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Local hero: Cricketing musician hits the right notes

BOUNDARIES are important to James Ross.

James Ross: 'we were thrown in to the deep end . . .' Picture: Steve Cox
James Ross: 'we were thrown in to the deep end . . .' Picture: Steve Cox

Be it scuttling away errant deliveries for four or lashing them clear for six, the opening batsman of Kinross Cricket Club is forever conscious of the parameters of play.

The demarkations always dictate on the field but the 21-year-old finds himself drawing distinctions in other aspects of his life, too. Sometimes he presents himself as the club captain, as well as a coach and area development officer. At other times he is a recording musician with two professional albums to his name. Then there is the further separation in his familial relations. During the interview, Ross refers on several occasions to "Kirsteen", the cricket development officer for Perth and Kinross and, effectively, his employer. However, it is only upon further scrutiny that he reveals that Kirsteen is, in fact, also his mother.

Such duality is hinted at in his music; a track entitled Superhero Alterego appears on his second record, Lost in Memories. Yet rather than be a burden, these disparate strands of his life appear to be a source of comfort, as if compartmentalising the different aspects release him to fully express himself in the various spheres.

Take his cricket, for example. Last month Ross was named young coach of the year at sportscotland's Coaching, Volunteering & Officiating Awards, his work with the Perth and Kinross Area Performance Squads and wider contribution to developing the sport in the area earning him an accolade that also led to his shortlisting as one of the top-three young coaches in the UK. "I didn't even know that I'd been nominated until Kirsteen phoned me," he explains. "I didn't even consider winning until they showed a little video of me at the ceremony; that's when I started panicking about what I'd say."

As it happened, he didn't, but Ross can take consolation in the rewards he has reaped since becoming a full-time cricket development coach with Live Active Leisure in Perth. Having barely had a presence before, the past three years have witnessed the spread of a rash of after-school clubs and a gradual introduction of the sport in to the PE curriculum, with a subsequent growth in club membership and national squad representation.

"I just get a buzz from the kids enjoying themselves and wanting to improve," Ross says. "They might have never played before or they might be in performance squads; it doesn't matter. If they are enjoying it, I've done my job and Kirsteen is happy."

And a proud mother no doubt? "No, we're only mother and son at home; at work she's Kirsteen," he says, firmly. "People ask if it's a bit strange but we're good at keeping our personal, family relationship separate. People don't really associate us and we don't make a point of telling anyone either."

The boundaries, though, must surely be blurred at home, too, given the family's immersion in cricket. Having first experienced the sport at primary school, James and younger brother Peter were taken along to the ailing local club by father John to make up the numbers. Yet despite neither having yet celebrated their 10th birthday, both boys had a hefty wooden bat thrust in to their hands and were strapped up and sent out to face the deliveries of men.

"When we go in to schools now, we do a lot of quick cricket with plastic bats and balls but Peter and I had none of that; we were thrown straight in to the deep end," Ross says. "We began batting at bottom and gradually moved up the order."

Not so gradually, as it happens. The evolution of Kinross from a friendlies team to an established league side mirrored the development of the brothers, both representing Scotland at age-group level before Peter opted to move to the SNCL with Heriot's and earned recognition with the Scotland Lions side. James, though, did not share his younger brother's desire to become a county cricketer, an attitude perhaps informed by his experiences within the national set-up.

"I felt a bit undervalued and wasn't really enjoying it," he says of his time with the under-15s. "I was really getting in to music at that point, learning the classical guitar, and the whole thing was pretty demanding on my time, so I'd reached a point where I needed to make a choice. I didn't want to sacrifice either cricket or music for the other so I decided the best thing was to keep them both as hobbies so I could still enjoy them equally."

As club captain and with an album out next month, Ross's decision appears to have been vindicated. Certainly, he is without regrets, something alluded to by the title of the new record, Time Changes Us All. A collection of acoustic rock tracks, it is the culmination of seven years' work in a studio he has developed at home; a haven when the talk around the dinner table turns, as it inevitably does, to cricket. "It's another world for me and it helps me escape," he says, making sure the boundary is clear once more.

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