(Photo: Getty Images)
By Charlie Talbot-Smith
The rapid rise of Richard Gleeson continues apace. And it is pace that has made all the difference. Speak to players across the County Championship last season and they will tell you that Gleeson, 30, was one of the quickest around.
Considering the Northamptonshire seamer was playing Minor Counties cricket for Cumberland fewer than three years ago – that is a remarkable ascent.
But there was also control to go with all that natural speed – Gleeson took 40 wickets in Division Two at an average of only 18.62.
And those results surprised even himself.
“With the lack of belief and self-confidence that I had when I was younger, I didn’t think I would be anywhere near this,” he said.
“But I am one of those who, once I get in and have an opportunity to do something, I will go away and work harder.
“Getting that first exposure to county cricket I knew I needed to be a bit more consistent, I have worked on that and thankfully a bit of extra pace has come as well.
“It is a pretty good story to tell, to come from where I have and now getting mentioned for the things I have been.”
Never on the books of a single first-class county academy, Gleeson didn’t even play his first Minor Counties game until he was 22, back in 2010.
But while the likes of Gary Pratt and Steven Croft both offered words of encouragement to the young and raw seamer – a breakthrough was not forthcoming.
He was invited to train with Durham, Warwickshire and Northants – and played Second XI cricket for all three – but still the waiting continued.
“I probably should have tried to push myself then, I should have been a bit more forceful trying to get involved with them maybe,” he added. “But I always thought that if I was good enough then I would get picked. It was a lack of self-confidence more than anything else.
“I had good stats in league cricket and when you don’t get opportunities you start to think that maybe you are not as good as some people have been telling you.
“It is frustrating because I have benefited so much in my short time at Northants. All the extra fitness stuff, getting that little bit stronger means that I have added more pace while I have been here.
“But in other ways it maybe has helped me, I know what I am trying to work on, I am not too muddled with things in my head.
“I am not trying to change technique, I have found my own way.
“With (bowling coach) Phil Rowe here he is not giving me too much stuff, just little snippets that we know help me.”
Gleeson was working for Lancashire Cricket Board before his big break, coaching in schools.
Northants finally offered him a chance to come down to play on a match-by-match basis before a permanent deal arrived at the end of 2016.
And after England’s Ashes debacle, the hunt for genuine pace in English bowling rages on.
Gleeson will head to Barbados in March for the second edition of the North-South one-day series – and further honours are not out of the question.
“Last year I was coming back from injury in the first half of the season, it was obviously very pleasing to have some success in the back half and take plenty of wickets,” he added.
“I was bowling quick and that got me noticed a bit.
“Obviously the Ashes didn’t go quite as well as everyone had hoped, and there was all this talk of the lack of pace.
“So it’s nice to be mentioned for higher up, especially being 30 and having only been in this game for two-and-a-half seasons.”
But does the late bloomer think he could cope with the international game or, at 30, is he too old already?
“Could I play international cricket? Yeah why not? From where I have come from to where I have got to in such a short space of time, I don’t see any reason why not,” he said.
“I have held my own in county cricket, I have had good T20 Blasts, I have taken 40 wickets at 18, so I have bowled at some quality players and held my own. I would like that challenge if I were to get the opportunity to have it.
“I don’t see why not, it might not be that it goes perfectly for me straight away. But like with anything I have done, I would learn from it straight away and try to improve and make sure I am up to that level.
“Whether I am able, who knows? But from what has happened recently, if I did get the opportunity I would like to think I would hold my own at some point.
“The county season is long and hard and it takes its toll. I don’t have quite as much workload in terms of what I have done.
“I am probably still quite raw, the strength and conditioning people here have told me that my training age is only one, because I have only been doing it for one year!
“So I would see myself as a young 30 with a few years left yet, I hope!”
Gleeson’s success story is an inspiration for other bowlers out there struggling for their shot at the big time.
Michael Vaughan is suggesting taking County Championship games abroad earlier in the season to develop our pace prospects – a view that Gleeson agrees with.
And the 30-year-old – who is recovering well from surgery on an ankle spur – is adamant that there are more like him out there in the English game, waiting for a chance.
“I think those 90mph bowlers are out there, but in England conditions suit a little bit more control,” he added.
“So teams are going to go for what they need to win games.
“There may be others out there, bowlers who don’t want to take a gamble on bowling with that extra pace but maybe sometimes going for a few extra runs.
“If you can get to South Africa or Australia that would be great, but that doesn’t seem to really suit the county season.
“But they have got these scholarships that they do out there, if we can get a few more of those, then players can go and play in these conditions and we can earmark the bowlers that we think have got a bit of pace.
“You can’t cover all bases though, if we were playing in India, we would say we need more spinners!”