An off-season in contemporary cricket is almost unheard of. There are national obligations, domestic liabilities, cash-rich Twenty20 leagues and the odd exhibition match to be attended: enough to keep a righteous man of willow and leather occupied for an entire calendar year. The structuring of sleepy county cricket too has undergpone radical transformation. But there were days indeed when cricketers in England enjoyed almost six months of slumberous existence before getting their rusty joints back into action. Those were the 'dinosaur days' of the sport, as Vic Marks describes them so vividly in The Observer and elaborates on an ethos of functioning lost to the constantly-occupied modern cricketer. Read the whole article here on The Guardian's sports blog.
This was the era when a county cricketer's contract lasted for just six months of the year. Those dutiful cross-country runs had to be fitted in between the winter job – if you were lucky enough to find one. Down in Somerset you might come across some of the feted – in the summer – members of the county team masquerading as gravediggers, carpenters, lorry drivers or teachers. These were the dinosaur days before the advent of the 12-month contracts that our cricketers now possess. But, without wishing to come over all Meldrew, there were one or two benefits with that system.
Spend a winter digging graves and you might appreciate more readily the joy of earning a living by playing cricket even if it could involve facing Andy Roberts on a green-top in Portsmouth without a helmet. Routine winter jobs enhanced the feeling of excitement as the new season approached. Chasing leather became a pleasure; it was so much better than the nine-to-five drudgery of the winter months.
Now our county stalwarts barely have a break from the game. They report back to their deserted county grounds in November after a little post-season break rather than on 1 April the following year. Enhancing trips abroad are often organised by the clubs, a fast-bowling clinic here, batting against spin there. Meanwhile those that stay at home reply to the inevitable question with a "working on my fitness" and "refining my technique".