Cumberland’s production line ready for the restart

These are heady days for Cumberland cricket – with or without action actually taking place on the field of play.

Last summer, Cockermouth’s most famous son, Ben Stokes, inspired England to World Cup glory against New Zealand before defying almost impossible odds to keep Ashes dreams alive at Headingley shortly after.

And last week, two other former Cumberland players were named in England’s squad of 55 for this summer’s Test and short format series against the West Indies and Pakistan.

The National County itself maybe twiddling it thumbs and wondering when the serious action will get underway again, but it seems that the Cumbrian production line has gone into overdrive.

The revamp of the National Counties structure and the biggest rebranding exercise in its 124-year history currently sees Cumberland in the NCCA Eastern Div 2, but there’s no doubt that the schooling they’re offering their players is first class in every sense.

Eric Carter is a man synonymous with cricket in this part of the country. An umpire for over 50 years, he is currently the treasurer, president and team manager of a county that last won the then Minor Counties Championship in 2015.

Then, a green but keen Richard Gleeson not only inspired them to victory over Oxfordshire at Edenside, Carlisle, but also set himself on a path to a career in the professional game.

Little wonder that the county that gave him a chance was celebrating when his name was included in that England squad list for this summer.

“He took three wickets for very few in Oxfordshire’s second innings after bowling well in the first innings,” says Carter. “He didn’t play for us again, but he made a massive contribution, not only that season but in the ones that proceeded it.

“The turning point for him came at Bedford School in July of that year. The captain of Bedford was James Middlebrook, who wasn’t involved in the match that Yorkshire had on that particular Sunday.

“He saw something in Richard and ended up recommending him to Northants. About a month later, he was playing for them in a match against the touring Australians and opening the bowling.”

Since that most auspicious of debuts, Gleeson hasn’t looked back. Now at Lancashire – and with memories still fresh of his time outside of county cricket – the 32-year-old has taken 140 first class wickets at a cost of just 21. Figures that make you wonder why it has taken him so long to get that England call-up.

“It wasn’t just here that came to a standstill when Ben was batting in the World Cup final, I think pretty much the whole country did. He obviously went from school into the Durham academy, but he keeps in touch with all the lads he was playing with at that age group and he’s back here on a regular basis.”

Livingstone, meanwhile, came through the youth ranks in Cumbria before signing for Lancashire’s academy. Stokes, of course, played for Cockermouth before joining the youth ranks at Durham, sprinting into the first team at Chester-le-Street shortly after and then gaining his first England cap at the age of just 21 against Australia in Adelaide in December 2013.

He has come a long way since. And Carter is hoping that the shining examples of Livingstone, Gleeson and Stokes can light a similar pathway for the Cumberland stars of the future.

“We’re very lucky that the clubs here have very strong junior sections,” he says. “If you’ve got 60 lads at the age of 15 or 16, if eight of them come through and keep on playing cricket then you’re doing very well.

“It wasn’t just here that came to a standstill when Ben was batting in the World Cup final, I think pretty much the whole country did. He obviously went from school into the Durham academy, but he keeps in touch with all the lads he was playing with at that age group and he’s back here on a regular basis.”

The aforementioned trio are far more likely to play cricket before Cumberland are allowed to stretch their own legs this summer. The county had been due to play Lancashire at Sedburgh School next month, in a fixture that would have been guaranteed to swell the Cumberland coffers.

As it is, Carter and his side are left to pick at the scraps of whatever format remains if and when cricket gets underway.

“You can’t see too much travelling being possible,” he says. “If we were playing against the likes of Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire then you’re talking 300 miles in a car, with everyone driving on their own. It would cost a fortune. It’s just not practical. If we play a couple of Twenty20 matches or some 50 over games, then that would be great.

“Things didn’t go great last year but we had a very hard fixture list. In a normal season, most counties would say that Cumberland were one of the teams to beat and on our day we’re a match for anyone. There are some good local lads like Alex Grainger and Ben Davidson in this side as well.”

Carter makes special mention of Jacques Du Toit too, a player well known to supporters of Leicestershire and Northumberland. Gary Pratt – who famously ran out Ricky Ponting in the 2005 Ashes series – is also another well-known name in the Cumberland set-up.

For now, they will all have to bide their time. As he begins his training for the international summer, Gleeson will hope his wait for game time isn’t as lengthy.