Thursday, April 26, 2012

At the wicket with Iain O’Brien – the sequel

Part 2: A career post cricket
Test cricket deserves a three-piece suit

In the second part of a cricketing Buddha’s interview with cult figure Iain O’Brien we discuss life after a decade long playing career – Iain mixes light hearted banter with the some great cricketing insight. He talks openly about his battles with depression, spot-fixing, Jesse Ryder and his portrayal as a young Ron Snowden. He is candid about his dealings with the media and how it is now sitting on the other side of the fence. 

In a Donning the whites exclusive Iain puts the rumours of a career in nude modelling to bed, though he leaves the door open for his own underwear range.

A cricketing Buddha: You’re an avid Twitter user (@iainobrien), and I’ve seen some of your tweets appear in print – do you think players’ and officials’ comments should be a legitimate source of information for journalists?
Iain O'Brien: Yes, absolutely it should be – they’re (journalists) a little bit scared of Twitter because the public is getting access to the players before they are and I think that’s where some of their frustrations lie. Cory Jane released that he was staying on with the Hurricanes for four more years on Twitter – that would normally sell a newspaper on the following morning as opposed to it already being knowledge.

So yes, they’re not big fans of it but their way to embrace it is to then use those things and make stories. You still have to do your digging; you still have your journalistic responsibility to find out the facts of the story and find out a bit more. You can’t just say “he said this on Twitter and he’s a smart arse, whatever blah, blah, blah…” - do your research and research it like you’ve just been given a tip from a mate in a pub, but don’t be sucked in by all things said on twitter. There is a lot of bluff involved too.

It’s a stream of thought and it’s out there, it’s public – you end up with some quite big followers, and when they then project it onto their followers it becomes quite a big and widely read subject so why can’t it be a media story if you do say the wrong things - it has to be; it’s out there and that’s why you don’t tweet drunk and you don’t tweet emotional.

ACB: You’ve been open about suffering from depression. Others such as Matthew Hoggard, Marcus Trescothick and your ex-teammate Lou Vincent have all spoken openly about the demons they faced whilst playing at the highest level. Are there the appropriate measures in place to help younger players who may not be so comfortable discussing their illness?
IOB: For me, my depression wasn’t necessarily based around cricket and performance - a lot of mine was social – social anxieties that lead to depression and other things like that. So, my performance; yes, it affected my mood and therefore affected the anxieties I had socially, and whilst it all added up it wasn’t just the playing side of life that I found tough.

Are there better resources out there now for players that need the help? Absolutely. It’s still not good enough but they’re getting there. I had a chat with the Players’ Association early in the summer – I had a bit of a meltdown when we were down in Christchurch, at Lincoln, for the first couple of rounds of the Plunket Shield and while I was down there I had a meltdown down there one night and I spoke to our team physio. He got in touch with the New Zealand doctor – the New Zealand doctor then got me to a psychiatrist that afternoon and I saw a counsellor that evening. I saw him once more while I was down there – so, yes access is quick and the pathways are known – they know who they’ve got to call and they know who the people to help deal with it are. But in terms of actually fronting up and saying “look, I need some help”, I don’t quite think enough players know how easy it is to get help once you’ve said it, if that makes sense?

I’m very open about my depression and I’m fine talking about – some guys aren’t, some guys are still hiding it – most guys are still hiding the stuff they deal with because I think there’s still that fear that they don’t know about the help they can get – how good it’ll be, is it going to cost them, is it going to cost them lots? In the end actually we need to start making those things, within our structures – within cricket,  more widely accepted and more widely known in our structures so that guys, and girls (and within the women’s setup as well), so they can get the help and support that we all need.

ACB: Recently, you mentioned in an interview that you’ve watched and commentated on matches where some aspects just didn’t seem quite right – do you think the Pakistani spot-fixing and Mervyn Westfield’s sentencing are just the tip of the iceberg?
IOB: Mate, of course they are. It’s a word I keep using but it would be naïve to think that these are isolated cases and I really do think it’s the tip of the iceberg. How we go about getting rid of it - I don’t know.

