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Xbox, lattes and the other joys of touring

When my wife, Jessica, was due to give birth last May, I flew home from the World Twenty20 finals in the Caribbean to be there.

A complicated route via two Caribbean islands and then New York was made more difficult by the chaos caused by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud. But it was worth all the hassle. I was in London in time for the arrival of Dylan, our first child, and although I had to fly back the next day - a three-day round trip in all - I was on such a high that it carried me through the rest of the tournament, a tournament we went on to win, in case anyone has forgotten.

A cricketer's life means a lot of time away from home, but not for a minute did I intend to miss that moment. England's coach, Andy Flower, was great about it.

We sportsmen are a fortunate bunch. We get to go to some amazing countries, visit some fantastic places; we stay in the best hotels and meet some extraordinary people. We never really want for anything. For the punter who goes away for the weekend and stays in a five-star hotel, enjoys the room service, the bar and the restaurant, it's a pretty amazing experience.

The trouble is, we sometimes want what he normally has: the comfort of our own sofa; to eat what we want, when we want to; and the company of our family.

On the road

Consider this: had I not come home early from this year's World Cup in India because of injury, I would have spent more days on the road than at home during Dylan's short life so far. As it was, we set off to Australia ahead of the Ashes series on 29 October; I came home in early March while the rest of the team landed back in the UK on 27 March.

That's more than four months on the road.

The scheduling is crazy. I don't know if it is a matter of playing less cricket but I do know the planning has to be looked at - twice now I have played an Ashes series and a one-day World Cup back to back. And that doesn't work, which is why it's great news that the ICC has promised not to let it happen again. The other thing worth looking at is introducing the type of squad rotation you have in football. After all, one of the best teams in the world already does this - India often rotates its stars such as Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and M S Dhoni.

This is all about keeping injury-free and prolonging our careers as international cricketers. But thankfully, scheduling and squads are above my pay grade and not my problem. And we all know that we are privileged to be representing England.

As it is, there's a lot of downtime when we're away - between the matches and the practice. To keep ourselves busy and avoid the boredom, the boys will play pool, table tennis or video games - an Xbox is standard kit - or they'll spend a lot of time on the golf course.

If we get the chance, we'll go shopping, or go for coffee - I can reveal that the boys drink a lot of caffè lattes.

There are broadly three groups of people: the suntanners, the golfers and the computer geeks. Me? I'm a suntanner. I listen to music, suntan and sleep. I spend a lot of time sleeping.

But the bloke with the hardest job on tour is probably the captain. It's a very stressful job, dealing with so many different personalities: you do get some happy players; you get some sad players, some in-form players and some out-of-form players.

It is a tough old business.

I was captain for a short stint in late 2008. Even in that time it made me appreciate how much he has to handle, not just on the field but off it as well.

When you feel like putting your head in a towel after a day's play, the captain has to speak to his players, then publicly has to justify his team selection, the tactics he chose - all with the world's media listening. Like most sports, it's much more fun when you're winning! l

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, New Issue

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.