Michael Di Venuto interview: I had to get out before I hated cricket

Former Durham cricketer Michael Di Venuto explains to Stuart Rayner why he had to retire from cricket last year – or risk “hating” it

Durham batsman Michael Di Venuto
Durham batsman Michael Di Venuto

For someone so in love with cricket, they are strong words to use, and Michael Di Venuto has not chosen them lightly.

Back on the players’ balcony at Durham a little over a year after retiring from cricket, the Australian insisted he had to get out when he did or risk “hating” the game.

One of the most successful batsmen in the county’s 21-year First-Class history thinks it was just what the Riversiders needed. Most surprisingly of all, he could be right.

Speaking to Di Venuto as he sheltered from the rain in the Lord’s pavilion 14 months ago was an invigorating experience. After a spring playing Twenty20 cricket for Italy, he was refreshed and looking forward to a new English season, speaking of his desire to play the “game-shaping innings” he made such a habit of, and to earn a new contract. Little more than a month later, he had had enough.

Most sportsmen find it hard to replace the spark of playing. Even those who stay in the game admit their jobs are a poor substitute for being on the field. But on his return to the North East, Australia’s batting coach was adamant he does not miss playing.

“No, not at all,” he says. “I was ready to go. I was done. That’s why it happened halfway through last year.

“I was always told one day you’ll wake up and you’ll just know it’s time to retire. It’s something I didn’t really get. I didn’t understand how you could love playing cricket so much, which I did, then one day turn around and say, ‘I’m done.’

“But I experienced that. I had two days like that in a row at Somerset and that’s when I realised I’d had enough. It had nothing to do with batting, I got 96 in that first innings, my batting was fine and I loved the contest of facing the new ball, but it was everything else that went with it.

“I couldn’t prepare the way I wanted to, physically. I couldn’t exactly do what I wanted and set the examples I had been able to in the past. Fielding was becoming tiresome, even though I didn’t do a hell of a lot, I just stood at slip and took my catches.

“I just knew my heart wasn’t quite in it and I didn’t want to end up hating cricket. I knew if I’d kept on going that season my performances might have dropped. I didn’t want to become that bitter and twisted older player in the dressing room.”

Di Venuto’s Somerset score was his highest of the season, when he finished second in Durham’s County Championship batting averages. One of his last acts as a Durham player was to score a frankly ridiculous 156 not out in a 25-over second team game against Northamptonshire.

That performance, more than a month after the trip to Somerset, made his retirement even more of a shock.

“I had a few niggles at the time,” Di Venuto explains. “I had a good conversation with Geoff (Cook, Durham’s coach) and he said, ‘Go away, sort your body out, see how you feel.’ We pencilled in a couple of second XI games and he told me to have a hit in them and if I was still feeling the same, retire. But if I felt I had something to offer for the rest of the season, that would be great.

“Deep down I knew. I got over the little niggles and gave it a chance but I just knew, it was gone. They were rain-affected games as well – that didn’t help, sitting around.”

To a team adrift at the bottom of the league at the time, it seemed a damaging blow. But under Paul Collingwood’s leadership they comfortably escaped relegation and this year Di Venuto and his old club have thrived apart.

Di Venuto was named Australia’s batting coach in February, while opener Mark Stoneman has made light of his former partner’s absence for the Riversiders.

“Where we were at with the club at that stage, it was right for the kids to come in and refresh the dressing room a little bit,” says Di Venuto. “I could see that having been a coach (with Tasmania) for four years.

“I knew it was the right time for me to step aside and let the kids come through. I’d had my time. Twenty years [in First-Class cricket] is long enough. I still like to bat every now and then but I watch our [Australian] boys in training and they bowl too fast and they’re too big.

“I’ve kept an eye on Durham’s scores this season and it’s been good to see all the young guys coming through.

“It’s good for the club that they’re taking the opportunity because they are the future.

“With the environment that was created and the confidence around I knew they would get their opportunity and be successful because it’s one of the better teams around.“

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer