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The big interview: Gareth Haines on a lifetime’s dedication to Stroud

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When Gareth Haines turned up for his 587th match for Stroud Cricket Club on June 17th, he probably couldn’t have dreamt of a better day to go to 700 wickets.

Beginning on 699 for the club, he took two wickets from eight overs for the Third XI, conceding just nine runs as he moved beyond 700, before blitzing 39 in a match-winning partnership as the side defeated Stinchcombe Stragglers with a ball to spare.

Haines is now the sixth-highest wicket taker in the club’s history (since records began in 1860). He also holds the record for the highest seventh-wicket batting partnership with long-time teammate Richard Cox, who leads the wicket-takers on 1040, the pair joining the club at similar times in the 1980s.

It was another club legend that helped to win the Stinchcombe game, with opening bat Keith Daniels hitting the winning runs to finish unbeaten on 90.

“To be in the top ten wicket-takers in the history of the club and to be in the same bracket as Rich, who’s been a good mate since we were 15, is really special,” Haines said.

“The Stinchcombe batter left it, it nipped back in and then there was pandemonium for the next 30 seconds before I went again. Finishing the game off in the way we did and getting a few runs to help Keith was great because people tend to forget I can bat!”

He’s sitting on the balcony at Stroud’s Cullimore Ground, recalling a life intertwined with this historic club as he looks out onto the first team pitch where he has taken a small portion of those 701 wickets. The biggest chunk of his scalps were claimed at the old Farmhill ground before the land was sold for property development in 2010 after 130 years of use and Haines followed the club into its new chapter as a committee member.  

Growing up in the area, Haines has been a near-constant fixture at Stroud Cricket and Stroud Rugby as family ties and lifelong friendships rooted his life in local sport.

“I’ve been very lucky to play for this club,” he said.

 “It’s something that’s been close to my heart my entire adult life. I played at Farmhill when Coxy was still running the ground, then I was on the board when we moved here. The only other constant has been Dave Moore, who’s still a quality player in his 70s. I was born in Rodborough, went to school there and then went to Archway.

“We’ve only played for Stroud, the only games I’ve played that weren’t for this club were representative games for Gloucestershire over 50s or the South West Post Office side, where we got to a national final at Edgbaston in the mid-’90s.

“John Evans was my PE master (at Archway) and he was straight into me about joining Frocester, but my mum was secretary here for 10 years when I was younger and although my dad always told me to play wherever I liked, I’ve never wanted to play anywhere else.”

“I was playing basketball for Gloucester Jets all over the country which took up most of my time. I didn’t start playing cricket properly until I was about 14 or 15, then slowly worked up to get into the Sunday sides. I took three years out to serve in the RAF regiment and came back in 1990 as a slightly skinnier 19-year-old.”

This was the year that Haines took his best figures, seven for 51 against Old Bristolians on August 5th. He recalls everything just seeming to come out of the hand right, which may be a little humble. The athleticism and longevity he has shown to play three sports regularly, despite knee and back injuries as a fast bowler, all whilst standing at six foot six, is quite remarkable.

Since his men’s debut in 1985, Haines has also scored 2898 runs whilst taking his wickets at a fraction over 23, including 11 five-fors and a 50-wicket season in 1999. He has played alongside and against a wealth of county and international stars along the way and has been captained by two generations of Gegg’s, first Richard in the 1980s before son Louis took the First XI reigns four seasons ago.

“(The seven-for) was a Sunday First XI game. One of my good friends who played for Old Bristolians at the time still talks about it, more than me! I was in the first team then from 1991 right the way through until about 2013, only missing games for weddings, including my own,” says Haines.

“I was lucky enough to play half a season with Keegan Petersen, who went on to play Test matches for South Africa. Watching him bat was brilliant, a different class to anyone I’ve seen, he had so much time to play each shot.

“The pinnacle for me was captaining the club in 2006. We didn’t do particularly well and were relegated from the West of England Premier Two, as it is now. Paul Frape took over and I stayed in the side for another six or so years until old age and injuries took over.

“We had some good young quick bowlers coming through and I knew it was time to give them a shot, you know when your times up at first team level. I couldn’t go on forever, I’m not Darren Stevens. I picked up niggles because I was playing too much sport, cricket in the summer, rugby in the winter and basketball in between, I’m just too competitive. In those days, as well, you could bowl 20 overs in a row, there was no restriction.”

You sense he could talk about cricket for hours on end and he admits to doing so with Cox more than once over more than one beer, discussing this ground, that wicket and those household names. The only time he pauses in doing so today is to joke with the players filing in for training, from the girls’ youth development side to the Second XI Australian overseas recruit, Matt Petherick.

“We used to play Bath every year, the best side in the West of England, in my opinion. To go up against them was always a challenge. I’ve taken a five-for and a six-for in all-day Premier League games but taking six against them before lunch was special… we still lost mind you,” Haines laughs.

“The six for 52 (against Bath) in 1998 was my favourite ever performance, I was an emotional wreck that year because my father had died in the April, he was my coach and mentor, he was a brilliant man. When we played Bath I just wanted to do right by him, I’m quite an emotional guy anyway but I turned up that day and everything clicked. Unfortunately, they had Stuart Barnes (the ex-Gloucestershire seamer) and Anya Shrubsole’s dad, Ian, bowling. He even bowls with the same action as her.”

“I would like to play long enough that I can play with my son. He’s 12 now, so when he’s 16 maybe. I started playing cricket with my father, so it would be great to have a couple of games out in the middle with my boy. It would be a nice place to tie it all off, full circle.”

Just as I intend to ask Haines about his plans for the four years before that, Second XI captain Tom Richings wanders past and informs him that he’ll be in the side for Saturday’s match against Woodmancote.

“Shut up, behave yourself”, quips Haines, before quickly realising Richings is serious. After 587 games and 701 wickets over 38 years, Stroud Cricket Club aren’t ready to lose Gareth Haines just yet and it’s abundantly clear that the feeling is reciprocated.

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