So Westfield has now become a liar - as Westfield named Kaneria as his link, Westfield has now been called a liar and a cheat by Kaneria and in that way that kind of undermines Westfield’s statements – see where I’m going with this? Because Westfield denied it, Kaneria is now saying he’s obviously a liar and he’s a cheat, and don’t bring me into this. And so in the same way these five Indians put themselves forward in the Cairns case and said “yeah, we did stuff and he was our link”, it would appear, and from what I read of what the judge said, that he virtually disregarded their statements because they became unreliable and inconsistent - hearsay. This is not enough to convince and convict; guilty, or not guilty in Cairns’ case. So, it’s going to be very, very hard to prove who is running it, who is doing it, and then convicting.

We had dates, times, events and cash to take the three Pakistan players down and, I’ve said this before, it is going to take those sorts of things, unfortunately, to find out what’s going on but we are only going to get the tip of the iceberg if that’s the only way we can get it. If we’re going to disregard players’ statements, and I’m not talking about the Cairns case at all – I’m not firing any bullets in that way, but from the two cases that have been held supporting statements are being classified as lies and hearsay because these players are cheats and they’re saying that they have done these things. How we take the people that are charged and then the people that are doing it; the spot fixers - how we get rid of them is going to be a tough one.

ACB: What can cricketing authorities do to stop the rot poisoning our great game, or is going to come down to stings like the News of the World getting into the inner sanctums and selling those kinds of stories, or players coming out? Or are their hands tied?
IOB: No, it will only ever be, I think at the moment, done by stings – done by News of the World type journalism, reporting, investigation. It’s not going to be done any other way because you need times and dates and you literally almost need the money run, the money trail, for there to be a conviction. That was what Westfield was silly to do, he flashed the cash to a couple of his team mates and one of them dobbed him in. There’s some silliness as well involved in it, so hopefully we can find some more of them but I think there really is no other way to do it.

It just appears too easy to bowl a random no ball or a wide, or make sure you face out a maiden at the start of a T20 – it just seems too easy to get away with that sort of stuff. Until gambling is legalised in the sub-continent it’s just too hard to track what the bets are being put on and that’s the big one. Imagine someone putting down a whole lot of money on a maiden first over of T20, in the ICL – imagine someone doing that, it just looks weird, but because it’s not legalised you can’t follow the money trail so there is no conviction - there is nothing to find.  

ACB: We’ve seen John Wright and Kim Littlejohn give some of the form performers in New Zealand domestic cricket an opportunity at international level this year – are there other young cricketers you can see making an impact in the black cap in the next year or two?
IOB: In the next year or two? No, I think we’ve got a pretty good bunch of batsmen and we know about most of the bowlers that are in the setup. Some of the younger kids that we know about, the likes of the Milnes, and the Smalls and the Wheelers, from CD (Central Districts), and some of these quicks that are around and obviously Wagner’s not going to be available for a bit longer – we know of all those guys and all those names have been ticked off. In the next year or two years I don’t think we’re going to see any real surprises - maybe McClenaghan, who went from CD to Auckland, as a left arm quick maybe.

But in two or three years’ time we may see Harry Boam from Wellington – I think if he can bowl a bit quicker he could be our next batting medium pace all-rounder, that we’re really struggling for at the moment, because we know Dean Brownlie is not a medium pace bowling option in test cricket, just yet, and so maybe someone like Harry Boam could be that guy but I think he’s a wee way away from that level (but he’s certainly on the right track). I think there’s been enough good media around for the guys that are on the fringe  - I think they’ve all  been covered off – I don’t think I can throw any bolters in there.

