Gareth Batty, England Spinner and Surrey Captain
It’s often said that hard work will always pay off in the end and that couldn’t be truer for this month’s interviewee, Gareth Batty; a player who after an 11-year absence from Test cricket got his much deserved recall for this winter’s tours to Bangladesh and India.
He may not have played in all seven Tests but his Test appearances (and wickets) in Chittagong and Mohali were reward for years of consistent service in the county game.
We caught up with Gareth at the team hotel, midway through the India series to talk through his selection for the tour and to look back through his career at Yorkshire, Surrey and at New Road, Worcester.
“I was surprised, but very pleased, to get the call for these tours,” remarked Gareth. “It capped off an interesting few weeks. Alec Stewart had put it on my radar that I might be getting a testimonial and then we had our first daughter on the 31st August, followed by the news of my selection. It was really pleasing and I felt if I could manage to get a game out here I could do well.”
Gareth capped his return to Test cricket with four wickets in England’s Test win in Chittagong and admits that despite those wickets he felt nerves that he’d never experienced in the game. “That first game was absolutely nerve-wracking; I never thought I would be like that. The first day was tough, but once that first day was out of the way it was fine and it felt like playing any other game.” To be honest, many would argue that Gareth should not have waited 11 years between his seventh and eighth Test match appearances, so it’s only natural there would be a degree of nerves.
Prior to the tour of Bangladesh there were a lot of column inches used up on whether it was safe to travel so I asked Gareth, as a player, what that unique situation with such security was like. “I don’t know much about security but it felt like there was more security than would guard Buckingham Palace! As players we never felt in any danger. Some horrific things had happened in Bangladesh in the past but it’s very easy to say things when out of the country but I think it was a real positive for Bangladesh and Bangladesh cricket that everything went off without a hitch.”
A real competitor, whether as a spinner or useful lower order batsman, Gareth started his career at his home county Yorkshire, but it’s perhaps surprising that a number of his boyhood sporting heroes were from the sport of rugby. “As a kid, it was always cricket and rugby for me. Ellery Hanley and Gareth Schofield were massive heroes as was Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott, but cricket wise you couldn’t go past the great West Indian sides!”
His cricket loving family meant despite his love of rugby, cricket was always going to be first choice. “My Dad was involved for many years at Bradford & Bingley cricket club. I remember sitting on the rollers and collecting balls as they were hit out of the nets; as a kid if there was ever a day without doing anything I’d be disappointed!”
And how much of an honour was it to don the white rose? “Representing any club is an honour and particularly one with the history of Yorkshire. But, bizarrely deep down I always knew it wasn’t going to be a forever thing - I don’t know why. I think I just always wanted to truly explore the game and not just the game in Yorkshire. Bowling spin was a big thing for me and at Yorkshire, spin was always a little more secondary in terms of how they won games. They had an excellent four pronged seam attack which included the likes of Phil Kerrick, who was a wonderful bowler, but it just wasn’t spin based so I knew that if I wanted to develop my game I’d have to look for opportunities outside of Yorkshire.”
In 1998, Gareth made the move south to Surrey for his first spell at the south London county. “When Micky Stewart got in touch, I jumped at the chance. I remember the strange feeling I got when I first walked through the gates at the Oval to go and sign my contract – it felt like walking into your house. It just felt really comfortable. Even now, when I walk into the Oval I always get the same feeling, which is brilliant. I had four and a half years at Surrey during my first spell. I remember walking into changing rooms with the likes of Stewie, Thorpey, Butch, Adam Hollioake and Saqlain - it was different gravy. I think we had 14 internationals on the staff, which was amazing. I doubt that will ever happen again because of the salary caps that are in place now, I was very lucky.”
With so many star players on their books it was no surprise that Surrey were the team to beat. Silverware was never far away, but the flip side for a young player like Gareth was again opportunities became limited and despite playing crucial roles in cup quarter finals and semi-finals, he would often lose his place for a final when the group of England players would return. “Do you know what though it was just great to be involved in that changing room and seeing how the senior players went about winning; how they conducted themselves; how they prepared to perform in games. I learnt so much and that was invaluable for me, at that stage of my career.”
