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Late-bloomer Gleeson leaves his mark on T20I debut

34-year-old fast bowler gave away just one boundary and dismissed Rohit, Kohli, Pant

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Richard Gleeson had Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant as his first three wickets in international cricket, England vs India, 2nd men's T20I, Birmingham, July 9, 2022

Richard Gleeson had Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant as his first three wickets in international cricket  •  Getty Images

"They're all human, at the end of the day," Richard Gleeson told ESPNcricinfo last week, about the prospect of bowling to Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant on his England debut, at the age of 34. On Saturday at Edgbaston, he dismissed all three of them in the space of four balls.
England's second defeat to India in three days - by a near-identical margin, by 49 runs after losing by 50 at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday - was a chastening one, their seventh loss in their last nine T20Is dating back to their final group game at last year's T20 World Cup against South Africa.
But there is a balance to strike in bilateral T20I series: is winning more important, or learning? Jos Buttler said he was "very disappointed" with the defeat but with Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid and Mark Wood all due to return in time for the World Cup later this year, the side will look significantly different in Australia in October.
Heading into this series, England's main problem area had been death bowling: they have been one of the most expensive teams in the world at the back-end of the innings over the last two years. Gleeson's selection was primarily intended to address that issue, after he nailed his yorkers for Lancashire in the T20 Blast this year.
In fact, he was most destructive while the ball was still relatively new. Buttler brought him into the attack with India 43 for 0 after four overs and Rohit and Pant both set. He generally bowled just short of a good length, looking to hit the splice of the bat, and hit speeds of 89mph/144kph - though generally operated in the mid-80s.
"If you'd have said when I was 27 and starting out in pro cricket that I'd be playing at 34 for England, I never would have imagined it."
Gleeson to the BBC after his T20I debut
His second ball disappeared over midwicket for four, but it was the only boundary that he conceded across his four overs. To his fifth ball, Rohit looked to give himself room to hit through the off side but Gleeson followed him, rushing him for pace, and Buttler ran back to pouch his top edge on the edge of the ring.
With the first two balls of his second over, the seventh, Gleeson hit a good length to Kohli, who looked to swing him over midwicket; Dawid Malan ran back from backward point, diving to take a superb catch after his thick outside edge. Pant, like Rohit, looked to give himself room but Gleeson cramped him for room, inducing a thin edge through to Buttler.
Eight balls, three wickets - and three of the biggest in international cricket, in terms of reputation. Eight months ago, Gleeson's career was on the line as his slow recovery from a back stress fracture left him staring at the prospect of retirement. Unlike most international debuts, there was a sense that Gleeson had a shot to nothing.
The rest of his spell was impressive, too, not least the pace he generated: he bowled four consecutive dot balls to Hardik Pandya, then five in six balls to Dinesh Karthik with one wide in between as he hit a hard length, eschewing the yorker-heavy strategy that had earned him his place. His figures, 3 for 15 in four overs, were the second-best by an England bowler on men's T20I debut.
"I'm happy with where my speed is," he said. "This year, I'm probably bowling a little bit quicker. [England selection] wasn't on my radar: it was just to play the highest standard that I could. I just want to keep playing cricket and enjoying it, and playing for as long as I can. Who knows, if I keep performing, anything could happen.
"I'll do whatever role I get. It was different today but I was biting at the bit to get hold of the ball on debut and settle the nerves. My natural go-to is hard lengths, then some yorkers and slipping in some bumpers every now and again. Hard lengths, especially on that wicket today, was the way to go."
Gleeson's contract with Lancashire expires in a week's time after T20 Finals Day in the Blast but he will now have a T20 World Cup spot on his radar: "You want to play in the big occasions, don't you?" he said, "so why not?" In the short term, he has done enough to merit opportunities against South Africa in the T20Is at the end of this month.
Gleeson's journey is remarkable - not only his late entry into the game, but his ability to overcome consecutive fallow years due to the back injuries that threatened to end his career. He had to ask his employers, Myerscough College in Preston, for permission to play in this series; his BTEC students will give him a hero's welcome when he returns to work next week.
"If you'd have said when I was 27 and starting out in pro cricket that I'd be playing at 34 for England, I never would have imagined it," he told the BBC. "It just goes to show that if you keep persevering and you keep believing in yourself, you never know what can happen."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98