ACB: Jesse Ryder has always provided plenty of fodder for the media and fans, he’s an easy target, but the vitriol levelled at him after his fifty on return to the Black Caps against South Africa was intense. Do you think the comment was balanced? Did it play a part in his decision to take a break from the game? 
IOB: I don’t know. I don’t think it was entirely balanced, especially the reaction from McMillan and I’ve had a few good chats with Craig on the topic. Very soon after he made those comments I saw him in the commentary box and we had a good long chat – he stands pretty rigid on his opinion, and we’re allowed to disagree. I think he hasn’t quite spread the blame far enough around though. For me in that one innings there were three or four guts to blame. McCullum, Franklin and Williamson; those three guys who also batted with Ryder at the time were to blame for not working the situation better – for not manipulating the strike a bit better or for not getting Jesse into a slightly different frame of mind where “come on, mate, let’s go, you’ve got to hit out or get out”. I don’t think there was enough chat with him out there at the time. That blame wasn’t shared around enough at the time and I commented about this after it and I think everyone had already run with the Jesse Ryder thing and the Craig McMillan comments and neglected what actually did happen. There was a rain break in there also that really did stall that charge to the total so there were a few other factors that weren’t discussed – weren’t debated. That’s disappointing.

Did it have an effect on Ryder’s head space? Well, it can’t not - it has too. Did it lead to him having a break? Look, I’m not sure; I think there have always been a lot of other things going on with Jesse and it just so happened that maybe there was a whole lot of things happening at once – more stuff than we know about that he needed a break from. But don’t think it wouldn’t have had any effect – it certainly would have had some effect. I wouldn’t blame it on that – we’ve just read that he’s been seeing a very good lady who I see, a very good psychologist, for the last two years. A lot of us didn’t know that so he’s trying to get some help but he’s going to need a whole lot more help before we see him back out playing.

ACB: How did you find dealing with the media during your playing days, especially when things didn’t go to plan?
IOB: I kind of self-schooled myself in how they worked, if that makes sense? The blog helped - then I could control what I put out there. I could also respond to pieces, to articles, that were written and if I was misquoted or if I was misrepresented I could respond on my blog, so it actually became a great tool for me to actually make sure they got their media right and make sure they were fair which I think they also appreciated.  Some of the journalists took big chunks of my blog and just used it in their stories as opposed to writing a story – and credited it, but just used it in their stories. Sweet. Fine. I’ve got no problems with that. In terms of that they knew they were onto a good thing with me and I learned how to give views in press conferences that weren’t just “I’ll hope just to put it in the right areas and hopefully the luck will change”. I learned to give them better answers and they appreciated that so therefore you tend to have better relationships with most of them.

You know, there’s a few in the media I don’t talk to and not necessarily because they’ve said stuff about me but because they’ve said stuff about my team mates and they’ve been unfair and unjust.  I’m not going to share stuff with you (journalists) because you’re getting too many of your stories wrong and not fair and so I decided not to go and speak to some of these guys and that’s a decision I made later in my career when you feel a bit more comfortable doing that. That was how I worked and I think other journalists appreciate some of that stuff, and look, I stayed pretty loyal to a few journalists and if I had something that was coming up I’d give them a heads-up and let them have their story before it became public knowledge. And again, I learned to play the game – they’re good for me and they want to write a story – that’s the pay off. 

ACB: I’ve recently heard you described as a young Ron Snowden (NZ radio commentary legend) - how have you found the transition from player to commentator, especially when commentating on those you played with? How did you get your break in the commentary box?
IOB: Ha…! Commentating on my mates that are still playing is tough but again, like I said earlier, writing that blog has helped a lot with being able to get across a point without being nasty. If I’m being honest, whether I’m patting someone on the back or kicking them up the arse, then I think those guys are OK with that and that’s all that players want – they want that pat on the back if they deserve it but they also don’t mind that kick up the arse if they deserve it and that’s what a lot of our media doesn’t do unfortunately. The players don’t get the rewards for some of their efforts; some reporters will only write editorial type pieces when there’s something negative to write about. That’s fine, that’s cool, but don’t expect to get too much out of the players.

The transition for me started when I was playing for Wellington and I used to just wander up to the commentary box when I’d finished my bowling and sit up there with whoever was up there, whether it happened to be Ron Snowden or Daniel McHardy or whoever, I’d go up there and I’d do a little bit of an on air interview style chat between deliveries and then I’d head back down when it was my turn to bat.