And the biggest learning? “Enjoy winning. People don’t really talk about it, but if you don’t enjoy winning what’s the point. We play a team sport winning with 10 other blokes - or these days with 20 or 25 blokes in a squad and with backroom staff. It’s a massive thing how you celebrate winning and how you conduct yourself around the group when you win. It has to be special and seeing how those boys went about it was a pretty big thing for me.”
After 4 and a half years at the Oval, Gareth knew, with a dressing room full of star performers, to further develop his game he’d need to make another move. And that move would be to New Road, Worcester, where he was finally able to come to the fore as one of the country’s most promising young spinners.
“I had a few counties interested in signing me but Tom Moody was the sole reason I went to Worcester. He was big friends with Alec Stewart and Stewie had told him he could trust me and it took about a one minute phone call and I was ready to sign whatever contract they gave me. Tom had a fantastic vision and to be fair for 3 or 4 years that vision played out brilliantly. We signed some quality players and we challenged in every competition. I suppose as a bunch of players we have to take responsibility that we didn’t win more trophies than we did, at that time. We got to two Lords final and blew up, that was the players’ fault. A bit further down the line we did win the Pro 40 but for the quality of the group we had, we probably should have won a bit more. But the club was great. I’m very fortunate that I got to meet some terrific people there. Vikram Solanki is a very, very close friend – and will continue to be way after cricket has gone from a playing point of view - Stephen Peters is a great friend of mine, as is Kabir Ali and Graeme Hick. It was a wonderful time at Worcester and I wouldn’t change anything.”
Gareth went on to take 318 wickets during his time at New Road and it was his early form with the ball that brought him to prominence with the England selectors.
In the winter of 2002, Gareth was among the second intake of players to attend England’s academy programme, which launched 12 months earlier.
“I got on really well with Rod Marsh and I really enjoyed my time at the academy. It was hard work and I think a lot of people came back to the season tired, but I really enjoyed it. It would be long days which would often start at 6am, get broken up with an hour rest here and there, but we wouldn’t finish until 4.30pm/5pm. The days were a combination of fitness, which really tested you and cricket. The fitness was like a military style training programme, but that was my bag, I enjoyed it. However, what it did teach me was that in the sport we play, yes it’s great to be really, really fit and I see that as a positive; but cricket is played by lots and lots of different people and people find success in different ways; just because something is right for one person it doesn’t mean the approach is right for another. You have to be open to what makes different people tick. I’ve taken that into my captaincy all these years later.”
Gareth’s work ethic at the academy certainly paid dividends as he, along with Jimmy Anderson, was pulled out of the programme to join the main England touring squad who were suffering with a number of injuries during the 2002/03 Ashes series.
“Myself and Jimmy got called in. It was a bit surreal if I’m honest. Everything seemed to be happening very quickly. I’d moved to Worcester that previous season and Jimmy had just played his first year of first class cricket up at Lancashire; I was lucky that I knew a few of the guys, such as Stewie and Thorpey. I suppose looking back was I ready? No. I was a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. I think that’s down to the way you think as a person in a lot of ways. As a young player you look around the dressing room and you’re in awe of those around you. When you’re older you respect them, of course, but they are just other players.”
Gareth made two appearances during the tour, in one day internationals at Melbourne and Sydney. But it was in 2003 where he won his precious first England Test cap on tour in Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh was an interesting place to tour back then! I remember in the hotel in Chittagong the room was full of cockroaches and other creepy crawlies, but I think those experiences always make for better tours as all the boys stick together and you have a great time. The kitchen in the hotel was condemned so we had to eat in a restaurant up the road every day. We won the tour relatively convincingly yet bizarrely enough it was the fast bowlers that cleaned up with the wickets.”
Gareth took 1-43 in the first innings of his Test debut before taking 1-65 in the second, as England won by seven wickets. Gareth also played in the third ODI between the two sides, taking figures of 1-35 as England won by seven wickets as he started to establish himself in the squad.
The second part of that 2003/04 winter tour saw England travel to the hot and humid conditions of Sri Lanka, where Gareth made three further Test appearances. “They had a wonderful team and it was a tough tour. We managed to snuff them out up until the last Test match in Colombo when we were badly beaten.”
For Gareth it was a mixed tour. “In the first game in Galle, things went pretty well for me. I got a few wickets and batted ok. The pitch spun a bit and I felt good. We then went to Dambulla and the pitch couldn’t have been flatter and I got whacked everywhere. At Colombo I had a few lbw shouts, there were dropped catches and overall I felt the tour was a case of what could have been. Maybe it just wasn’t to be. It was an interesting and big learning curve. They were an emerging and talented team, especially on flat pitches. Murali was the only spinner to get anything out of those pitches.”
