When the coronavirus pandemic forced a rejig of England’s summer schedule, Joe Root was faced with a decision.
While the England captain opted to be at the birth of his second child and the period of isolation that followed, rather than play in the first Test against West Indies, Alec Stewart wasn’t afforded the luxury of choice.
“We had lost a high-scoring one-dayer to Australia at Edgbaston in 1993,” former England captain Stewart recalls. “I was spewing when we came off the field, and literally three minutes later the phone in the dressing room rang.
“The dressing room attendant said it was for me, and the words I uttered were not what you’d want to use in front of your mum. Anyway, it was my mum.
“She said ‘Lynn has been in labour for four hours if you want to try to get here’. I left Edgbaston pretty much straightaway and got there five minutes after Andrew arrived into the world.”
Stewart was back playing for England two days later, making 74 in another defeat by Australia.
“Back then, you didn’t think about missing a game,” he says. “If I had my time again I’d be doing exactly what Joe Root has done. We just didn’t know any different.”
If attitudes have progressed, the challenges of juggling fatherhood with a job that requires hundreds of nights away from home have changed little.
If anything, the increased amount of international cricket means players spend more time on the road than ever before, with the consequences – good and bad – felt even before children arrive.
Mark Wood found out his wife Sarah was pregnant with their first child while on tour in the West Indies. In the next Test – Wood’s first for eight months – he took 5-41 in one of the fastest spells ever produced by an England bowler.
“I was riding the wave of hearing the news,” he says. “I spoke to Moeen Ali about it, and he says everyone performs better when their wife is pregnant because it gives you a bit more focus.”
Harry Wood was born in October 2019, a period when his father was at home. For Michael Vaughan, the timing was less convenient, with first daughter Talulla arriving midway through a Test against New Zealand in 2004.
The captain famously left Headingley with an hour of play remaining on the second day and his side in the field.
“It was an easy decision,” Vaughan says. “The media made a lot more of it, but I always wanted to be there.
“Coach Duncan Fletcher was right behind me, and said he would give me the nod. I was going to stay for another half an hour, but Duncan sent a message with the 12th man saying ‘get off the pitch and go’.
“These things are meant to be. If I’d been waiting to bat and we were in a good position, I would still have gone. If we were in a real predicament, I would stay.”
Vaughan was on the field the following day, straight back into his life as an international cricketer.
For Wood, there were six weeks at home with Harry before he left for a tour of South Africa.
“That was awful,” he says. “I didn’t enjoy leaving.
“Before I became a parent, players or coaches who were fathers seemed to be fine when they were on tour. But as soon as you have kids and you talk about it with other people, you realise they are thinking the same things as you.
“They miss their family. They worry about how they are doing. They have the fear of missing out on things.”
Fathers who have returned to work will be familiar with the feeling of receiving a call from home, hearing the worry of a concerned mother. For a touring cricketer, that can come from thousands of miles away.
“There was one night around training when Harry wasn’t well,” says Wood. “It was getting into the early hours of the morning and I was still awake because I was worried about him.
“It ended up being nothing, but it’s hard to focus on the cricket when you think there’s something wrong.”
When Vaughan’s second child, son Archie, was born at the end of 2005, he had just returned home early from a tour of Pakistan to have knee surgery.
“My knee was in a state after the operation,” he says. “I went to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Archie wasn’t ready to be born, so they gave me a bed because of my knee.
“My knee was up; the nurses were looking after me more than they were looking after Nichola.”
Worse was to come for Vaughan, who missed all of 2006 and the defence of the Ashes in Australia that winter.
“I literally wasn’t allowed to walk for three months,” he says. “When you’re fit and firing, being a father is great. The sport doesn’t seem as serious. When you’re going through a horrible injury, it’s a nightmare.
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“I had two little kids that needed a lot of attention and I couldn’t do it because my body wouldn’t allow it. There I was having to spend hours and hours with the physio. Those 12 months were the toughest for me.”
Vaughan’s third child, daughter Jemima, was born after he retired. Still, not being a player does not mean that a career in the game has come to an end.
Stewart, now the Surrey director of cricket, explains: “Lynn and I have been married since 1991. In that time we’ve only had one summer holiday.
“I’ve made a conscious decision not to tour in the winter for other work. I’ve had lots of offers, and I’ve turned them down. It’s just not something that I’ll contemplate doing.”
Where Stewart, Vaughan and Wood are united is in praise for their wives.
“It’s the wives and mothers who are the ones you really have to take your hat off to, because they are left at home to cope,” says Stewart. “You’re off doing your job, leaving them to look after the family and the house.”
Behind every good man…