In the latest of our 'where are they now' series, we caught up with former Somerset wicketkeeper Neil Burns, who now works as a leadership mentor for London County Cricket Club.

ANYONE who has played cricket at any level will be familiar with the nerves that can come with stepping over the rope and on to the field.

Batsmen often wonder where their next run is coming from, bowlers can lose sleep over their line and length and fielders dread dropping a sitter.

Such pressures are present on the village green, so dealing with them at the top level is an even tougher challenge – which is where Neil Burns steps in.

The former wicketkeeper-batsman, who represented Somerset between 1987 and 1994, re-established the London County Cricket Club in 2004 with the aim of providing mentoring and guidance to cricketers who feel they need it.

Since then, Nick Compton and Monty Panesar are two of many who have hailed the work of Burns and, in an era in which mental health is receiving the overdue attention that it deserves, the 51-year-old spoke about his decision to reform the organisation, which WG Grace represented during its original incarnation in the early 20th Century.

Outlining the work of the group, Burns said: “A key thing for us is that people do not define themselves based on what they do, but by who they are.

“There are four main strands to this – skilful self, social self, emotional self and fundamental self, which is essentially one’s identity.

“In summary, we help people develop the confidence to convert potential into success by creating a trust-based environment where people share issues and strategies to move forward.”

As a former professional, Burns knows all about the challenges that players face on and off the field, and described the unique pressure that cricket provides.

“There is no hiding place on the cricket field,” he said.

“As a bowler, you are one of four or five - you could bowl well for no wickets and people think you’ve had a bad day.

“You could have been a good contributor at one end, playing a key role in a bowling partnership, but people do not always understand the nature of that role play and there can be a misinterpretation of data.

“Batting is arguably an even more challenging task – in fact, I would say that it is the second most difficult job in professional sport.

“The only one I would say is more difficult is professional golf, as there you are truly out on your own.”

During his own playing days, Burns had his twin roles of keeping wicket and scoring runs to focus on, and he is a firm advocate of having the ability to fight on as many fronts as possible.

“The difficulty of batting is why I have always encouraged people to be genuine all-rounders, both in sport and in life, as this takes the heat off your primary skill,” he said.

“The legendary all-rounders such as Garry Sobers and Ian Botham could express themselves in the way they did because they were not focused on one discipline.

“In Somerset’s successful spell in the 1980s they had lots of diversity in their dressing room characters, who were perfectly led by Brian Rose.

“Everyone in that team knew their role and they were allowed the freedom to perform well in them.

“Since my era, however, cricket has become increasingly ‘managed’ off the field as it has become more professional, and there is more structure now.

“T20 is an antidote to that as it encourages creativity and invention, while the athleticism and quality of fielding has gone through the roof.

“Take a player like Jos Buttler – 10 years ago someone like him would have had to rein himself in to earn a chance in the Second XI and then through into the main First Class side, but he has essentially found his way into the England Test team as a result of his success in limited overs cricket, so there are different routes to the top now.”

Cricket has certainly changed and adapted since Burns was keeping wicket, but there is a sense the sport is now in a state of flux.

The future of the game in all its present forms is uncertain, with Test cricket fighting to maintain its relevance and 50-over cricket under threat from the growing influence of T20 - particularly once the new eight-team domestic tournament starts in 2020.

Reflecting on the current state of affairs, Burns said: “It is a fascinating time for cricket with so much change potentially on the horizon.

“Hopefully, the more people who watch T20 will become interested in the game and look for something different.

“They will find that in Test cricket as it holds so many mental and technical aspects, so I certainly think there is a future for all forms of the game.”