I asked Gareth what he was able to learn from Murali on that trip that could take into his own game. “Murali was the best finger spinner ever. You were able to take tiny bits but there was no way I was ever going to be able to replicate how he spun the ball. However, it was a from a game management perspective that I learnt the most. But the funny thing is it probably wasn’t at the time that I appreciated what I learnt, but more a few years down the line.”
In one day cricket Gareth was also part of what was, until recently arguably the best England limited overs squad since the Graham Gooch squad of the early 90s. Michael’s Vaughan’s men reached the final of the 2004 Champions Trophy and Gareth was a valued member of the squad.
“We got to the final against the West Indies and had them 6 down for maybe 120, chasing our 200. Harmy had someone caught down the legside but it wasn’t given and they ended up winning the game. We were cruising. I remember sitting up on the balcony thinking we had this in the bag but momentum shifted to them after that decision. English one day cricket was starting to evolve back then. We had Trescothick, Flintoff, Harmy and Collingwood was the then modern day one day cricketer. We had some good one day talent kicking about.”
Was it therefore disappointing that the one day side couldn’t push on? “If we had won, that side could have kicked on; it’s like anything you never really know but it would certainly have changed the perception of English cricket for that period. In that period Test cricket was always the most important and white ball cricket always took a back seat; that only really changed last year. Winning that Champions Trophy could have changed everything.”
In 2004 Gareth played his part in history as he was a member of the side that were on the end of Brian Lara’s world record score of 400! “I had the tour of my life on that West Indies tour! I played a couple of warm up games and got a few wickets but we were playing good cricket as a team so I knew I wasn’t really going to play so I got to see what the Caribbean had to offer - I had a great time! We were 3-0 up in the Test series and about 10 days out from that Antigua Test we heard it was going to be as flat as anything - there was no way they were going to allow a whitewash - and you could see a few boys getting a bit tetchy that it’s going to be a flat one. Then Gilo did his calf and filthy off spinner Gareth gets a game! The rest is history. Lara got his 400 and there is definitely little consolation that you are part of history when you’re the wrong side of it. Maybe in a few years when I retire I might feel differently. That said it was quite incredible how he went about it. He definitely isolated bowlers he knew he could take down. He smacked them and bowled beautifully well.”
During that period England were beginning to peak as a side, and in 2005 reached undoubtedly its loftiest height, the famous 2005 Ashes win. I asked Gareth how good that side was. “Very good. I played against Bangladesh just before that 2005 series and was involved in the one day stuff in 2005; you could see we were reaching our peak as an England team and Australia had probably already peaked. They were still probably man for man better than us but Vaughan’s team had that hunger and desire. Yes you have the rub of the green from time to time but we’d just beaten the West indies 4-0 then gone to South Africa and won so we’d just beaten two phenomenal teams leading into that series and it’s credit to Michael Vaughan how well he was able to marshal people into shape both physically and mentality; and to the players for buying into it.”
With Ashley Giles the first choice spinner in the side, how frustrating was it not to get the regular run of games as a spinner in the team. “I think at the time you don’t fully realise it because you’re living in the moment; if you’re not picked you’re just doing whatever is needed to support the guys that are playing and that will never change. I believe that’s the right way forward for any player but I do think if you’re in and out of the side because you play when someone is injured it can be quite difficult because you’re not setting your mind up for it. Graeme Hick once said that if you’re always thinking ‘if I don’t get a hundred this game then I’m going to be left out of the next game’, and it’s true, it’s not a great place to be. Barring that tour to Sri Lanka where I was very lucky they stood with me - where if I’m honest they probably shouldn’t have done – I never got a run of games. To get a run of games and have a crack at it is a big thing. I can’t complain though, I’m not bitter it’s just maybe a reason as to why I didn’t play as well. The other reason, may be, I just wasn’t good enough which I’m also quite comfortable with.”
Despite consistent seasons in county cricket, Gareth did not play Test cricket again until this winter’s tour to Bangladesh. The success of Graeme Swann was one obvious factor, but you still feel that Gareth was extremely unfortunate not to have picked up more international caps.
