Jun 4, 2020
- Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98
At the age of 27, Richard Gleeson had all but given up on his dream of playing cricket for a living.
After a series of odd jobs for a boiler firm, at a fishing tackle shop and as a landscape gardener, he landed a coaching job at the Lancashire Cricket Board, which he combined with his minor counties career for Cumberland. He was at peace with the fact a professional career had passed him by.
Five years on, he is back in training at Emirates Old Trafford, after being named in England’s 55-man training group for this summer’s internationals, with the possibility of a full debut in sight.
“To go from a club cricketer at 26 to an England international at 32, it would be amazing,” he says on a Zoom call. “I probably had thought ‘I’m not going to get any opportunities, so I’ll enjoy what I’m doing’.
“I had my career path with the coaching… that’s the direction that I was going down. Like any club cricketer, I was enjoying it – I’d always try to play to the top standard I could in minor counties. And then James Middlebrook came to me and said there was an opportunity to maybe play some cricket at Northants. I said: ‘I’ll take it’.”
That led to a first-class debut against the touring Australians in 2015, and the wickets of the Marsh brothers on debut. He impressed head coach David Ripley enough to win a pay-as-you-play deal for the following year, and a starring role in Northants’ title-winning T20 Blast season earned him a gig in the Bangladesh Premier League.
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He was soon wearing an England shirt, representing the Lions in early 2018 after his ability to hit speeds of 90mph/145kph caught the eye, and signed with Lancashire later that year to be closer to his girlfriend (now fiancée) Laura and their new-born baby. Last season saw him take 56 wickets despite injury setbacks, and earn contracts in the Hundred, Big Bash and Abu Dhabi T10. After touring Australia with the Lions over the winter he now finds himself in contention for a full debut later this summer.
“It’s just a great story to never give up, keep following your dream and keep pursuing things, because you never know what could happen and when. It’s a great advert for minor counties cricket as well. I think they’ll enjoy the story – if it [a debut] happens, and hopefully it does, it will make a nice read.”
Gleeson has been bowling with both red and white balls since returning to training, but is more likely to be in contention for an ODI cap than a Test one. He had a chastening time in Melbourne Renegades colours over the winter, leaking more than 10 runs per over, but feels better equipped to reach his top speeds and use ground dimensions to his advantage after working closely with the team’s bowling coach Shaun Tait.
The combination of a packed schedule and the prospect of running two squads in parallel this summer means that rotation among fast bowlers is highly likely, and Gleeson can reasonably hope that a chance to impress the selectors might be forthcoming.
While his inclusion at the age of 32 might come as a surprise – not least with 35-year-old Liam Plunkett‘s age the main factor in his omission – Gleeson thinks that his relative inexperience and physical fitness means his body is that of a man several years younger.
“It is a tough old game, and it takes a lot out of the body. When I’ve had scans on things, physios at Lancs say to me I’m like nothing that they wouldn’t expect to see in any normal 32-year-old, let alone one that has been playing cricket. Hopefully, I can play for a little bit longer and they see me as a little bit younger.
“I’ve read a lot about the football in Germany – I think their injury rates are up 250% – so we’ll take it steady and that’s why they’ve got [so many] players in this squad. There will be people who get injuries.
“I’d like to think my performances have warranted me having an opportunity and getting a go. I’ve had a couple of chats over the winter on what areas I need to work on and what I need to do.”
While Gleeson says he did not feel apprehensive about re-starting training, there are some slight concerns for later in the summer. He is anxiously making contingency plans for his wedding – scheduled for early October – and faces the prospect of spending several weeks away from his young family.
“I read somewhere that it could be nine weeks away from families. When I told my fiancée that, she wasn’t too impressed with having a nine-week-old baby and night feeds to do, and then a two-year-old getting up at the crack of dawn.
“But Laura is really good: she understands that it’s only a short career, and to come from where I’ve come from, I’ve got to take every opportunity that I can. She’s always pushed me into it, and wants me to go as far as I can.”