Durham's "Mr Average" Gareth Breese is showing his worth

To listen to modest Gareth Breese you would think he was nothing special at all as a cricketer but his selfless nature makes him invaluable

David Rogers/Getty Images Gareth Breese of Durham
Gareth Breese of Durham

Gareth Breese is not kidding when he says he is no salesman.

“I’m never, ever going to be the star player, I know that,” he says at a foggy Chester-le-Street yesterday. “I’m just an average player who hopefully gets the job done for the team.”

This is Breese’s 11th season as a Durham player, and at 37-years-old with only a one-year contract as security, it could be his last. In that time he has played just 66 First-Class games for the county.

But Breese is the sort of selfless individual every team needs.

His half-century at Northamptonshire last week highlighted what a bitty bit-part player the Jamaican has been. It was his first since September 2008, and the match where Durham won their maiden County Championship. In the interim he has become an ultra-reliable limited-overs player but with the red ball his main role has been nurturing youngsters in the second team.

To speak to him after yesterday’s play against Somerset was abandoned without a ball bowled, you sense it is a role he enjoys almost as much as scoring runs, taking wickets and catches.

In his benefit year, though, Breese has found his way back into the team. Perhaps expecting more turn from the Wantage Road pitch, Durham picked him to start the defence of their title. He sent down only six off-spinners. Turn is even less likely to play much of a part at Chester-le-Street, but his first-innings 62 and the value of his experience to a youthful team ensured he kept his place.

Breese freely admits: “If somebody had asked me last year whether I would be starting this year it’s not something I would put my money on. But I’m looking forward to this opportunity and doing my best to hold on to it.

“I’ve been here long enough to know playing two games doesn’t mean you’re in the frame for anything.

“For the last three or four years I’ve started the season expecting to mainly play white-ball cricket. I think over pre-season seeing the changes of the squad it would have been silly of me not to try and play all formats.

“I’ve been a big part of trying to develop younger players and help them come through. At my age, it’s probably my main role. But I love playing and I am a professional cricketer so if the opportunities come along I want to make the most of it.”

It says everything about Breese – who took a pay cut to stay on, and has taken the first steps into coaching with the club’s academy – that if you ask him about his contribution in the east Midlands, the answer is about other people.

“I think quite a few batsmen have had steady knocks,” he says. “We’ve seen some massive scores from other teams but right now it’s not about what other teams are doing, it’s about Durham. We have to make sure our players are ready sooner rather than later so it’s been good to see Keaton Jennings coming to the forefront. He’s been steady in every innings.

“Michael Richardson is probably a little bit frustrated because he wants to kick on and get that big score. Everybody does.

“It’s been fantastic to see other people put their hands up when the expected ones haven’t got the runs.”

But what about his own renaissance?

“You could say it comes to those who wait!” he replies.“We’ve got a squad and every member is waiting for their chance, from the youngest to the oldest. When you get your chances, despite your age you are a professional cricketer and it’s important to really grasp them.

“Since I started I’ve always just wanted to contribute as much as I can to the team. If it means making runs I’m happy with that, if it’s taking catches, bowling, I just want to contribute.

“It would be very selfish of me not to (take pleasure from the performance of young players). I’ve been a part of this institution now for 11 seasons and if you don’t look forward to other people improving and making their mark you’re just taking away from what you’re involved in. There’s a bigger picture with youngsters coming through.

“That’s how I try and look at things with regards to life. If you don’t give back you’re just a taker and there’s enough takers in this world. You should try and give back whenever you can.”

With son Max born in the North East 18 months ago and five-year-old daughter Savannah settled here, Breese plans to live in the region for some time yet. On days like yesterday, when heavy early morning rain was followed by thick fog which saw play abandoned at 4.45pm, you realise how mad he must be to have the Caribbean just as a holiday destination nowadays.

“It’s part and parcel of playing county cricket,” he reasons. “We’ve been very lucky over the last few years not to have many days like this and that’s benefitted us at the Riverside. If you play four full days here you usually get a result.

“It’s something you have to get used to and make use of it by spending time in the gym.”

Today Durham will look to bat on, extend their 275-run lead and win the game against a Somerset side whose batting was no match for Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth on day two.

The next event in Breese’s joint benefit with Gordon Muchall will be a Twenty20 game between the county and a Durham Invitational XI at Durham School on May 9. His wariness of making promises he cannot keep stops Breese giving it the big sell.

“We’ve tried to get a few of the guys who have represented Durham in the last ten years to come back for that game,” he says. “Last year we had a similar set-up for Harmy (Stephen Harmison)’s game and used it as a warm-up.

“This year it will be the debut for The Jets. If you think of the big names who’ve played for Durham in that time, those are the kind of guys we’re targeting. A lot of them are spread across the UK and different counties have different schedules so it would be unprofessional of me to say who I want to come.

“I don’t want to tell the public somebody’s coming and they don’t but it will be people the spectatorhave come to watch over the last ten years. Hopefully it will be a good day for the supporters.”

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