Marsh One-Day Cup 2019
Curious George ponders next step ahead of 19th season
The Tasmanian veteran discusses his decision to play on this summer, how relinquishing the captaincy has helped his batting, and his future in the game
10 September 2019, 08:46 PM AEST
When George Bailey realised he would have to watch the latter stages of the 2018-19 Sheffield Shield season from the sidelines, he wondered how it would make him feel.
Bailey's season had come to an abrupt and painful end with six weeks still to go, a busted right shoulder putting his immediate playing future under a cloud, and raising questions – at least externally – about whether he would play again at all.
Earlier that summer, he'd gone through one of the worst form slumps of his career but had rediscovered his touch in both red- and white-ball cricket after freeing himself from the captaincy of Tasmania and the Hobart Hurricanes.
At 36, the end of his playing career had naturally been in the back of his mind, a life-changing moment that every cricketer knows will eventually come, even though that knowledge doesn't necessarily make it any easier to confront.
But in the modern world of big hits and even bigger money on the global T20 circuit, there was an obvious next step for Bailey to take, should he decide it was time for a change.
It was against this uncertain backdrop that he began his recuperation from injury, watched from a distance as his teammates fell short in their push towards another Shield final, and pondered his next move.
"When I missed the backend of the Shield season, I was interested to see what that would feel like," he told cricket.com.au this week, a day after his 37th birthday. "Whether I would miss it or whether I wouldn't.
"Not being able to contribute to us pushing that way (towards the final) and seeing us fall away, that hurt a little bit.
"I think it made me appreciate it more than anything. And I was really starting to enjoy being free from the captaincy. That had had a bigger impact on my enjoyment than I thought it would.
"I fell in love with the game a bit more again."
As he prepares for his 19th season with Tasmanian cricket, where he's again committed to playing all three forms of the game, Bailey says his decision to relinquish the captaincy last November has been pivotal in extending his career by at least one more summer.
Tigers coach Adam Griffith says Bailey has been "running around like a 25-year-old again" during the pre-season, and the veteran says a chance to focus on himself after almost a decade as skipper has helped him reset.
"Starting this year without that responsibility has really freed me up," he says.
"I can be a little bit more selfish with my time, doing what I need to do. And if I need to get back and spend time with the family, I don't feel guilty doing that.
"Once you're on the ground captaining, that's not the problem. It's the additional stuff; the constant thinking about the entire squad and where everyone's at, how you can assist and where the group's going, pre-match meetings and tactics.
"It's been a good chance for me to get back to a simpler way of playing."
While he's committed to the Tigers for another season, Bailey concedes the prospect of giving up the grind of domestic cricket and freelancing as a high-earning T20 player had entered his mind.
He dipped his toe back in the water of franchise cricket at the Global T20 Canada League this year and while he concedes such tournaments could well be in his future – either as a player or a coach – it's not quite enough, at least not at this stage of his life.
It's that domestic grind, and seeing the next generation of Tasmanian cricketers blossom in front of his eyes, that keeps him going.
"The one thing I do find hard with those T20 leagues is the hit-and-run approach," he says.
"You're somewhere for only four weeks and you're trying to forge these relationships, and then you're out, and a lot of those guys you'll never speak to again.
"Looking back in 20 years' time, my strongest relationships and my greatest memories will be here at the Tigers. So I wanted to make sure that's where I play the majority of my cricket.
"The times last year when I did score runs, that satisfaction is nothing compared to batting with someone who does really well, or seeing someone develop.
"That's why I've enjoyed this pre-season so much; seeing the standards that other players are starting to drive and seeing them improve, the questions they ask, the hunger they have to learn (and) the way they go about the game."
And he says staying with the Tigers but taking a step back by playing only white-ball cricket wasn't an option either.
"I don't think I can be that person," he says. "I've either got to be fully committed or the standards of my performance will drop off the edge of a cliff.
"If I get to the stage where I feel like only playing one format, it's probably time to finish up."
Just like the start of this year, Bailey has no idea exactly when that time will come, how that will make him feel, or what he will do next.
One of the benefits of his stint in Canada was a chance to work with respected figures Tom Moody and Stephen Fleming, giving him a taste of life as a T20 franchise coach.
Then there's his world outside cricket; his two children and wife Katie, a soon-to-be-completed Masters of Business and a burning desire to get a taste of life beyond the cricket bubble.
But there's every chance he'll eventually drift back to the game he's dedicated his life to.
"I go through weeks where I think, 'Yep I'd love to do that (coaching)' and then I go through weeks where I don't think that," he says.
"One thing I'm really keen to do is experience life outside the cricket circle to broaden my horizons and find out what actually happens in the real world.
"If that does lead me back to coaching at some stage, or back to cricket, you get a lot more benefits out of that than finishing playing and walking straight into a coaching career.
"But until I stop the playing side of it, I honestly don't know."