‘Cricket is not all, there is life beyond it’

Former New Zealand batsman Mathew Sinclair declares he has a degree in life skills, perhaps for good reason.

Mathew Sinclair (left) and colleague Llorne Howell in Bengaluru. Photo: Shayan Acharya

‘We don’t build hopes, we build your future’, reads the line in the white tee that Mathew Sinclair wears during a practice session with the kids.

It’s a cloudy afternoon in Bengaluru, at the St Francis School ICSE ground in Koramangala. The former New Zealand batsman, along with his former team-mate Llorne Howell, is busy instructing a bunch of boys — all in the age bracket of 10 to 12 — on how to connect ball with bat.

“You cannot afford to lose concentration,” Sinclair shouts as one of the budding cricketers misses the line, twice in succession. The youngster, unable to understand what just went wrong, asks the coach how to fix the problem. “If you can’t tackle it, always have a plan B,” the former Kiwi star explains, with a smile on his face.

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And, it is quite symbolic that life after cricket has taught Sinclair the importance of having a ‘second plan’. For someone, who has spent a decade in international cricket, featuring in 33 Tests, 54 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and a couple of T20s, there was no question of having a ‘plan B’, but then, after quitting the game in 2013, Sinclair found himself in middle of nowhere.

‘Degree in life skills’

After hanging up his boots, the New Zealander did not have a back-up job, and running a ‘young family’ looked like a Herculean task. “It was tough. I didn’t have a degree in physics or management, but now, I have a degree in life skills,” Sinclair explains.

He chuckles, and then tries to explain the situation further. “It was a tough decision to leave the game, but you have to make way for the next generation at some point of time. All I have known is cricket. At 17, straight out of high school, I ventured into first-class cricket. I wanted the best I could be, and gave it all. It was tough to finish your career and then think, ‘what do I do now?’”

 

To make ends meet, Sinclair had to fall back on a government dole. “That was a tough part of my life. When you are in a first-class team or with the New Zealand team, you have the stability of contract, so you work really hard. Financially, it was tough for me as I had a young family. I was trying to adjust. I had good support in wife, kids. I never thought it would be like this, I thought I would get a job right away. Such a thing would not have probably happened in India,” he says.

Taking lessons from the game which, by Sinclair’s admission, teaches one how to deal with toughness, he was able to find a way out. “I have done various kinds of jobs. I am a real estate agent now in New Zealand,” he says.

‘Pressure career’

But like cricket, that also is a tough field. “It’s more like a contractor. I don’t get paid unless I sell something. I have had such a big influence of pressure in my career, and then I have gone back to another pressure career. I like the competitiveness,” the 42-year-old says.

Mathew Sinclair (fourth from right) and Llorne Howell (seventh from right) alongside aspirants from the St Francis Cricket Academy. Photo: Shayan Acharya

 

As he speaks, it starts drizzling. Asking the boys to take shelter under the trees, Sinclair walks towards one corner of the ground. Some three or four yellow-coloured school buses are parked in the area, and standing in front of them, Sinclair starts from where he had left. “Cricketers often go through alcohol and drug issues and the list goes on. When you are in a cricketing environment, it’s all done for you. When you are outside the environment, you are like: ‘god, what will I do now?’” he says.

His colleague Howell, too, had to leave the game after a surgery went wrong. Perhaps that’s why the two, time and again, tell the kids not to just put all their money on cricket. “You might break a leg and then you can be out for ever, what do you do then? You can’t really [do much]. Cricket, anyway, has a short span,” Sinclair explains.

“If I had done what I had done in India, I would own Bangalore or something. When you play in New Zealand, we are seen as equals. There are no labels at all. Cricket is not all, there’s life beyond it,” he laughs.

‘Negative sport’

A father of a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old boy and girl, Sinclair understands a thing or two about parenting as well. He does not like forcing his kids into something. “I don’t push my son to play cricket. Cricket is a negative sport because you score a double-century and even then, the team loses. I am feeling good but I haven’t contributed to the win, or it could be vice-versa. Be positive, talk positive is the keyword,” he says, adding: “I talk to the parents not to push the kids too much. I am getting kids at the age of five, and they want to play for India. My reaction is, ‘my god, you are five years of age!’ But such is the pressure to perform. Allow the kids to find their own pathway.”

But at a time when most of the youngsters are lured by big money, thanks to franchise-based leagues, is it really possible to advise the parents not to put the pressure on the wards?

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Sinclair is a bit concerned about the Indian Premier League (IPL) and its impact. “These days, a lot of people are focussing only on T20. They are seeing opportunities. I don’t have a problem with that, but for me, playing for the country is still the biggest thing. That’s the pinnacle of one’s career. There’s nothing better than donning the India cap or the Black Cap,” he says, quickly touching the Black Cap on his head.

“I am a bit worried about the IPL, since it is based on franchises, I am not sure how much money goes into the grassroots. All they think about is profit. I know it is a business and we are entertainers. As a businessman, we want the best. My only concern is whether the money is being used for the development at the grassroots,” he explains.

Big change

Interestingly, he featured in the first ever T20 international when New Zealand took on Australia at the Eden Park in Auckland on February 17, 2005. “We thought it was a giggle. It was a bit of fun. We were dressed up in big long hair, but goodness me, how we were to know that it will be this now. As professional cricketers, we are entertainers. That’s our job. We go out there, play the game and we also entertain. The formats have changed immensely. We had one team that would play across the formats, now, there are different players. The skills are so different from when we were playing,” he says.

He observes that a concept like the IPL may still not be feasible in in his country because it still ‘doesn’t have population for that.’

Hailing from Central Districts, it would not have been easy to break into the New Zealand side and start off with a double-century. As much he savours those moments, Sinclair admits that too many things brought an early end to his career. “I talk to kids about two words — confidence and courage. The peak that I reached on my debut had put up some very high expectations, not just with myself but with the general public. They were like, ‘My god, who is this kid, who’s come from nowhere and has done this against a very good West Indies team’. It was backed up against Pakistan and South Africa. My form slump was up and down,” he says.

‘All about consistency’

“Some might say, I did not get the opportunities like the others did but it is all about consistency. From batting point of view, it is all about consistency. I lacked on that bit and the oppositions could find my weaknesses. We had five coaches within five years at that time, so I was getting mixed messages on my career rather than me going in to the first-class level and then bringing it back to the international level.”

And these are the lessons that he wants to share with the kids he trains. Last year, when his former team-mate, Kyle Mills, offered him an opportunity to coach kids in India at the St Francis Cricket Academy, Sinclair could not say no. He travelled to Bengaluru last summer, and this time, he is back with his friend Howell and with loads of stories about the game.

After all, now in his second innings, Sinclair can look at the first innings of his career with some perspective.