By Graham Hardcastle, ECB Reporters Network
What a summer it was for Yorkshire Disability Cricket. What a year it has been for one of their D40 national title-winning heroes Matt Bateman.
Twelve months ago, Bateman, once a talented junior in Hampshire’s School of Excellence and now based in Worksop, did not know he had a qualifying disability to allow him to play county cricket.
But his Kohler’s disease - a childhood condition where your bones and legs don’t grow straight - proved to be so, and he went on to contribute to a National Quest League triumph in Yorkshire’s first top-flight campaign after promotion.
The summer ended with him batting against former England Test spinner Monty Panesar in a showcase game against the Lord’s Taverners at Tring, a fixture which was umpired by ex-England captain David Gower.
Yorkshire won the National Quest League title, pipping Roses rivals Lancashire to the post on a rainy day in late July.
Explaining his disability journey, Bateman, an all-rounder in his mid-forties, said: “It was probably around this time last year that I started talking to Alex Jervis (Yorkshire’s England Learning Disability star).
“I know Alex because we’re both big fans of the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team.
“I’d seen what Alex had done and had watched the Disability Premier League final on TV, and I asked him, ‘What’s it all about, how do you qualify?’
“So he put me in touch with his dad, Owen, who is Yorkshire’s disability team manager, and we filled out all the forms and went from there.”
Callum Flynn and George Greenway look to be guiding the Hawks to victory in the DPL final, a game which earlier featured this catch from wicket-keeper Kevin Baker.— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) September 6, 2023
Bateman spent time away from cricket after his brother had a serious cycling accident in 2015. “My heart just wasn’t in it,” he said.
But he returned to the game during the Covid pandemic in 2020 with Carlton-in-Lindrick, a newly-formed club with a Sheffield postcode playing in the Bassetlaw League. He is now their captain and heavily involved with the running of the club.
While that helped him get his love for the game back, he says 2023 has been beyond his wildest dreams because of the success he’s had with Yorkshire.
He continued: “From a cricket perspective and a personal one, the journey it’s taken me on, it’s been my favourite year. I’ve loved it.
“At Carlton, we’ve won the league the last two years, and we lost the first three games of this season and finished second and got promoted again to Division Three. And I don’t really talk about that even though I’m super proud of it.
“But if anyone says, ‘How’s your season been?’, I’ll say, ‘Amazing, I won the national title with Yorkshire’.”
It is no exaggeration to suggest the D40 triumph was Yorkshire Cricket’s biggest success story in 2023 given they had only just been promoted and were expected to be consolidating rather than challenging Hampshire for their title.
They lost their opening game against Lancashire, before recovering to claim wins over Sussex - achieved with only nine men - Essex and Hampshire added to abandonments against Middlesex and Surrey.
“This is a massive thing for us,” said Bateman. “There were a few key moments.
“Losing to Lancashire first up re-focused everybody. Going to Sussex and winning with nine men gave everybody the belief we could win in any situation.
“Hampshire turned up as reigning champions and we turned them over. From there, it was all a bit bitty. But we got over the line.”
He continued: “These boys are serious cricketers. I would suggest our first team would beat any team in the Bassetlaw Championship (that structure’s top flight). The majority of our players play Premier League cricket.
“Our captain Gordon Laidlaw is a fabulous cricketer for one, and Cam Sweeney who is in and around England’s deaf squad hits it further than I’ve ever seen anybody hit a cricket ball. It’s top notch.”
When asked about the prospect of a title defence in 2024, Bateman was quick with his response. “That will be the plan,” he said. “We’ll certainly not be going into the season thinking, ‘We’ve won it once, that was nice’. We want to go and do it again.
“The likes of Luke Riley and Edward Denton - availability dependent - will be key for us.”
While former England Physical Disability star Gordon Laidlaw captained the side for the majority of the season, Bateman deputised at stages, including at Tring in August when Yorkshire faced Panesar and the Lord’s Tavs team in a 40-over clash.
Bateman scored 73 in a 113-run defeat.
“We weren’t overly concerned with the result,” he added. “It was more to demonstrate the levels of ability, and it was a great day out.
“We went not just to represent Yorkshire, but disability cricket as a whole. We took a big squad with us - 14 or 15 of us. We had rolling subs, and everybody who wanted to bowl bowled four overs.
“I had the most surreal moment. I’ve taken guard, scratched my mark, looked up and I’ve got David Gower umpiring and Monty Panesar spinning himself a couple of catches.
“I took a step back and chuckled to myself. Monty’s a lovely bloke, as is David.
“Robert Hewitt shared 88 with me and batted really nicely, and I think everybody enjoyed it.
“One of our lads, Adam Marshall, had made it very clear he wanted to run down the track to Monty, which he did and hit him over the top for four. He was delighted even though Monty got him three balls later trying to repeat it.
“We walked away from it having had a fantastic day.”
Not just that, Yorkshire walked away having had a fantastic season.