Navigators of Change: What Dave did next
David Fulton enjoyed a rollercoaster professional cricket journey which nearly cost him his eye-sight before embarking on a career in the media with Sky Sports. After an 18 year hiatus , he speaks with Instinctif’s Jeremy Durrant to discuss coping with change and why the mental side of sport is too often over-looked.
By his own admission former professional cricketer and current Sky Sports News presenter David Fulton is not a big crystal ball gazer, preferring to exist in the moment and roll with the ups and downs which life presents. It’s a method that has served him well so far in a varied journey spanning playing, writing, and talking about top-level sport but which has also included some significant challenges along the way.
However, as we speak and reflect on his career to date – certainly the early part of his professional cricket journey – there is a sense that the application of a little more rigour, planning and belief may have yielded even more impressive results than the 12,000 or so first-class runs and 28 centuries he achieved for Kent.
He says: “I enjoyed a good cricket career, albeit there were quite a few seasons that I would say I underachieved. I wouldn’t say I wasted my time because I had a really good time – and perhaps that was probably half the problem. However, if my 50-year-old self now could speak to my 20-year-old self back then I would certainly advocate a few earlier nights, a bit more focus and certainly some more self-belief. It may have meant I went a bit further and played internationally. So, I do have frustrations that I didn’t squeeze more out of my career but at the same time I also feel very proud of a lot of the things I did.”
Fulton’s present life is full and varied. The day we speak he is running a little late for our early morning interview having worked the evening shift presenting for Sky Sports, followed by an unexpected detour to pick up his eldest son from the airport. He apologises profusely by text and when he joins our video call a few minutes past the planned start, is subsequently generous with his time. His capacity for courtesy is a trait I recall well. My own early career as a regional sports journalist saw me interview Fulton on numerous occasions some 18 years or so ago when he was a county cricket skipper. He always picked up the phone and was very accommodating with his time, far beyond what could have reasonably been expected.
We start our most recent conversation by talking about his entry into the professional game and he admits never anticipating at the start that he would enjoy 15 seasons playing county cricket.
“When I got a contract with Kent it was never something that was really on my horizon which seems strange to say as I was playing regularly for the county’s second team. However, despite captaining sides through the younger age groups, it was never really a burning ambition to make a career of cricket. It was something I had always done and enjoyed but when I got the phone call offering me a contract, I didn’t necessarily think I was set up for the next 15 years. I wanted to give it a crack and play alongside some of my heroes at the time in the Kent team. However, I was also studying for a degree and knew this wasn’t a case of placing all my eggs in one basket which with hindsight was quite a healthy thing.”
On embarking on a professional career, Fulton concedes he lacked confidence and even a sense of belonging in those early years.
“I started off without any specific goals which is a little bit due to the way I am wired. I was enjoying being a professional cricketer without perhaps realising the opportunity I had been presented with. Part of it was confidence and never quite believing that I deserved to be sharing a dressing room with Kent legends at the time such as Mark Benson, Neil Taylor, and Carl Hooper. It was only later in my career that I realised how crucial self-belief was and how with more drive early on I could have felt a greater sense of belonging and got my head down and focused on scoring more runs.”
Fulton’s nicknames reveal some of his early career challenges and a contrasting on- and off-field persona. His more methodical approach to scoring runs built on solid defence earned him the moniker of Tav – a reference to former Kent and England open Chris Tavare who was famed for his slow accumulation. The tag of “Rave” was more closely associated with an enjoyment of the social side of the game.
His career meandered to an extent before a break-through season in 2001 when he scored more than 1,800 first-class runs including nine championship centuries and, if Nasser Hussain’s autobiography is to be believed, to the very brink of an England debut.
He attributes the significant swing in performance to a change in psychological approach having been warned that without an improvement in output he would be exiting the club. Another contributing factor was a winter spent working in regional sports journalism which he loved and showed there were also other career options if cricket were to come to an abrupt halt.
“The 2000 season was a low point for me. I was all over the place both with my technique but also my lifestyle. I needed to get back to enjoying the game in the same way I had when I was 11 years old. Cricket had become a chore and I wanted it to be fun again. I made some technical adjustments and threw off all the pressure by thinking if this was going to be my last season than I was going to approach it like I had when I was younger by being more attacking and playing with much more flair.”
The results were spectacular, and Fulton was voted Player of the Year by the Professional Cricketers’ Association for his run-scoring feats. The following season was also very productive and led then Australian test skipper Steve Waugh, who played for Kent in the latter part of 2002, to predict that Fulton had the ability and man management skills to be a future England captain.
However, all was to change for Fulton when he was struck in the left eye by a ball while practising for the 2003 season. He required immediate emergency surgery.
“I was lying in hospital with people desperately trying to save my eye and at that point I was thinking it’s probably the end in terms of playing. The reality was that although I did continue, it was to an extent the beginning of the end because I was never the same player after that. However, the couple of seasons that followed that injury are also the proudest of my career.
“This was the first time I had faced real adversity in my life. Up to that point it had been pretty plain sailing. The underachievement earlier in my career was probably self-inflicted and influenced by lifestyle and a lack of self-belief. However, from that point on I did everything possible to prolong the rest of my career and eke out as many runs and wins for Kent as I could. Even today I can still only see bits from that eye, so I am effectively blind on one side to all intents and purposes. So, when you have cricket balls coming at you at 90 miles per hour and you are trying to compete with one eye it is very difficult and was not a nice time in my life.
“However, at those moments you find out about yourself and that was what I was most pleased about. There was no self-pity. My brother-in-law Richard Davis, who played for Kent and several other counties, died of a brain tumour about the same time which gave me a very healthy dose of perspective because we were very close.”
Whilst still playing Fulton had undertaken some commentary spots with Sky Sports and as his cricket career started to come to an end, he enquired about more work there. He began presenting for the station’s rolling sport news firstly from the boundary edge of matches and latterly into the studio. These days he is a frequent face on the network whilst also regularly appearing on the after-dinner speaker circuit hosting corporate, charity, and cricket events.
What little is left of his spare time is devoted to family as well as grassroots-level sport and he is the head coach of Whitstable Cricket Club, appearing as a player for their second team looking to develop younger players.
In short, he seems very content with his current status. “I absolutely love the presenting with Sky Sports. In a two-hour presenting slot, there can sometimes be five or six live events going on and it’s fantastic to be anchoring that and switching between the action. I’ve been on air for some very memorable moments not least when England won the 2019 World Cup at the same time Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were involved in an amazing Wimbledon final.”
And although not a great planner of what’s to come, Fulton is also continuing his own personal development by studying for a masters degree in psychology. Is this something he could one day put to use in cricket?
“I’m fascinated by the mental side of life but particularly of sport. There is a real missing element for a lot of coaches when it comes to the mental side of things. Tactics and technique get focused on, but the mental aspects of professional sport are too often over-looked.
“Looking back at my own career, the difference between when I was pretty average and when I became a lot better, was that mental shift. Helping players make that shift is what’s missing in a lot of coaching and leadership for that matter as well. So, using what I have learnt I could see myself as a director of cricket somewhere one day or possibly on the coaching side.”
Given his background and life experiences, you would be hard pressed to find someone better qualified to make a success of such a role.