It’s never easy for you to let go of something you’ve been working towards most of your life – to admit the path you’re walking is no longer the right one, to realise you need to change and, most of all, to be brave enough to pursue it.
Couple this with a 60+ year association to the very organisation you are leaving behind and the knowledge that your family name is etched into the very fabric of this country’s sporting history, and you will go some way to realising the enormity of the decision which Fabian Cowdrey made earlier this year, aged just 24.
Fabian is the youngest of the Cowdrey cricketing clan and played 72 matches in a six-year spell at Kent, the county in which his father Chris and grandfather Colin are legends, before he announced in March he was leaving by mutual consent.
Cricket writers and fans alike expressed sadness that Fabian wouldn’t go on to emulate his famous grandfather, but the batting all-rounder is very much his own man, with his own set of skills and – as became clear to him – his future lay elsewhere, much to the disappointment of the cricket traditionalist.
“In the last one and a half years of my career, happiness was a no go to be honest,” he said. “My childhood dream had collapsed and then I lost my identity. All I have ever wanted to do since I was six was play cricket, but now my priorities have changed. You don’t know why they change, but they do.
“I realise my decision will have come as a surprise to a lot of people. But I think it’s a huge achievement to say I was not happy doing something which I previously thought I would be doing until I was 35 or 36. Life is not all about cricket.”
Those final words ring true for a multi-talented man who is already developing a career in the media as a BBC county commentator, and in song-writing for twin brother, and aspiring musician, Julius.
If we were shocked by the decision itself, we shouldn’t be surprised that Fabian had the courage to make it. He has shown in his short career that he is not afraid to perform on the big stage. Fabian recounts successive away T20 matches against Surrey at the Oval in 2013 and 2014, where he scored 50 and 55 respectively (both at more than a run a ball) and took the wickets of Kevin O’Brien and Tillakaratne Dilshan – all in front of some 20,000 supporters.
But he acknowledges that with the big stage of professional sport comes a highly-competitive environment for which talking openly about mental health issues is something of a taboo. Nevertheless, he encourages those who need support to make sure their voice is heard.
“Playing day in day out and travelling together as a squad you can make incredible friendships, but it is still possible to feel alone and unheard. So many people in professional sport view mental health issues as something they would never want to talk about. It’s often believed to be weak for an individual to expose his struggles, but actually it is a very brave thing to do, and is always the better option.
“If you feel trapped in an environment where you need to be heard, but think there’s no platform for your voice, it can enormously impact your performance, motivation and emotional state. It’s about making people realise it is strength to come forward, not a weakness.”
If a Cowdrey can have the courage to prove there’s more to life than playing cricket, his story should inspire a new crop of ‘mental-health all-rounders’ who are better equipped to deal with life’s varying wickets.