Cricket has long had a system of established stars being awarded a benefit year, normally involving a series of off-the-field events from which the player in question is able to derive additional, and tax-free, income.
The tax-free bit came from a House of Lords judgement in the 1920s that considered the benefit was a 'gift' and hence not part of taxable income. In the past it was a way of rewarding long-standing and poorly-remunerated professional players – as compared to the more affluent amateurs – a boost to their income, often imminently before retirement.
Yet the nature of the benefit year content has changed. Gone are the games against village sides or invitation XIs and in their place are a round of dinners, events and golf days.
What a cricketer earns in a benefit year is likely to vary widely, based on their popularity and the number of events staged. In the 1970s it was recorded that Phil Sharpe of Yorkshire and England banked less than £7,000 from his. Just over ten years later Graham Gooch, the former England and Essex captain, reaped £154,000 from his benefit year, while Graeme Hick was estimated to have topped the lot with £345,000 when he left Worcestershire in 1999.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the benefit system – and it does have its critics – the two beneficiaries this year from Gloucestershire and Somerset, Hamish Marshall and Peter Trego – are undoubtedly popular choices with their respective groups of supporters, and both reveal a surprisingly old-fashioned level of affinity with their teams and counties.
On a wet day at the County Ground in Bristol, the tousled-haired Hamish Marshall bounces into the room during a rain interval. Larger than life, he looks like a cross between the Honey Monster and Frodo Baggins – and has a definite, mischievous twinkle in his eye.
In fact, throughout the interview you get obsessed by trying to interpret the ‘twinkles’. Is this a happy twinkle or a more meaningful twinkle? Does he know something funny, a joke perhaps, that I have missed?
However, Hamish John Hamilton Marshall's performances have been anything but a laughing matter for Gloucestershire's opponents since he arrived from New Zealand some nine years ago.
Given his full name, surely there must be Scottish antecedents? “Well no, not really, although there might be some Scottish blood in my grandmother’s family,” he replies.
“No, the name was a bit of a mistake. I have a twin, James, and when my mother was giving birth she didn’t know she was about to have twins until the doctor said ‘hang on there a minute Mrs Marshall, there’s another one on the way!’ When I popped out nobody had thought of names for a second child so I think it just got made up at the last minute. In fact my background on my father’s side is Irish (well, that explains the smiling eyes), which also qualifies me to play in England not as an overseas player.”
Despite his English domicile, his Irish/Scottish descent, and even, on his mother side, South African connections, Marshall is very keen to point out that he is 100 per cent ‘Kiwi’. Hailing from the tiny North Island community of Warkworth, which has a population of 3,270 in 2006 – “yup, it’s grown since I was there,” chips in Marshall – his childhood was spent on the family farm.
“We always played a lot of sport, I have an elder brother and a sister as well as my twin and we played cricket, rugby and a host of games, day and night,” he said. “Having a twin gives you a ready-made comparative competitor. Later when we played for teams, because James and I are identical, we sometimes had some fun, like one of us bowling two overs in succession and then making out it was the other one bowling.”
Both the Marshall twins also achieved success on the cricket field, playing for Northern Districts in New Zealand, followed by the national side, although James only made the team some five years after Hamish had made his debut.
Yet after a stop-start international career, Hamish turned his back on his homeland, refusing a national contract for 2007-08 to choose instead to focus on cricket with Gloucestershire.
He said: “It was a difficult choice, but county cricket offered a lot more matches than in New Zealand, and more security, and I had played both summer here and winter there, but it was time to settle down”.
In retrospect, it was maybe a wise choice. Marshall never bettered his Test career-best score of 146, made against Australia in March 2005. Similarly, his most productive season at Gloucestershire was in his early years in Bristol.
In 2006 he scored 102 against Worcestershire on his début, before finishing the season with an average of more than 60. He also made his highest knock for the county during the same season, hitting 168 against Leicestershire at the Cheltenham Festival.
