CONFRONTED by a swarm of potentially uncontrollable nine-year-olds, Michael Leask had only one piece of equipment to ensure his own self-preservation.
Forced to wield his trusty cricket bat, it was enough to instil a welcome sense of calm. The Scotland spinner is not one for inflicting punishment of the corporal variety, though. Better, he thought, to set his youthful charges a test than to attempt to command and control.
The 22-year-old has been examined plenty this summer. More of that later. But he is recounting one of his previous forays into primary schools in his native Aberdeenshire, where he was asked to pass on his cricketing knowledge. This, he says, was not one of the sometimes-meaningless goodwill tours undertaken by sportspeople in the name of “community relations” and “crime prevention initiatives”. Holder of the ECB’s coaching qualification, Leask is firmly of the view that any opportunity to mould impressionable minds should not be wasted on autographs and platitudes.
Handed a great chance to show that there is more to a sporting life than football, he set about winning trust and courting favour. “As soon as you tell them it’s cricket, they’re all over it. And because you’re there for a six-week block, they know it’s not a one-off and there’s a goal at the end of it.”
And there lies the problem. Once he departed, this strand of education ceased. With PE still down the priority list within schools, nurturing cricketers is an improbability. “It’s something every teacher of sport should have, even the most basic level of cricket coaching,” says Leask. “It’s not a sport that everyone wants to play. They might just want to play football or whatever. But if a kid can get into cricket, it’s a game everyone can enjoy. And if you work hard enough at it, you can go places, even in Scotland.”
Leask has been attempting to make his own mark in his breakthrough season for the national side. Singled out as one to watch for his performances at Abderdeen club Stoneywood-Dyce, he has retained the selectors’ faith this summer in spite of the almost inevitable inconsistencies. He will venture to the Oval today, where the Saltires will seek an upset of Surrey. Participation, he says, is only part of the goal. He will use the occasion to observe and progress.
At Dyce, he has been mentored by the former Scotland all-rounder Jan Stander, the club’s coach and his personal sage. “He’s worked with me, showing how to kick on and prove myself. He’s really helped just by saying, ‘this is what you need to do to get selected’.”
The pair hope Leask can offer a complementary spin option to Majid Haq as the Scots look toward the next World Cup cycle. He has picked the brains of his veteran colleague who went through the same trials before establishing his own credentials. Still, it has been an awkward initiation. “You’re bowling against the likes of Shiv Chanderpaul, who’s played for the West Indies and scored umpteen runs at a big level,” Leask says. “That’s a massive step. But that’s what you want.”
It beats working in a bank, you suspect. That’s the day job, a means to the pay the bills and hopefully climb the corporate ladder. The dream is to solidify his spot and, ideally, for Scotland to break their YB40 duck before the summer’s end.
It is the not the only mission. “There’s been a lot of development of players for the future,” Leask says. “That’s as much of a priority as getting wins. They’ve thrown a few of us, like myself, in at the deep end and said: ‘here’s your chance to play against top-level opposition’. And you get your chance to develop your skills.” All the better for avoiding punishment. At nine, or older still, there are always new tricks to learn.