Back in county cricket though, Gareth made a return to the Oval in 2009. “When I left Surrey, it was never meant to be a long-term thing. I left the club on very good terms and they’d always said to go away, prove yourself and come back. When I originally left Surrey they had offered me a very good deal to stay, but it’s never been about money for me, I just wanted to play. When Surrey came back in for me, I think I had reached a point where I felt it was the end of the road for me at Worcester. My wife was living in London; we were talking about starting a family and distance was becoming an issue. Tom Moody had moved on so I sat down with Vikram, who was vice captain, and I just said that for me, my sanity, to move on to become the best I could be, I needed to move on. I will forever be grateful to Worcester for allowing me to do so. When I look back, it was 100 percent the right decision for me personally. There were probably some people at Worcester that didn’t like it but it’s my career and sometimes I had to decide for me. And you know what? Long term it was probably the right decision for them as it allowed Moeen to develop and play more cricket. And England are now reaping the rewards of that.”
In 2011, Gareth played an important role part in bringing the CB40 trophy to south London, taking 13 wickets at 23.15. However, the next two years were two of the toughest of Gareth’s life. Gareth assumed the captaincy of Surrey when Rory Hamilton Brown took time away from the role following the tragic death of promising batsman Tom Maynard. Gareth led a shell-shocked dressing room with considerable dignity and helped them avoid relegation in 2012.
“I can’t really put it into words how difficult a time that was. People have said some very nice things about me, but it wasn’t about me. It was about a group of people getting through an horrific time. That was how we went about it, it was about caring about one another. Cricket was very much secondary during that period. I’ve never seen tears in a changing room on such a consistent level and half of those tears were mine. It was horrific and it was because of what a wonderful guy Tom was and what a huge part of our group he was that we could carry on. There was certainly nothing ground breaking from me. We were just a bunch of fellas going out on to a cricket field in one way to celebrate a life but in another to get some peace for a few hours in a day. We told players that the outcome of games was totally irrelevant. We stayed up that year largely thanks to Kevin Pietersen. KP didn’t take any credit for that but he was very good around a group of young players at a time when he was dealing with his own issues. I felt it was the year after that it hit us harder. But slowly but surely, we found our feet and I now feel the club is moving forward in a very good direction.”
The year after Tom’s death, Surrey were relegated to Division Two, but it speaks volumes for Gareth and his leadership that the team bounced back from that relegation with promotion back to Division One and back to back appearances in the final of Royal London One-Day Cup. The team is now full of promising youngsters and Gareth is excited about what the 2017 season could bring for his young troops.
“Our squad is in a wonderful place. The Curran brothers speak for themselves. Tom, the slightly older one of the two is a bit more of a battle-hardened pro like his father who gets stuck in. Sam is a bit more naturally gifted; he swings the ball and gives it a good whack. Tom hits the pitch hard and grinds out an innings so they complement each other well. They are going to be the major backbone for our team for a long time to come. Rory Burns up top has now scored 1,000 runs in each of the last four seasons and is very much the unsung hero of the group. Zaffer is developing brilliantly and Foaksey is a wonderfully gifted young keeper. It’s wrong to be naming people, but I feel we have a wonderful squad: we have a few spinners, we’ve swing bowlers, some pace and we’ve got batters like Jason Roy who can smack the ball out of the ground and batters who can manipulate the field and bat for a long time.”
I closed our conversation with Gareth by asking him his thoughts on how good this England side are, having spent the recent winter months with them. “I’ve been watching from a far for a number of years and when the likes of Swanny and Matty P retired you feared for what could happen, but you look at how Jonny Bairstow has come in and the records he’s broken; you look at how Cooky keeps going and going; Moeen is getting better by the day with both bat and ball – you can see his confidence is growing; Rash has been brilliant this winter; Chris Woakes has had a brilliant year and then there’s Joe Root and Ben Stokes, what can you say about those two. It really is a brilliant set of lads. There’s no egos and as a group they moving in a wonderful direction.”
And the final question was who he named as the biggest influence on his career… “My Dad, 100 percent – in cricket and in life generally.” We have a lot to thank his Dad for. Gareth may not have had the international recognition that many believe his career warranted, but so many people in English cricket are indebted to him as a player, a team mate and a captain.”
2017 is Gareth's testimonial year; for information on all of the events planned, please visit www.garethbatty2017.com