Yet, as that twinkle returns, one thing you would never doubt is the pleasure Hamish gets from his adopted county.
“I love living and playing in Bristol, not just because of the city but also because you can easily get out into the country and over to Wales,” he said. “The Cheltenham Festival is great and I have made a lot of friends here. A lot of people have helped to make my benefit year a success.
“But don’t get me wrong I am still a New Zealander. I have even been teaching my son how to do the Haka ready for the Rugby World Cup.”
If there is one thing that strikes you about Peter Trego, then it is his straightforward honesty.
“Starting in cricket at 16, you don’t think about a career or how much money you might earn, you live for the moment,” he says at the start of XtraTime's chat with him on day one of Somerset's final County Championship fixture of the summer against Warwickshire. And the all-rounder continues to pull no punches until the end, when he adds: “I don’t know why footballers talk in clichés. Why don’t they just tell it straight and say what they think?”
For a moment you wonder if there is a touch of the Robbie Savage about the 34-year-old from Weston-super-Mare, until you realise these are not words said for position or a prelude to a criticism of others. They are simply what he believes and acts upon.
In some ways Trego is a throwback to another age, notwithstanding the heavily tattooed arms. A cricketing footballer, a one-county man from birth – apart from a blip of couple of years that he bitterly regrets – and a senior player who sees his role now, in part, as bringing on younger players and being a role model.
On football he had a choice at an early age. He tested the water with his manager at the time and his cricket coach at Somerset.
“I asked the question of both, ‘can I play at the top level?' The football answer was: ‘We think you could play league football', the cricket answer was 'you can go to the top’, so I chose cricket. I think I made the right choice even though being quite an average footballer can still be quite lucrative.”
Yet why he has never quite made it to the top is something of a mystery.
“I was desperate to play for England yet never quite realised that dream and don’t understand why not,” said Trego. “When I played for the England Lions [in 2010], in my last appearance I took 4-50 and got 70-odd from fifty balls, yet the phone went dead from that day on.
“The feedback was very positive about what I had done but the communication was incredibly poor. I was just dumped. I obviously wasn’t the player they wanted me to be. I can never prove it but in my heart of hearts I think I would have done pretty well.”
If his lack of England caps is a sore point, it is clearly more than made up for by his career at Taunton, with the affection shown towards him by the County Ground supporters clearly something he reciprocates.
Trego had a brief spell away in his early 20s when “there were some relationship issues I had and I didn’t think things were going well at Somerset” and “impetuously” moved to Kent. It ended a couple of years later when Brian Rose took him to one side after a match at Lord's and asked to meet him in a pub back in Weston. Once there, the county's former director of cricket simply said: “Peter, I think it’s time you came back home”.
“That for me was a goosebump moment and I realised at that point how much cricket meant to me,” added Trego. “When I eventually hang my boots up it will probably be my biggest regret that on Cricinfo, next to my name won’t be just Somerset.
“Every ball I have bowled and every run I have scored here means the world to me as it is for this club, everything else was just part of the journey to get me back here.”
From someone else’s lips this could sound like one of those dreaded clichés, yet in Trego’s case you sense it is heartfelt and meant.
“My benefit year has been so well supported it fills me with a lot of pride and the response from the public fulfils the kind of cricketer I am,” he added.
“I know at the end I will be judged on the number of wickets taken and runs scored. But for me it’s about a bloke in a bar at the end of a day saying ‘did you see that shot?’ or ‘did you see how far he hit it?. 'did you see that match changing moment?’ It’s all about trying to inspire kids and give people pub stories, that’s what I am about.
“Fortunately,” he adds with a grin, as an afterthought. “I hope I also now have a bit of consistency.”
Andrew Kerslake is the Managing Director of XtraTime. He has worked as a freelance sports journalist covering both football and cricket and written and broadcast journalism. In another life he was also Professor of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University.