The satisfying thwack of leather against willow is captured on a YouTube clip of Welsh cricketer Gareth Rees sweeping a six high out of the ground at Chelmsford, Essex. His shot sends the ball glancing off a slate roof and bouncing off a car bonnet before it comes to rest.
It is one of those little high points that professional sportsmen live for, but there have been low points, too.
“You can suffer a loss of form,” says Mr Rees, 29, who plays for Glamorgan. “Early last season I got dropped down to the second team and had to work my way back – I got back-to-back hundreds when I returned.”
There is always the risk of injury, too. Mr Rees knows half-a-dozen players from the Glamorgan squad alone, mainly bowlers, whose careers have ended early. But even before leaving school, the ups and downs – and relative brevity – of the professional cricketer’s career persuaded him to develop a “plan B”.
“There were boys in the squad who were always destined to be playing first-class cricket, but I was never completely sure it would happen,” he says.
Mr Rees, who also played rugby for Wales at under-17 level, has a head start over many fellow sportspeople – his first-class debut for Glamorgan eight years ago coincided with another first, in his maths and physics undergraduate degree at the University of Bath.
This strong academic background – along with the professional sportsman’s dedication to acquiring the right skills and ability to be a team player – is an attractive package for a career in finance. But Mr Rees, who has long had this in mind for a post-cricket career, suspected he would need more than that.
So about five years ago he contacted Bath university again and asked about joining the School of Management’s Executive MBA programme – an MBA for working executives.
“They said I was too young and didn’t have the right experience,” he recalls. “They suggested I should do CIMA [the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ finance qualification for business].
“That proved to be very good advice. I did two years of CIMA, completing the first stage and learnt the basics about business – for example, understanding a financial statement.”
This period of study helped Mr Rees secure winter work placements at several banks and broadened his work experience beyond cricket. When he reapplied last year for a place on the Bath EMBA programme, he was accepted.
Apart from being just an hour away from Glamorgan’s home ground in Cardiff, the Bath course suited him because it organises its full-time and part-time MBA courses in week-long units, delivered twice a year. “In theory, if you miss your full-time unit, you may be able to catch it when it comes up for part-timers and vice versa,” says Rachel Foster-Borman, MBA marketing and recruitment manager.
This flexibility helps accountants on the EMBA avoid units in April, when the financial year ends, but as a cricketer Mr Rees needed to keep the summer clear.
Ms Foster-Borman adds: “It took a bit of scratching of heads to figure out how to put the units together in the right sequence, because some naturally fall after others, to build on the learning, but we were able to construct something, based on some units from one side and some from the other.”
Mr Rees will take three years to complete his EMBA and has completed seven modules, working around his winter training commitments. Further units follow this winter, then a dissertation.
He is still keen on a career in finance when he finally hangs up his boots, but the EMBA has created other opportunities, such as working in insurance.
Support from Glamorgan has been important, he says. “Doing something like this can be harder if your manager does not support you”.
Hugh Morris, the club’s chief executive and director of cricket and one of its most successful batsmen, also did an EMBA at Henley Business School from 2005-07. He describes it as “the most important learning experience of my business career”. Mr Morris held several posts at the England and Wales Cricket Board, rising to become chief executive, before returning to the county.
Mr Rees’s teammates have other plans for post-cricket careers and are not always sure what he is doing at Bath.
“When I say I’m doing an MBA, they ask: ‘What’s that in?’” says Mr Rees. He then has to explain what the initials stand for.