Matt Bateman says he is loving his first taste of Disability Cricket with Yorkshire this summer.
All-rounder Bateman, aged 44, has been a key contributor to the D40 first-team’s eye-catching start to life in the National Quest League, county cricket’s top division.
Earlier this month, they beat Sussex with nine men – a win the former Hampshire School of Excellence player labelled as one of his favourite wins ever: “100 percent, yes,” he said.
They then beat his home county – the reigning Quest champions – on Sunday to jump up to third in the table with their second win from three games. They are sat third in the table and on the coat-tails of leaders Middlesex and Lancashire in second. If they win their game in hand on Middlesex, they could go top.
Perhaps pre-season aims weren’t that lofty, but who’s to say dreams don’t come true!
“I think that the next two games will tell us a lot,” said Bateman. “We’ve got Essex away next weekend (July 2) and then Middlesex at home a couple of weeks later (July 16).
“Our first game against Lancashire was an eye-opener. We thought we batted well and got a good total (224), but they went and knocked it off really easily.
“The biggest thing for us was the Sussex game. Winning with nine men there was absolutely massive (defending a 189 target).
“I will never forget that game. We had no right to be in it at all, no right. Cameron Sweeney batted absolutely beautifully that day. He got 97. They were 50-0 after five overs and 121-2. They should have coasted home.
“The momentum’s there from the Sussex game, and we felt that going into the Hampshire game. It wasn’t a case of, ‘These are champions, they’re the best team in the country’.
“We had close to our strongest 11 available, and we knew we could turn them over.”
And that they did, posting 205 all out thanks to opener Kyle Clayton’s 75 and then bowling the visitors out for 136, with Bateman’s off-spin claiming 5-23 from seven overs.
Fifteen minutes on the phone with Bateman chewing the fat is enough to tell you he is a pretty darn impressive individual who is loving life with Yorkshire.
Here is a league cricketer, in fact a successful league club administrator, who didn’t know he had a qualifying disability until the lead-up to this season.
“I was born with something called Kohler’s disease, which is a childhood disease where your bones and legs don’t go straight. So for the first four years of my life, either one or both legs were in plaster to help them grow straight.
“Nothing was ever really said after that.
“Later on in life, I’ve really struggled with knee pain, ankles and hips – all on my right side.
“Eight or nine years ago, I went to a physio who was treating me for Achilles tendonitis. He said, ‘I don’t just want to treat it, I want to understand why you’re getting these issues’.
“He measured one leg and then the other and said, ‘Woah, hang on a minute, let’s do this again’. So he measured it again and said, ‘Do you realise you’re nearly an inch and a half shorter on your right side?’ That’s what caused all those problems.”
He continued: “I know Alex Jervis (England and Yorkshire bowler) from the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey. We’re both big supporters.
“I told him that I wasn’t sure whether I’d qualify or not. So Alex spoke to his dad, Owen (YCCC disability team manager), about it, and we went from there.
“I filled the forms out and it turned out I was eligible.”
On his experiences so far, Bateman said: “I absolutely love it. It’s making me a better person, which is primarily the thing to take from it.
“I’m playing with guys who are far more talented than me who have improved my game.
“But I’m finding it a really heart-warming experience, just understanding different people’s struggles, the Learning Disability guys, the Deaf guys and the Physical Disability guys.
“It’s a journey of self-discovery and understanding. I’ve loved being around the environment. I really have.”
Bateman has lived in Worksop for the last 22 years, meeting his wife and settling down in the Nottinghamshire town.
For the last four years, he has been playing for Carlton in Lindrick CC in the Bassetlaw League – a club with a Sheffield postcode.
“The club has only been going for the last four years,” he said.
“I’d actually retired after my brother had a serious bike accident in 2015. We both cycle, and he came off in front of a car in the Cotswolds. My head wasn’t really in it anymore, so I turned it in.
“Then, a Facebook post came up saying, ‘We were starting a cricket team’, and it was 30 seconds from my house. We’ve since moved.
“Anyway, I decided to have a net and missed it. I decided to play a game and missed that. And that was it, I was in.
“Then, the guy who’d set the club up in 2019 stole all the money. So it was a case of either stepping in or the club would go to the wall. I’d really enjoyed it, being around the people there and all that.
So I stepped in. The wife’s now the treasurer, and I pretty much run everything else there.
“We’ve gone from Division Six to Four, and this year we’re sitting second.”
Clearly, Bateman has had quite the range of experiences both in and outside the game. His time with Yorkshire just adds to his story. If the D40 firsts go on and claim the title this year, it would fulfil another bucket list moment.
“The champions go and play the Lord’s Taverners at Tring, and that would be absolutely amazing. Just being on the same field, I’d love that,” he added.
And let’s return to Facebook, something Bateman uses a lot.
He wrote the following after the win against Sussex at Ansty on June 4. They are special words, and the final paragraph is certainly worth taking note of if you have a free Sunday some time soon.
“Yesterday saw the end of the first month in D40 cricket,” he said. “So I thought I’d share a bit of an update on what is turning out to be a wonderfully eye opening experience.
“When I was invited to Headingley for a training camp in Jan/Feb, I had zero idea what to expect, what the standard would be like, and whether it would be an environment that I would enjoy.
“What I can say is, after about 10 minutes I wondered what I was doing there, and purely because I’m not even close to being as talented as most of these lads.
“Cut to the season, from a competition standard level – (it’s) higher than I’ve played in decades, top level club cricket, and the England players that we’ve come across both in our team and on the opposition are next level to that.
“So to score some runs against quality has been a massive plus for me.
“Yesterday I was treated to batting against a 14-year-old lad, who has severely deformed arms, and only one that works anything like. In all my time playing the game, I’ve never seen someone turn a ball like it, with unbelievable control and disguise.
“It’s no surprise that he’s on a a full county pathway, despite his disability. I will eat my hat if he doesn’t play for England Physical Disability in the future.
“I’m finding my feet as the old hat in the group there to calm nerves, steady the ship and just impart a little of my 35 seasons worth of experience on the younger lads.
“More so than any of the playing side of things, I’m making friends that will last for a lifetime.
“And seen as I’m about as old as Yoda to these boys, when it comes to hanging the bat up, I can enjoy watching their careers grow and see how far they can get.
“I’m a better person for being in that environment. If only I’d known about this 10 years ago.
“If you’ve never watched a D40 game, find one, have a day out (they’re all at top end facilities and the bars are always open!). You’ll be surprised, and probably open mouthed at the talent on show, like I was yesterday, or when I met Will Baxter, deaf, cerebral palsy, bowls genuinely like a wizard. And unless you see it first hand, you’ll not believe the words I’ve written.”