THE BIG INTERVIEW
Standing in the outfield at Chelmsford on his County Championship debut for Lancashire last season, Luis Reece could have been forgiven for thinking that first-class cricket was ‘a bit of a doddle’.
The 23-year-old Leyland star could not quite believe his eyes as Essex were routed for just 20 in their second innings to hand Reece and his Red Rose team-mates victory by an innings and 105 runs.
Reece had contributed a respectable 24 at the top of the order as the visitors posted 398 in reply to the home side’s first innings total of 273.
There did not appear to be too many gremlins in the wicket for the batsmen in the opening two days of the four-day contest, but an inspired spell of seam bowling from skipper Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg – who shared nine wickets between them – on the third afternoon contributed to a somewhat freakish result.
Afterwards Chapple – a veteran of more than 900 first class wickets for Lancashire – described the outcome as a once-in-a-career event.
Indeed, it was Essex’s lowest ever first class total and the worst recorded anywhere in county cricket since Surrey were bowled out for 14 – incidentally by Essex – in 1983.
The result proved to be the catalyst that Lancashire needed as they stormed to the Division Two title.
Batting all-rounder Reece – who is hoping to get the nod at the top of the order for Lancashire’s opening Division One encounter of the season tomorrow against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge – has a hint of a smile on his face when thinks back to that famous June afternoon last year.
“It was an interesting start to my first class career for Lancashire to say the least,” Reece said.
“To be involved in a game like that – it’s something which doesn’t come around too often in anybody’s career.
“So to have that on my debut, it’s something which I will always remember.
“A result like that kind of makes it feel like first class cricket is easy.
“But unfortunately results like that don’t happen every week.
“It was nice to be on the right side of a result like that, even more so with it being my debut.
“I think that performance last year just showed how much fight and quality there is in this Lancashire team.
“To be able to go neck and neck with a team like Essex up until the second innings and then to be able to blow them away was just a fantastic performance.”
While Lancashire, naturally, did not quite manage to hit the same heights as they did against Essex for the remainder of the season, they were still strong enough to finish the season as champions.
Reece, though, went from strength to strength on a personal level as he proved to be a model of consistency. The left-hander went on to hit 722 runs – including eight half-centuries – at an impressive average of 55.53.
Seven of his 50s came in successive knocks – the first time a Lancashire batsman has achieved such a feat since 1959.
He was recognised for his outstanding form by being named the club’s junior player of the year at the end-of-season awards night.
“I was fortunate enough to personally do well last season,” Reece said.
“It was nice to contribute to a winning side.
“The main goal of the team was to get promoted and to do it in the way we did was a great credit to everybody in the team.
“It was nice for me to be consistent with the bat.
“I was a bit disappointed not to get a big one but it was hard to be disappointed when the team was doing so well.
“I was really pleased to get the junior player of the year award – it was great to get a bit of recognition.”
Reece is a great role model to any young cricketer, who is hoping to make a living out of the game.
Despite being on Lancashire’s books since the age of 11 and later playing in the county’s second XI, Reece was deemed not good enough at the age of 18 and released.
Distraught by the rejection from his home county, Reece could have been forgiven for giving up on his dream.
But instead he knuckled down and was determined to improve both his batting and bowling technique.
He enrolled at Leeds University to study for a degree and went on to captain Leeds and Bradford MCC Universities side.
His form eventually saw him noticed by the Unicorns – a team specifically made up of players without a full-time contract with a county and which plays in the Clydesdale Bank 40 limited overs competition.
An impressive bowling performance of 7-21 for the Unicorns against Sussex brought him to the attention of Lancashire once more.
And continued strong performances as Leyland’s professional in the Northern League, ensured he was handed a full-time contract by the Old Trafford club.
“It always been my dream to play for Lancashire.
“I’ve played all my cricket in Lancashire – all my junior and senior cricket. I was lucky enough to eventually earn a professional contract so it’s going well so far.
“It was a blow to get released when I was 18.
