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

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

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“

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Play­ing it for keeps: Alex Bar­row in one-day ac­tion for Som­er­set

Play­ing it for fun: Bar­row at Taun­ton Rugby club

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