Former Cambridge United and Colchester United footballer Richard Wilkins looks back on his days with Haverhill Cricket Club
History is littered with examples of sportsmen that have tried their hands at both football and cricket.
All-rounder Sir Ian Botham is perhaps the most famous example – the all-rounder having famously had a stint on the books of Scunthorpe United and Yeovil Town.
Another England cricket legend, Denis Compton, played for Arsenal while it is said Neville brothers Gary and Phil, as well as Joe Hart – all of whom represented their country at football – could have enjoyed cricketing careers. Richard Wilkins is another who harboured a genuine talent for both sports.
And he certainly made a big impression during his days with Haverhill Cricket Club, so much so that former team-mate Adrian Dellar recently told the Echo: “I am sure he could have gone quite a way if he had stuck at cricket.”
As it was, the fast bowler who was handy with the bat picked football and went on to have a good career in the professional game with the likes of Colchester United and Cambridge United during 1980s and 1990s.
Wilkins, who has also enjoyed plenty of success in the non-league game as a manager, felt he was better at football, but actually preferred donning his whites.
“I probably preferred cricket to football,” said Wilkins, who was released by Ipswich Town as a youngster by Sir Bobby Robson.
“They are both team games, but I liked the mental side of cricket. I was lucky to be able to do a bit of everything, so when I was batting the onus is on you and then when you are bowling you are the main man. I liked that reliance.
“I had a bit of pace and a natural away swing to the right hander.
"That challenge of trying to bowl the batsman a beauty, or setting him up to make a mistake, I loved all of those mind games.
“I actually continued to play for Haverhill for a while after I joined Colchester, but in the end I had to give that up – I couldn’t risk injury.
“Ultimately I just felt like I was better at football – it came more natural to me. Colchester came in for me and it was a no-brainer, but I always loved cricket and still do.”
One of Wilkins’ biggest cricketing influences was his elder brother Martyn, himself a HaverhillCC stalwart.
“Martyn was a very keen cricketer and that is how I got into it,” added Wilkins.
“When you have a brother who is three or four years older than you, it makes you a better sportsman.
“He was physically stronger and so were his friends when we played with them, so you had to adapt. It was a case of sink or swim.
“Martyn was a very correct batsman – a bit in the Michael Atherton mould – and that provided a test as a young bowler.
“I also remember he scored 60-odd with a new bat away at Felixstowe. He’d done well, but it was a Duncan Fearnley Magnum bat and he gave it to me because it was too heavy for him!
“I was more comfortable with it, I was taller and it was the perfect fit. I’ve still got it as well.”
Having left his role as manager of Step 3 side Needham Market in February, Wilkins currently has more free time on Saturday afternoons than usual.
So, when restrictions are eventually lifted and cricket can resume, what are the chances of the 54-year-old dusting off that Duncan Fearnley bat?
“No chance! The last time I played was a few years ago in a centenarygame at Haverhill and I ended up losing my wicket to my nephew Ben for a duck,” said Wilkins.
“I couldn’t bowl too much either because of my lower back and hamstrings and I just thought ‘I can’t do this again!’
“I still love watching the game, especially Test cricket. Games can look like they are out of your grasp and then suddenly a partnership changes everything.
“Likewise, chasing 190 looks comfortable and then suddenly you are 30-3 and up against it. I’ll stick to watching!”
More by this authorLiam Apicella