Looking on from the outside, it seems to be the perfect life.
Superstar sportsmen and women often appear to have it all. And because we have become conditioned to consider financial wealth, material possessions, fame and even notoriety as the defining characteristics of an ideal existence, any contrary suggestion from one of those high-profile personalities – especially when they are at or close to the top of their respective games – is either taken with a generous pinch of salt or dismissed altogether by a deeply cynical and envious media and public.
Before the start of the first T20 International between the West Indies and Zimbabwe in Antigua on Saturday afternoon, I was interviewing Kieron Pollard, a cricketer who appears to have the world at his feet given the confluence of the arrival of a player with his particular skills and the phenomenal growth of the 20-over-a-side version of the game with its attendant and previously unheard of riches.
Keeping that context in mind, I opened our brief chat with the assumption that his most comfortable environment would be playing this format, to which he responded immediately by stating that his most "comfortable environment" would be spending time with his family. With barely a pause, he followed with the reply that I was expecting, in relation to his excelling at Twenty20 cricket, and so on and so on.
Given the severely restricted nature of international cricket's code of conduct, interviews of this nature are often mundane and repetitive, so when there's even the slightest variation from the tedious routine of bland, run-of-the-mill remarks from interviewees, it's inevitable that those comments would have a bit of an impact. Maybe that was his intention – to offer a gentle reminder, without being all profound and dramatic about it, that there are some things more important than sport and money and popularity.
Maybe it was just intended to catch the interviewer off-guard, which it did by the way.
In any event, it offered an opportunity to pause and consider the pressures that are faced by those who are constantly in the glare of the spotlights, whose every performance is analysed or criticised, and whose form or conduct or body-language can trigger all sorts of speculation relating to the individual's state of mind or relationship with teammates or issues of a more personal nature.
Thankfully, despite our exposure to the deeply intrusive nature of media in most of the rest of the world, we seem to have a very different attitude towards the personal lives of prominent sporting personalities, although there appears to be a greater desire, no doubt fuelled by public interest, to investigate the private lives of politicians and entertainers. The former probably has to do with suspicion and mistrust, the latter may just be about being part of a celebrity culture that is catching on here.
My understanding is that Pollard, as a member of the Queen's Park Cricket Club and as someone who appears generally grounded in his values and perspectives on life, has been well advised on managing both the millions that he would have earned in a relatively short space of time and the fact that he is now a personality very much in the public domain, probably more internationally than locally.
Just imagine the suffocating, almost hero-worshipping type of adulation that he, and others of similar prominence, has to endure when playing in India, or any other part of the cricket-crazy sub-continent for that matter. Contemplate for a moment an English newspaper assigning a reporter and a photographer to follow him around in pursuit of a story that has nothing to do with cricket, or camped outside his front door waiting to unleash a barrage of questions in relation to some controversy that may be real, exaggerated or just plain fabricated.
Often when we see these personalities in the midst of so much global attention our first reaction is along the lines of: "Boy, I wish I was he, yes!" But we will never know what it's like to be under that sort of scrutiny or to be burdened by such a level of expectation, not only from fans, but also sponsors, agents and media, who are never slow out of the blocks when it comes to heaping condemnation on someone once it sells 'papers and airtime.
Of course, the obvious case study for us would be Brian Lara's experiences after his record-breaking exploits with the bat in the first half of 1994 and how, with the world apparently at his feet, he briefly walked out on the West Indies team during the tour of England a year later and pulled out of an Australian tour at the end of 1995 mere hours before the squad was due to head Down Under. Groomed to be the long-term captain of the regional side, he would step down from the post after less than two years at the end of a disastrous tour of New Zealand in 1999 and took a six-month sabbatical from the game with many speculating that his career was over.
"Cricket is ruining my life!" is a comment attributed to him in the midst of those turbulent times, with the star batsman admitting subsequently that he suffered for a lack of proper advice, guidance and mentoring in coping with the sudden arrival of a level of fame and fortune that was almost taking him over.
Given that experience, it is heartening to hear Pollard putting cricket, for all the riches it has brought him, in perspective.