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How Harry Gurney almost gave up cricket to pursue a career in poker

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Harry Gurney has revealed that he almost retired from cricket in 2008 after not being offered a contract extension by Leicestershire CCC, his club at the time.

Gurney has gone onto have tremendous success in the game, representing England 12 times earning a reputation as one of the leading T20 death bowlers in the world. He won the 2019 Caribbean Premier League with Barbados Tridents, the 2018/19 Big Bash League with Melbourne Renegades, and was picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders before the 2019 Indian Premier League.

However, his career almost ended before it had barely begun, with Gurney leaving the game altogether for a stretch in 2008.

“Being released by Leicestershire in 2008,” he said, when asked on the Cricket Badger Podcast to pick a bad day in his career. “I’d been through Leeds University, Leeds/Bradford UCCE in ’05, 06, ’07. ’08 was my first full season back at Leicester and I got released at the end of that season.

“Phil Whitticase [then Leicestershire head coach] sat me down and said ‘We’re not offering you a contract. We want you to go off to South Africa this winter, and we want you to come back on trial next year and we’ll think about whether we can offer you a new contract’. I remember being quite annoyed and angry with Leicestershire and I thought they were taking the mick really so I decided to part company with them.”

At this point, Gurney took the unusual route of embarking on life as a professional, sponsored poker player. “It was at that time that the poker started taking off,” he said. “I used to, through the back end of school and then through my university days, I played a huge amount of poker. I read a lot of books, had some coaching, all that sort of stuff and had a fair amount of success and won quite a few tournaments.

“Your poker records at the time were publicly available and I applied for a poker sponsorship in 2008 with a company called Bad Beat, went through an interview process, they observed me playing, and obviously because they’d seen my record they offered me that sponsorship. I had three months where I was playing a lot of poker, they were funding it, bankrolling it, and we would split the profits. But unfortunately there was never any profit at the end of a calendar month, and that’s why I got flicked.”

Gurney feels his stint as a card sharp has helped him improve as a bowler. “I do credit Texas Hold’em for a lot of my decision making in life, whether that’s on a cricket field or in business as well, the ability to make clear, clinical decisions under pressure is something that poker teaches you.”

And that decision making was put to good use straight away, with Gurney reflecting and deciding to turn back towards his sporting endeavours.

“Later that winter I was approached again by David Smith, the chief executive of Leicester, and went in for a chat with him,” he said. “Long story short I thought, ‘sod it, no other counties are queueing up to sign me so I’ll go to Potch (Potchefstroom) in South Africa for three months’ which I did, and then I came back on trial in April, May and signed again in June of that year. Not a lot of people know that story but I was actually released by Leicestershire in 2008.”

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