Football stars who could have been cricket heroes

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When it comes to popularity, it would be fair to say that cricket has been given a rough ride over the past two decades, especially when compared to football. The way the professional game has grown and evolved, especially since the Premier League was founded in 1992, should be used as a sort of yardstick for those running cricket in the UK.

Obviously, efforts were made to make the shorter form of the game more conducive to the masses, with the T20 proving to be a real hit, but in doing so county play and even test cricket went way off course. spectacular.

Even the Ashes, which took place over the winter and was the perfect time to take advantage of 888Sport’s big welcome offer, was something of a wet firecracker in terms of audience size which saw England fall into a somewhat inevitable beating at the hands of the Australians.

Football and cricket have always had some sort of connection, although in recent years it has faded, but there have been many occasions when footballers (usually in their youth) have had a choice between pursuing a career professional in one sport rather than the other.

Here are a handful of top footballers who were also very capable with a bat or a ball in their hands.

Gary Neville

The former Man United man has recently become a key part of Sky Sports’ commentary setup; after failing in football management, and at the time he was a very practical batsman.

Indeed, in the early 1990s he played for Greenmount Cricket Club and shared a 236 stand with Matthew Hayden, who played over 100 times for the Australian Test team.

Gary Neville was a very useful batsman, and his brother Phil also had a choice between football and cricket and both Neville brothers probably made the right decision to try their hand at football, with the pair winning 15 Premier League titles and three champions leagues. between them.

James Milner

The veteran utility player continues to play an important role with Liverpool, despite his years of advancement, and the former Man City, Aston Villa and Newcastle United man could also have had an impact in the cricket arena.

In his early years, Milner played at Yorkshire Schools level and was a useful batsman, but chose to play football instead. Amazingly, it’s been almost 20 years since he made his Premier League debut for Leeds, and in doing so he became the second-youngest player to do so, aged just 16 years and 309 days.

Gary Lineker

The former Tottenham and Barcelona striker is now the face of BBC football coverage, including for Match of the Day, and before he made an impact at Leicester City the striker was also very good in the world of cricket.

Lineker captained the Leicestershire schools cricket team from the age of 11 to 16, and many predicted he would have a bright future in the game. However, he chose to represent his local club at football level instead. , and after scoring 103 goals for the Foxes he moved to Everton, where he netted 38 in his only season before moving to Barcelona, ​​where he enjoyed three successful years.

He then joined Tottenham in 1989, where he again showed his prolific goalscoring skills before ending his career in Japan, retiring through injury aged 33, having scored over 300 goals for the club and the club. country.

Joe Hart

Now Celtic’s first-choice keeper, it’s fair to say that the England international keeper has had a tough time in recent years. After bursting onto the scene at Shrewsbury, the 34-year-old secured his top flight move to Man City in 2006 and made 348 appearances for the club before Pep Guardiola dropped him from the starting XI.

Stints at Turin, West Ham, Burnley and Tottenham failed to get Hart’s career back on track, but now he’s proving himself again in Glasgow. Before succeeding in football, Hart was a very useful cricketer.

He played at Worcestershire academy level, alongside Moeen Ali, and could have turned professional, but instead sought a career in football, and given that he picked up 75 team caps national and two Premier League titles, we would say he made the right decision.

Geoff Hurst

The former England international remains the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, having helped the Three Lions to a 4-2 win over West Germany in 1966, but the West Ham man could have ended up playing cricket professionally. instead, such was his ability in both sports.

Hurst actually played a first-class game for Essex in 1962, three years after making his first start for West Ham; he actually got a pair in his only outing (against Lancashire) but played consistently for Essex’s second XI and was a decent wicket-keeper by all accounts.

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