Richard Gleeson finds himself in an unusual position in the Caribbean this winter. The new-boy in the England Lions squad, and easily the least experienced, with only 16 first-class appearances – but also the oldest.
That means the tall 30-year-old has also got an unusual story to tell, having done his bit to introduce cricket to thousands of boys and girls in Lancashire in his years as a Cricket Development Officer. Here’s all you need to know, in his own words.
I grew up in Blackpool, and played for Blackpool Cricket Club – I made my first-team debut when I was about 16 or 17, and did all right, got some wickets. I went to the University of Cumbria, studying Coaching and Sport Performance. I didn’t think I’d ever make it in professional cricket but I enjoyed sport, so that’s the route I went down.
In the summers I’d been doing a bit of casual coaching in the schools for Lancs, and I spent two winters away in Australia. Then I got a ‘phone call saying there might be something a bit more permanent, went for an interview and got a full contract as a Development Officer.
Chance to Shine, 1
I was at Lancs for four years, going into schools with Chance to Shine and things like that – and I loved it. Going into schools and when you see the difference you can make, and the difference that cricket can make in teaching different values, it’s completely different to any other sport. The spirit of cricket has to be kept because of the values it teaches – leadership, team-building, respect for officials, all things like that. And that makes it popular with schools and teachers.
Teaching a kid to bowl with a straight arm, or just getting them to hit a ball off a tee – they can do it straight away, so they feel good and want to do some more. They can do their own scoring or their own umpiring, all the different aspects.
When I was about 22 I played my first Minor Counties game for Cumberland. It was a shock, because the Dukes ball was something that was completely new to me - we used Readers in the Northern League with Blackpool, which was more of a seaming ball. Then all of a sudden you’ve got this thing that will swing round corners if you get it right. It took me a little bit of time to get used to that.
But I really enjoyed my time with Cumberland. We won the Minor Counties Championship at Carlisle in 2015, which was a big thing for the club. I’ll always be grateful to Minor Counties, because it got me to where I am. It bridges the gap. You get good players from league cricket, some very good batters. For me going and bowling with a Dukes ball and playing three-day cricket gave me a lot more than playing club cricket. There is some good cricket there.
Chance to Shine, 2
It was James Middlebrook who recommended me to Northants, after he saw me playing in Minor Counties. I was 27 at the time, but David Ripley invited me down for trials. Lancs were really good, they let me go down and play a couple of games for Northants second team, and they went well. This was the summer of 2015, and Northants had a game against Australia. They were low on bodies, and asked me if I was up for selection. So two weeks after I’d played my first trial, I had Pat Cummins steaming in at me – he was trying to get into the Test squad. I did all right in that game with the ball, got the Marsh brothers out. Shaun Marsh caught second slip, and then bowled his brother, middle stump. I remember Nathan Lyon being stood at leg gully telling Cummins to hit me in the head. So yes, in at the deep end.
White ball success
I think it was in white-ball cricket where I showed the pace I could bowl. Short format, run in and let the ball go. I don’t think Northants had initially seen me as a white-ball cricketer, more as an extra body for red ball. But they had a couple of injuries and gave me a chance. It just went from there. In the T20 I took wickets and didn’t get hit for many runs. We had a good side, and we surprised a few people, winning the Blast in 2016.
It’s a great dressing room, Rips has made it a great environment. You get a lot of freedom - there’s no fear of failure, go for everything, try and entertain. It’s a small squad so there’s maybe not that pressure on you – you can concentrate on what you’re doing rather than having someone breathing down your neck. It’s a great club and they’ve given me a great opportunity.
I didn’t really have much time to think about what I was coming into. I had a little operation on my landing foot since the end of last season, just shaving down a bone spur and cleaning up the tendon a bit. So I’d only been bowling four or five weeks when I came out here, so maybe I was a bit undercooked.
But I hit the ground running and my rhythm was good so that was encouraging to start off with. Since then it’s just been a case of getting used to the conditions, whether bowling in the nets or getting out to the middle during the lunch-breaks at Sabina Park with Glen Chapple, who’s out here as fast-bowling coach. There’s a lot of new people to impress, I suppose - I’m still relatively unknown.
What happens next?
To get a bit of a feel for the Lions and the England set-up – and to enjoy it. To have come from where I have to where I am now, I can’t heap the pressure on myself too much because it wasn’t something I was expecting. I’ve just got to go out, enjoy what I’m doing, and stick to what I know – pick up any bits and pieces, even for coaching in the future when I’ve finished playing.
A few of the Northants lads were saying during the Ashes get him in there. That’s every young lad’s dream to go out and play for England. But I was just happy and content playing Minor Counties. Then to go to county cricket and do well in that, and then to be here – you never know. If I get the opportunity I’d love it – I think anyone would.