Back in the summer of 2015, aged 27, Northamptonshire’s Ric Gleeson was making his first-class debut. Although 27 is not particularly late to begin a county cricket career, in a summer which has already seen test debuts for Dominic Bess and Sam Curran – at 20 and 19 years-old respectively – Gleeson can certainly be considered a comparative 'late bloomer'.
Curran was in fact a team mate of Gleeson when the pair toured with England Lions over the winter, an experience which the Northants man (now 30) clearly cherished. “It all happened very quickly,” he said. “I got a phone call on Wednesday night and I was there on Sunday!
“You just make the most of the opportunity you get whether you are a bit older or if you are coming into it with a long career ahead of you. It is unbelievable to go from playing minor counties three seasons ago to playing in the West Indies against some of their test players.”
Gleeson is clearly someone who is able to rise to the big occasion. His very first county cricket experience was facing the 90+ mph bowling of Aussie seamer Pat Cummins during a warm-up match before the 2015 home Ashes series. Not only did he manage to hold out for half an hour against Cummins and co, (before he was eventually trapped LBW for 6), but subsequently he came out firing with the ball taking the wickets of brothers Shaun and Mitchell Marsh.
“It was a case of being thrown in at the deep end,” he recounts. “I had played two or three games for Northants 2s and they needed to rest some of their bowlers for white ball cricket. That's how I found myself walking out to bat against Cummins who was bowling absolute thunderbolts – so certainly a baptism of fire!”
It shows the scale of Gleeson's rise that in just over 30 months he went from county debut to playing for England Lions. As much as he is clearly grateful for these opportunities, he recognises the impact which winter tours – on top of long summer seasons – can have on mental well being.
“It's a long season, you spend a lot of time travelling up and down the country. I've got a fiancé back home who is expecting our first child, so she was at home trying to get everything sorted while I was away with the Lions, the North v South match and then the MCC match.
“It's not easy, you do miss a lot but it is only a short career and she is very understanding. She pushes me into these situations more than pulling me out of them. I understand how if you get on a bad run of form it can just snowball and build up when you are away for a long time, which is why you need to have things to do to get away from cricket.”
Gleeson is a player who, possibly down to his later start in the profession, knows his game and his mind very well. Although he says he didn't specifically give the younger Lions advice on off-field matters, his outlook on cricket – and life – is one which others should consider adopting.
“You've got to be prepared to fail,” he says. “If you want something enough you've got to accept the fact that sometimes it's just not going to be your day and just brush yourself off and keep going. I got to the stage where I was content with everything else I was doing. I had a career doing my coaching, a girlfriend and a house so it wasn't like it [professional cricket] was the 'be all and end all' for me. If you keep your options open it just takes away a little bit of that pressure.
“One of my earliest memories of cricket was Marcus Trescothick coming home from an Ashes tour. You didn't really hear of any support that was available at that time, but now it is everywhere which is great and the seminars that Opening Up are doing are adding another level to that. It is great the way that the cricket family can come together to support each other and get people through it.”
With this healthy attitude, and his undoubted ability, there is nothing stopping Gleeson from making it to full international level – and he's even got time on his side. In 2005 England spinner Shaun Udal played his first test at the age of 36 years and 239 days. If Gleeson were to beat that record he could find himself making his debut in the 2024/25 Ashes – and possibly even facing a few more 'thunderbolts' from Mr Cummins
By Will Burton