x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Joe's goal to be like Uncle Mike

Sussex Sharks coach says former footballer Joe Gatting has the potential to be a star of the Twenty20 Champions League.

Joe Gatting is eagerly awaiting the start of the Twenty20 Champions League.
Joe Gatting is eagerly awaiting the start of the Twenty20 Champions League.

Judging by what is floating around his gene pool, there were two guarantees in life for Joe Gatting: a fair slice of talent and a whole lot of pressure. "It motivates me more than anything and I just want to make the family name proud," said the rookie batsman, who has been tipped by his Sussex Sharks coach, Mark Robinson, to be a potential star of the Airtel Twenty20 Champions League which starts today in India.

At 21, Gatting is already taking a second shot at life as a professional sportsman, having spent three years as a centre-forward for the English Football League club, Brighton and Hove Albion. It was a path already well trodden by his father, Steve, who played more than 300 games for the Seagulls, including the 1983 FA Cup final against Manchester United. Life in football has treated him well. Now aged 50, he remains a youth team coach at his first club, Arsenal.

It proved not to be the way for his son, who retired from playing last season after becoming disillusioned with the game. "I wasn't enjoying playing. In my last year of football, it had got to the stage where I had started hating it," he said. "I thought you might as well do something you enjoy, and you always perform better when you are doing something you enjoy. I am much happier playing cricket, to be honest.

During his flirtation with professional football, Gatting remained firmly on the radar of Sussex, the county cricket team he had already represented with distinction at age-group level. After falling out of love with the winter game, swapping his shin-guards for batting pads seemed a natural move, and his subsequent ascent has been swift. Not that he can escape the pressure of having a famous family predecessor in the sport. His uncle Mike, as an Ashes-winning England captain, needs little introduction to cricket followers.

Early signs suggest they may play alike, too. Joe terms himself "more of a hitter", which could explain why his coach Robinson believes he will revel in the 20-over version. Uncle Mike never played an official Twenty20 match, as he retired before the format was rolled out, but it would have suited his muscle-bound modus operandi. "They are good role models and ones that I want to emulate," Joe says of his sporting family.

His thoughts are trained on the task at hand. A while ago the words "Champions League" would have conjured names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi in his mind. Now he will share a field with the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Virender Sehwag and Mahela Jayawardene in the inaugural running of cricket's take on pan-continental club competitions and involving sides from India, Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies.

"It is really exciting. I haven't been playing cricket for very long and to get a chance to play against these top players so early in my career is a dream come true," he says. The stardust has already been sprinkled. On their second day in India, Sussex played a warm-up match against the Sri Lankan side, Wayamba Elevens, who include in their ranks Jayawardene and the spinner Ajantha Mendis. "They had Mendis, but I didn't get that far, I batted for the first two overs and got out," says Gatting.

Sussex may be short on the type of star quality that the Indian sides, in particular, can boast. They are also without arguably their leading light, the England wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, but Gatting believes the lack of expectation surrounding one of English county cricket's top sides could work to their advantage. "Underdogs often perform well because the other teams don't look at you as being a big threat, but I think we have some very, very good players," he says.

"We have a good balance of players in the side, it is a Twenty20 so it is not a problem not being thought of as a threat. We could cause lots of surprises." Prior's absence also leaves a hole in the ranks when it comes to the pre-match football kick-about. "He's pretty good, he's a good talker," Gatting attests of Prior's football skills. England may have been banned from playing football in warm-ups following a rash of injuries to their players, but Sussex's players cannot get enough of it.

First name on the team-sheet? Surprisingly, it is not the former professional striker, according to the man himself. "I'm getting picked at the end these days because I haven't been performing too well," said Gatting. "They've been giving me a bit of stick, but I still score my goals." pradley@thenational.ae