensive about edging, a gun for fear of being guilty of behaviour seen as unsporting or downright unsafe to the beating line.

For those who don’t don whites over summer, my faith in the unique complementarity of cricket and shooting might sound overstated. Of course, it’s easy to overanalyse. “In my experience, shooting is a lovely way to spend a day in good company and forget about the day job,” maintains Monkhouse. Further, let’s not forget that cricket is fairly accessible with relatively low entry costs. Shooting is not as popular. But that doesn’t alter the fact that this summer, as I wander around the back of the stands at Lords, there’s a strong chance I’ll bump into someone with whom I’ve once shared the shooting line. These two English sports are not only rooted in the same cultural well, but they also epitomize and optimize the sporting season for me. Whether you’re a former England batsman or a village cow-corner specialist, the bat and ball offer a deep, atavistic connection to the all-too-brief joys of summer.

As the days get shorter, we have to reorganize the sports paraphernalia. We throw out the arm guards, pads, and spikes. In their place, the shooting socks and tweed breeks are introduced. Just as with Mr Benn’s costume, a change in Mr B’s costume will bring new adventures. The gun and bat. The pavilion, and the Bothy. Both sides of one unimproved sporting coin.

The draw of sports has thrown famous cricketers into a state of shock


cricket fieldsports

All-rounder who was a legend in every way. ‘Beefy’ was feared as a batsman and a bowler. He’s also a country boy who loves everything from wildfowling and pigeon shooting to pest control and fishing.


cricket fieldsports

Sir Alastair remains England’s leading runscorer in Test matches and is regarded as one of the greatest batsmen. He’s also rather keen on stalking.


The former left-hander is considered one of England’s most stylish batsmen. Gower loves shooting and is the patron of Country Food Trust.


The 19th century cricketing legend, Grace, was also good friends with James Purdey. Grace was an excellent shot. He was almost forced to retire when he sustained an injury while shooting.


cricket fieldsports

Emburey grew in south London but he got a taste of fishing on England tours and began shooting after retiring as a professional player.

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