On the first day of July Richard Gleeson was in his kitchen with his wife, Laura, when his phone pinged, a message from a number he did not recognise.
“It was Matthew Mott, saying I’ll call you in two minutes,” he remembers. “I just said to my wife: ‘I think I’m about to get picked for England.’ There was never a moment before that when I contemplated it.” Minutes later Gleeson was speaking to England’s new white-ball coach.
“Everything seemed to stop for a second, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I felt: ‘Oh shit, this is actually happening,'” he says. “Then when he said: ‘You’re in for the T20s,’ I was just like: ‘Thanks.’ I didn’t know what to say. It was totally unexpected.”
Gleeson is 34, and since turning 20 has spent as long playing in the Minor Counties and doing community coaching as he has as a professional. Although there had been a Lions call-up in 2018, before this summer not only was he barely on England’s radar, he was hardly even on his county’s. In the circumstances it is no surprise that he recounts the story of his first full international call-up with a sense of wonder.
“We didn’t have much of a celebration. I think my wife had a gin and tonic,” he says. “We waited until last Sunday night, after the South Africa series finished. The kids were in bed, we were in the hotel, we had five minutes’ peace and we had an espresso martini each to salute it and celebrate.” The week after that phone call he ripped out India’s top order at Edgbaston, taking the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Virat Kohli on debut. This was actually happening, all right.
Just four months earlier Gleeson had been dealing with completely different pressures. In the last two summers, as he struggled to recover from a stress fracture to his back, he had played a total of one County Championship game and two T20s, and 2021 ended with Lancashire allowing his contract to expire. Over the winter he took a job as a lecturer in cricket studies at Myerscough College near Preston.
“It was a different world,” he says. “At the start of this year I was trying to work out what I was going to do next, feeling the pressure of how we were going to pay the bills and the mortgage if things didn’t go right and I didn’t get another contract. Do I try to go to another county if things didn’t happen with Lancs? There were all sorts of things I was considering, routes I would want to take if things didn’t progress for me to play cricket again. Now I’m in this position I don’t take it for granted. I’ll enjoy it.”
Lancashire eventually gave him a contract to play in this season’s T20 Blast. “We believe he can make an important contribution for us,” their coach, Glen Chapple, said. “We know what he is capable of.” But even he might have been surprised at what followed.
Gleeson was the competition’s leading wicket-taker as Lancashire reached the final. Having not initially been picked up for the Hundred he became the hottest of hot properties when each team had one final wildcard selection last month, and ended up back at Old Trafford with Manchester Originals.
He will play there alongside England’s white-ball captain, Jos Buttler, and particularly given the injuries affecting so many other bowlers another good tournament would surely be rewarded with a place at the T20 World Cup, and from there still unknown opportunities on the franchise circuit .
“Obviously, I did well in the Blast and got my chance,” says Gleeson, whose Hundred campaign starts against Northern Superchargers on Friday. “This is another opportunity to showcase what I can do. The last few months gave me the confidence that I can perform against some of these guys, and that my best is good enough, but there’s no resting on your laurels. Now it’s trying to push hard and stay performing at that top level.”
The hope is that this thrilling, unexpected and transformative period of his life is not yet at an end. “I don’t think I’ve sat back yet and gone: ‘Bloody hell, I’ve played for England.’ I’ve not had that yet,” Gleeson says. “I’m just embracing it. It’s just a game of cricket, I’ll enjoy it while it’s there and try to do the best I can. I’m sure there’ll be some point I have a sit down and realize what’s happened to me, but it’s all been a bit hectic so I’ve not had that chance.”