Disability Premier League: Kevin Baker on living with a stoma and playing cricket

By Evie AshtonFreelance journalist
Kevin Baker keeping wicket for the Hawks
Kevin Baker keeping wicket for the Hawks in the Disability Premier League

When Kevin Baker helped the Hawks win the ECB Disability Cricket Premier League in Derby this summer, it completed an inspiring journey that started with him almost losing his life.

Rewind to June 2015 and Baker, who is now 52 and has been playing first-team cricket since he was 13, was fulfilling a long-held ambition of playing Birmingham League cricket with Penkridge Cricket Club when his time there was cut unexpectedly short.

The Shropshire-based cricketer had been living with ulcerative colitis for two decades, a long-term inflammatory condition of the bowel.

Flare-ups forcing him in and out of hospital weren't unusual, but that summer saw the most serious flare-up yet.

He was admitted to hospital for an ileostomy operation (to get a stoma) which soon led to a second and third due to sepsis caused by his bowel bursting.

"I remember them throwing everything on the bed and saying we've got to go to theatre now," said Baker.

"The next thing I know, I woke up again 10 days later. And from what I've been told since, I basically died three times in one night."

In total, Baker spent 13 weeks in hospital and getting a stoma was unfortunately not the only life-changing event in that time (A stoma is an opening made during surgery connecting the bowels to the surface of the tummy).

"While I was in hospital, my dad got admitted to hospital and passed away," recalls Baker. "My mum and brother went from almost losing me to then losing my dad.

"Being honest, there was a bit of guilt involved because I was so far out of it, I didn't really know what was going on a lot of the time.

"Mentally, it was tough."

On top of having to come to terms with his father's sudden death, Baker had to adapt to a completely new way of living his life and the associated taboos of having a stoma.

"I literally had to almost learn how to walk again," said Baker. "All the basics really… wash yourself, feed yourself.

"Mentally, it was tough because the initial perception is it's an old person's thing, which it's not. And I was paranoid… am I going to smell? Am I going to leak? I did struggle mentally for a while, with anxiety particularly."

Baker recalled one of his lowest moments with his brother and partner: "I said to them 'I'm not gonna be able to sit up again, let alone walk and play cricket'. My brother goes, 'don't be so stupid. You will play cricket'."

'The cricket season became my motivation'

Little did Baker know, six months later a determined comeback would see him hit a half-century in the first game of the next club cricket season.

"On the inside of the back of the kitchen cupboard, I put down a countdown of the number of days to the cricket season and that was my motivation," said Baker.

This comeback soon morphed into a thirst for greater challenges - to represent something bigger than his club.

From 2017 onwards, Baker was competing for Shropshire in the D40 hardball national league, with whom he made the national finals in 2018.

Fast forward to the present day, and he has played in both the 2022 and 2023 editions of the DPL, the tier below international level in disability cricket, finishing as the leading wicketkeeper in the latter.

"Mentally, it's great," said Baker. "The disability county stuff and the DPL has given me a focus and encouragement to carry on. It gives you a drive, a purpose, a target.

"It is just a brilliant environment to be in, so welcoming… I'm not certain I'd still be playing now if it wasn't for the DPL."

The Hawks celebrate winning the Disability Premier League
The Hawks celebrate winning the Disability Premier League

For Baker, there is very little that can replicate the sense of belonging and shared understanding he has found in disability cricket.

Crucially, it has showed him, other players, and those watching, that you can still play cricket to a high level with a stoma or other disability. He hopes his story will inspire others to get involved too.

"I've got a stoma. It's part of me now. I wouldn't reverse it. It's given me a quality of life and opportunities that I wouldn't have had without it," reflected Baker.

"There will be people there who'll be thinking, 'I can't play cricket because of this', and they'll see some of us doing that and hopefully think, well you know what, we can do that."

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