Then when I was at Middlesex, when I’d moved over there, I spent a lot of that summer injured and so I would go up and sit next to Kevin Hand of BBC London and we started that interview style commentary. He’d do the cricket and then he’d ask me a couple of questions in between that and then one day I thought “let’s do this properly” and so I started giving comments and actually becoming the summariser. There’s two roles in a commentary box - ball-by-ball and the summariser and so I became his summariser and he was “cool, let’s work it like that”. I sat next to him for quite a lot of that summer and became a commentator - a summariser.

So, I worked pretty hard at that and then I sent my emails out to the right people over there in the BBC and ended up getting some paid gigs as well and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved in the commentary role. It’s a good job and you get some pretty average feedback from some people but you also get some pretty nice guys walking up to you in the street saying “I really enjoyed your radio commentary” like I had last night when a guy, just out of the blue, never met him before, came up and said “look, loved your radio commentary. Thank you”. So, that’s that pat on the back that goes with the kick up the arse when you get it wrong.

ACB: The three piece suit probably helped too…. (see the photo at the top of the article)
IOB: Yeah, I was rocking it on day one.   Test cricket deserves it.

ACB: You’re due to head back to the UK in April, what’s next for Iain O’Brien? Will we hear you on our airwaves, or screens, and can we expect you back in NZ when England tours our shores in early 2013?
IOB: I might have to schedule a holiday in New Zealand around about that time and try to pick up some work as a way to pay for the trip. I’d love to get back over here and do that - that’d be great if I could bring the family back and we have a little bit of a holiday while I do some work and get to watch some test cricket – that’d be great. I’m not holding my breath but that would be fantastic. That’s in the plan, that’s in the goals, that’s in the things I’m going to start working towards.

There are a couple of other things - I’ve got some projects. I’m designing some sporting underwear – as soon as I touch down back in the UK I’ll be on the phone with a guy to help me sew some pairs together and get some feedback, so that’s a big one I’m pretty sure I can make a success out of. I’ve got one other project I want to keep pretty close to my chest at the moment but it could be quite exciting – quite enjoyable actually but we’ll wait and see.  I’ve got a couple of little side bits; the commentary, the coaching, some underwear and maybe one other that people might be like “what? OK, well done” but we’ll see - it’s not nude modelling. As much as I think I’d be fantastic at it, it’s not nude modelling.

ACB: Thanks for your time, Iain, it’s been fantastic. The chance for someone in my position to actually have a chat with someone who played cricket for their country is pretty humbling. Enjoy being back in England with the family.
IOB: No worries, that’s the gig – that’s the game. Thanks.

If you haven’t read it, check out Part 1: A blessed career in the middle.

Iain’s now back in Matlock ensconced as a husband and a daddy but keep an ear out for him on the airwaves – his commentary is wasted on the couch. You can follow him on Twitter @iainobrien - some of the tweets are gold. He announced his comeback to competitive cricket on 1 April under the hash tag #WishMeLuck…

Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi. If you enjoyed it, sign up for email alerts for future pieces from a cricketing Buddha.


  1. An excellent interview, mate, well done.

  2. I want a summer dress in the pattern of that tie.

    1. Hit him up - I heard he had been looking for a seamstress for one of his projects so you might be able to get him/her to make one for you...

  3. In the second part of a cricketing Buddha’s interview with cult figure Iain O’Brien we discuss life after a decade long playing career – Iain mixes light hearted banter with the some great cricketing insight. He talks openly about his battles with depression, spot-fixing, Jesse Ryder and his portrayal as a young Ron Snowden. He is candid about his dealings with the media and how it is now sitting on the other side of the fence.

    In a Donning the whites exclusive Iain puts the rumours of a career in nude modelling to bed, though he leaves the door open for his own underwear range. Cricket

  4. I have to be honest with you, I did not know much about Iain O’Brien till I came here and read this part, but I just realized this is the second part, so I will go back and read the first one


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