By Milly McEvoy, Sportsbeat
Hampshire Hawks and Lancashire Lightning produced a memorable finale at the Vitality Blast Finals Day – but it was the personalities of the Professional Cricketers’ Trust that stole the headlines.
The Trust were the charity partner of the biggest day in the domestic cricket calendar for the third successive year, working with Sky and the BBC to spread awareness of the vital work it delivers in supporting the health and wellbeing of Professional Cricketers’ Association members.
The spotlight was shone on three of the charity’s beneficiaries in attendance, former Yorkshire all-rounder Jamie Hood, ex-Hampshire cricketer David Griffiths and former Sussex man Keith Newell, with the trio interviewed on the big screen during the interval of the first semi-final and broadcast around the world throughout the day.
Newell received support from the Trust after his daughter Jessica was diagnosed with Leigh Syndrome, a serious neurological disorder that often affects the development of mobility, posture, and mental capacities in children. Sadly Jessica passed away in January 2021.
“We were told that we weren't going to have much time with her, and we were a bit lost, to be honest, we didn't really know what to do, where to turn, how to get any kind of help,” he said.
“We were contacted very quickly by the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, and basically, very simply said, what can we do for you? How can we help you?
“And it was just nice to have direction and support from someone to give us a clearer perspective on how we could deal with that situation.
“They have been here throughout since 2014, to help in many ways, with education, with support in her transport regarding having a three-wheel buggy, time to get away with her at Center Parcs and some financial help as well.
“It's been absolutely invaluable, and I can't think the Professional Cricketers’ Trust enough.”
The Trust supports players at any stage of their careers with two players on show at Finals Day; Yorkshire’s Dom Bess, who received help for mental health issues, and Chris Wood, who was supported through counselling sessions for his gambling addiction, just two of the players that the Trust have supported.
Past players also lent their support at Edgbaston with the likes of Monty Panesar, Ryan Sidebottom and director Daryl Mitchell involved in bowling activation sessions in between games.
In 2021 alone, the Trust supported 106 individuals with mental health problems, taking the overall total since 2015 to 526.
The assistance for current and former players in England and Wales is all encompassing, whether it be for physical or mental needs including provision of specialist equipment, funding operations or specialist wellbeing support.
The Professional Cricketers’ Trust provides vital support to past and present cricketers in England and Wales and their immediate families when in desperate need.
Mitchell, the former Worcestershire captain and PCA chair, said: “I'm very fortunate to be a director of the charity, I started that when I became chair back in 2017.
“You get to see the other side of the sport, being a director, you see some of the cases of guys that I've played with, played against, Ashes winners that have fallen on difficult times and for the Trust to be able to help them is special.
“It's a great charity, so to be front and centre of Finals Day, which is the highlight of the year from a domestic cricketers’ point of view, it's fitting.
“Hopefully, we can continue to raise a lot of money to give a bit back to those players that have given us so much pleasure over the years.”
The Professional Cricketers’ Trust chairman, David Ford, was interviewed live on Sky Sports, with their viewership remaining consistently around 300,000 and peaked at 700,000 during the final, and later explained how important Finals Day was to the charity being able to maintain their support for players across a broad range of issues.
“It's a key thing on a number of levels,” Ford said. “First of all, it's a big event, so it gives you a platform that you wouldn't have had, there'll be members of the public who have never heard of the Professional Cricketers’ Trust.
“And once they learn more about it, would wish to support it. That wouldn't happen without this visibility.
“But it’s also I think important for the people who have been willing to do it to come today and tell their stories in such a public way will encourage other people to come forward, perhaps people and cases we don't even know about.”
One of the stories highlighted on the day was that of former England player and now journalist Steve James, who shared the harrowing story of the death of his daughter, Bethan, aged just 21 in February 2020.
James and his family have been supported by the Professional Cricketers’ Trust with counselling and support ever since, as they come to terms with Bethan’s passing from sepsis.
The film was shown on Sky’s coverage and has already been viewed over 280,000 times on Twitter, with trustee Daryl Mitchell recognising the importance of fellow former players speaking up and sharing their stories.
He added: “You see the see the videos that go out and then the stories are put on social media and across Sky Sports today, for example, they really are the tip of the iceberg right now.
“They are some hard-hitting cases, but to see the good the charity does, across the generations, really.
“We have players’ children from as young as four and five up to putting stairlifts in the older generation’s houses in their 80s and 90s.
“Whether you've played one first class game, or 100 Test matches, that makes no difference.
“The Trust is there for you to lean on when most needed and it's fantastic, that broad sort of spectrum, that broad variety of things that we do.”
The Professional Cricketers’ Trust provides vital support to past and present cricketers in England and Wales and their immediate families when in desperate need. The charity’s work is all encompassing, whether it be for unforeseen physical or mental needs. Vitality Blast Finals Day is supporting the players’ charity - to find out more about the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, visit professionalcricketerstrust.org