Few people in British sport have endured the kind of rollercoaster experienced by Daryl Mitchell since he took over as chairman of the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) back in February 2017.
Brexit, negotiations over a new player contract, The Hundred and now, to top it all off, the Coronavirus. Mitchell’s inbox hasn’t been so much full as overflowing with the kind of problems that would send some reaching for the bottle.
The Worcestershire man, though, is a glass-half-full kind of character and despite everything that has happened so far in 2020, he’s hopeful that those involved in the game can help navigate their way through a minefield that, at present, has no map, precious few compass coordinates and certainly no precedent
“This is new for everyone, no-one has been through this scenario before,” he tells The CC. “A couple of guys went home ill when we were at Worcester and then I was ill the week before the lockdown – it was during the Cheltenham Festival because I remember watching most of it on television.
“Then everything just escalated. Counties were suddenly in isolation and the whole country were in a lockdown situation. A couple of weeks before that, we were still thinking about whether we were going to be going away on a pre-season tour. Suddenly all that just went completely out of the window.”
Instead of packing their suitcases and cricket bags, the vast majority of the country’s cricketers started following the daily government briefings in an attempt to gain a handle on how the crisis wasn’t just going to impact their sport but also their entire career.
The word ‘furlough’ wasn’t one that had ever been readily used in this country. Suddenly it was trending daily on Twitter and was perhaps the most used word in the WhatsApp’s flying between county colleagues and friends on the circuit.
At the centre of it all was the PCA, with Mitchell and new chief executive Tony Irish attempting to simultaneously put individual minds at rest while also doing their best to ensure the financial viability of a county game facing the very real and financially ruinous prospect of a summer without cricket.
“There’s clearly an awful lot of fear and anxiety around,” says Mitchell. “There’s uncertainty in all industries, there are a lot of unknowns. At the PCA we’re just trying to communicate as best we can with our members. We’ve put out an isolation survival guide and we’re trying to guide the players through this situation.
“From a mental health perspective, we’ve got a confidential helpline and we’re making sure that everyone has access to whatever they need. It’s clearly easier to do that in 2020 than would have been the case maybe ten or even five years ago.”
Mitchell, who made his debut for Worcestershire in 2005, would have had little idea as what the future held for him back then. But he has certainly managed to cram a lot in during the intervening period, particularly post 2017, when he saw off a challenge from five others to become PCA chair.
“From a time-management point of view, it has probably been the most difficult time to be in the role, but from an experience point of view it has been the best,” he says. “What I’ve had to deal with has been difficult, but at the same time it will stand me in good stead moving forward.
“Ultimately, I’m enjoying the problem solving and the pressure and responsibility that comes hand in hand with it. I had an idea of what the role would entail but I couldn’t have predicted everything that has happened since.
“From a personal point of view, it has steered me away from coaching, post-career, more down the line of wanting to be involved in sports administration. I’ve done work experience with the RFU, and briefly with Coventry City and Everton football club as well. I’ve got a steer of what sport administration is all about and I think that’s where I’m definitely heading post my cricket career.
“Ultimately, that’s a result of taking this role and I’m enjoying it. I certainly don’t regret any of it. I’ve got eight and a half months left in the role and I’ll be doing what I’ve done since I started – I’ll be tackling any challenges head on.”
He’ll hope he can get to the crease at some stage between now and then and his record with the bat while PCA chairman certainly shouldn’t dissuade any other prospective candidates from stepping into his shoes.
Mitchell tells The CC that he has scored 15 first class hundreds since 2017 and believes the role has helped rather than hindered his game.
“I had lost the captaincy in the October (2016) before I took on the role and I definitely think this helped me take my mind off things,” he says. “I like being busy, I like the challenges it throws up and, day-to-day in the season, it’s not usually too onerous. There are a few emails here and there but generally you can pick things up on your days off and make a few phone calls in the evening away from the ground. I’ve found it pretty straightforward to chop and change between my role as a player and my position with the PCA.
“If you asked me, then the pressures of captaining a side in county cricket are all consuming. It’s a 24/7 job. You bring your cricket home with you a lot. You’re thinking about selection, tactics, decisions you’ve made during that day. That some sort of stuff stays with you a lot longer over a six-month period when the season is going on.
“As the chairman, there are peaks – and the Covid crisis has certainly been one of them. The peaks usually last about a week, although this one is lasting a whole lot longer. This has been something else entirely.”
When it ends is anyone’s guess. The players, though, appear to be in the safest of hands.