Rugby helping Barrow survive Somerset snub
Jeremy Blackmore discovers that a keeper’s love of another sport may be key to him fulfilling his dream at a new county
Former Somerset keeper Alex Barrow has turned to rugby, his first sporting love, as he seeks to rebuild a career in professional sport after being released by the county at the end of last season.
Barrow turned out for Taunton RFC in five matches before Christmas after initially going to their Hyde Park ground to work on his fitness. He now hopes the experience will help him rebuild his cricket career as he embarks on two months at the Gary Kirsten Academy in South Africa.
Scrum-half Barrow, 24, played schools and age group rugby for Bath before opportunities opened up in cricket. A series of shoulder injuries took some of the enjoyment out of the game at the time, but he says pulling on a rugby shirt again gave him a real buzz.
“It was such a good thing for me to take my focus away from cricket and give me a complete break. Rugby was always my passion. I always enjoyed cricket, but if I was a little boy and someone said, ‘what do you want to do’. I would always answer, ‘I want to be a rugby player’.”
Former schoolmate and Taunton captain Mick Mason received a call from Barrow last autumn asking if there were any opportunities at the club.
“I got released and I felt that I needed something just to get me through to the end of the cricket season and give me a bit of experience and focus.
“I went down to a training session and initially it was just that I wanted to run around and work on my fitness and get involved in something that’s different from cricket and also just to join a new environment. I went down for a few sessions and was really enjoying it and thought, actually, I’m going to get playing and see what happens.”
Rugby is a path less trodden for cricketers these days, despite a few high-profile examples in the past such as Rob Andrew and Steve James. It’s a modern trend which Barrow regrets.
“That’s a bit of a shame. When I was young it would have been great to be able to do both. But even as a youngster these days it’s really hard.
“You join an academy and clubs are very quick to say, ‘you’re not going to play that, we don’t want you playing hockey, we don’t want you playing rugby’, which I think is a real shame, because different sports teach you different skills. Also there’s a different culture in every sport which goes a long way in life, not just going into a sporting arena.” Barrow scored more than 1,600 runs in all formats for Somerset after making his first-class debut in 2011, in addition to 96 victims with the gloves. Opportunities were originally limited due to the presence of both Craig Kieswetter and Jos Buttler and last year he only featured in seven first-team matches after Somerset signed Kent’s Ryan Davies. With such limited opportunities in 2016, playing rugby has helped him rediscover his love of playing sport. “It was a buzz playing rugby again. It also made me realise how little I’d enjoyed the last year of cricket.You always get moments where you enjoy it if you score runs and you win games – that’s always enjoyable. “But when I was playing rugby, you realise that I was enjoying it as I was playing it, which I hadn’t done playing cricket, because in reality the writing was on the wall before I got released, probably the year before.” Despite leaving Somerset, it’s clear Barrow will continue to have a special place in his heart for the county he supported since childhood. “It was emotional knowing I’m never going to walk out on that pitch again with that group of players,” he said. “It’s so hard to leave a childhood club you’ve grown up wanting to play for. Everything you strive for – to be a great Somerset player and go on from there and score 100s didn’t happen. “I do have fantastic memories of Somerset and whatever happens going forward if I play for another club, I’ll always have a place for Somerset in my heart. I’ll always be supporting them and nothing will take Somerset out of me as a person, it’s really an important thing, it’s something I’m really proud to have done.”
Barrow’s focus now is on securing a contract with another county.
“I haven’t got a club at the moment, I’ve, hopefully, got a couple lined up for when I come back to go on trial and make an impression there. Whatever environment I go into is going to be different and also I think that it’s something that I can do efficiently and if you put runs on the board, you don’t really leave them choices.”
A talented fielder who took to the field as 12th man for England in the Lord’s Test against India in 2014, Barrow decided not to return to playing club cricket in New Zealand this winter. Instead he chose the Gary Kirsten Academy after being put in touch by Somerset legend Alfonso Thomas: “I think at this point having coaches have a look from a fresh perspective in a new environment with no baggage, is a plus.
“It’s almost going in completely open minded to it, into an environment where you can hand over your game to a coach and say, ‘happy to hear your thoughts and see where you think I can improve and I can give you mine’, and we can go from there.”
Having rediscovered his love of rugby, he does not intend to turn his back on the sport for good: “Now the focus is back on cricket, but I also don’t want to waste all that rugby work.
“If cricket doesn’t work out I can go back to Taunton and pick up where I left off. I’m one of those people that if I’m going to do something I want to do it the best that I can and be the best that I can, and that’s why from playing rugby I can learn new skills.
“There are not many that are transferable to cricket, but the fitness side of rugby I absolutely love, so I’ll carry that on while I’m in South Africa. I’ve got a couple of rugby balls in my cricket bag, so I’ll be practising a few skills while I’m out there!”
“I have great memories of Somerset and, whatever happens, if I play for another club, I’ll always have a place for the county in my heart“
Playing it for keeps: Alex Barrow in one-day action for Somerset
Playing it for fun: Barrow at Taunton Rugby club