“I think I always had faith in my ability, but I did have a little bit of doubt about whether I would make it or not especially when I started getting into my 20s.
“You start to think that the window is closing a little bit.
“But I found another route to becoming a professional.
“I played for the Unicorns team when I was at university.
“That helped as a stepping stone to getting back involved in a professional environment.
“I managed to do well and I was lucky enough to get offered a deal with my home county.
“Getting released was a bit of a blessing in a way because it made me appreciate the game a bit more and it makes you realise what you have got.
“I’ve played with some really good cricketers and some really good cricketers along the way.
“I wouldn’t change the way I have gone about it.
“I have taken a slightly longer route than most other professionals in the game have done.
“But the way I have done it has worked out well for me.
“I do pinch myself a little with what’s happened over the last year, but I have got a good support system around me who are able to help me keep my feet on the ground and enjoy what I’m doing.
“I’ve had to do it the hard way and you can’t take anything for granted in professional sport so that’s why I just like to focus on each game as it comes and not to get too ahead of myself.
“I just want to enjoy my cricket for Lancashire this season and hopefully help us push for more silverware.”
Reece was certainly pinching himself last month when he lined-up alongside India’s legendary opener Virender Sehwag in an MCC XI in a four-day match against Durham in Abu Dhabi.
The former Leyland pro struck a brilliant 85 in the first innings as MCC won by six wickets.
“Virender was our captain and so it was a great honour for me to play with a legend of the game,” Reece said
“Anyone who averages over 50 in Test cricket over 100 matches like Virender has is obviously a brilliant cricketer.
“It was nice for me to pick his brains and learn from one of the best opening batsmen ever – certainly of this current era.
“It was a great experience for me and I am sure the other lads in the MCC team enjoyed being around him in the dressing room and learned a lot from him.
“Virender is a really good bloke – he knows the game inside out.
“It’s good to see a professional like him at the age of 35 still wanting to play Test cricket and still pushing himself to be better despite everything he has achieved as a player.
“He’s a great role model for everybody and I certainly gained a lot out of playing alongside him.”
“When you get asked to play in games like the MCC one you just take it as honour and hopefully show during the game why they picked you in the first place.”
Reece has set no targets personally for himself or Lancashire this season, but he is excited by what lies ahead, starting with tomorrow’s visit to one of the iconic cricket venues – Trent Bridge.
“I don’t really set myself goals and targets,” Reece insisted.
“It’s just all about making sure I can be as consistent as I can be and contribute towards the team.
“We have got a big enough squad to do well in all forms of the game.
“The squad depth is there and the quality is there.
“We have been fortunate in that most of the squad stayed behind in this country over the winter so we’ve been training indoors and in the gym.
“It’s been pretty intensive period – the lads have been working hard.
“We are all in good shape ready for the start of the season.
“We’re down at Trent Bridge tomorrow.
“Nottingham are a quality outfit – they have got some quality players.
“I am sure they will be looking forward to the fixture as much as what we are.
“We have got a quality squad and we will be making sure we do everything possible so that we come back from Trent Bridge with a positive result.”
With the current wind of change sweeping through English cricket, there is a possibility that Reece could force his way into the reckoning for England selection – especially if he carries on where he left off last season.
However, talk of an international call is far from the all-rounder’s thinking.
“I think it’s every cricketer’s dream to play international cricket,” he said.
“I am not really looking at that, but if it comes along then brilliant.
“For now I’m just concentrating on taking it game by game for Lancashire – staying focused on winning games for them.”
When commitments allow, Reece will also be heading down to Fox Lane as much as he can this season to cheer Leyland on in the Northern league.
“I still go down to Leyland. The people there are my friends,” he said.
“It will be nice to go down to the club and see how they are doing.
“It’s my home club – I’ve played there for the last six years.
“They have played a major role in helping me progress to become a professional, so I owe the club a lot.
“My family still plays down there and it’s a club which I will always show my support to.”