Sunday 21 July 2019

Raised with a love of the game through family ties

Gaby Lewis: ‘The introduction of women’s contracts has certainly been a massive change’. Photo: Sportsfile
Gaby Lewis: ‘The introduction of women’s contracts has certainly been a massive change’. Photo: Sportsfile

Cricket is a sport that has gone through a massive generational change around the world over recent years, and there is perhaps no better way of seeing this evolution than through the eyes, and lives, of the father and daughter pairing of Alan and Gaby Lewis.

Alan Lewis, 55, has graced the Irish international sporting landscape for decades, making his name as both an international cricketer and international rugby referee. The son of a former international cricketer, Ian Lewis, Alan is the father of two international cricketers, Gaby and Robyn Lewis.

The international debuts of Alan and Gaby Lewis were just over 30 years apart - Alan made his international bow in June 1984, while Gaby received her first cap in August 2014.

Thirty years apart, the game is at times barely recognisable to the outsider, with the advent of T20 cricket and the great advances in the women's game. Despite this, when you hear from former and current players - a lot still rings consistent and true.

"How influential was my father in me playing cricket? My dad was passionate about cricket, and cricket was just a constant in our family life," said Alan.

"If you look at the history of Irish sport there are great family connections and traditions - and cricket is no different. Just take today's international men's squad, I played with four of the fathers of the current team. The sport of cricket is very family-oriented."

"I was down at the ground from three years of age - there was no pressure to play, you were just regularly there at the club with a bat and a ball taunting adults to bowl at you all day. You were just immersed in it."

"I grew up in an era when most of the West Indies players were my heroes. My house was even named after Desmond Haynes - it's called Haynesville!"

Asked if her father was influential in her decision to pursue a cricket career, 18-year-old Gaby's take shows a consistency: "No, dad was never pushy with me about getting into cricket, it was always just something to play if I wanted to. But in summer, the club was our second home. Everything revolved around cricket and it was always on TV in the house. My main regret was that we could never take summer holidays, summer for us was dad or then Robyn and I playing cricket. Our family holiday was always around Christmas!"

Gaby was recently one of six Irish women's cricketers to receive the first professional contracts offered by Cricket Ireland. However, she states that the increasing professionalisation of the game is not her main motivator: "It's the honour of representing my country. I've now played internationally for five years and we've created a special culture in the squad. It just makes it a really enjoyable thing to do."

Neither was professional cricket a motivator for Alan. It wasn't even an option in Ireland in those days: "My motivation to play was simply to challenge myself to get better. I played a season of club cricket in Australia in 1984-'85 and that really showed me how determined and competitive people can be about the sport. It drove to me to want to be better than them."

Irish cricket in the 1980s and '90s was nearly two decades away from professionalism of the men's game here, and it occasionally gives Alan pause for thought: "I often wonder if I could have made it if I'd played today. Not in a jealous way, mind you, but back then I was a hard worker, I practised every day and was always seeking advice on improving my game."

Few doubt that the former Irish skipper with 121 caps would have been a star today, but he is relaxed with what he achieved during the era he played in.

And the best piece of cricket advice they've been given? "It's only a game," says Gaby. "Every sportsperson is going to have ups and downs, you just have to wait for the ups, and deal with the downs as they come."

"When you're in form, never neglect the responsibility of it," said Alan. "My dad said that. And I never forgot it."

The pair's views on women's cricket are coloured from their generational standpoints - Gaby from the perspective that professional women's contracts are a reality, and Alan from the perspective of playing during an era when neither men nor women were professional in Ireland.

"The introduction of women's contracts has certainly been a massive change," says Gaby. "Internationally, the standard has gone up significantly and the mid-ranked countries are starting to close the gap with the 'big three' [Australia, England and India]"

Coming from 30 or more years of watching the women's game, Alan drew greater distinctions, but father and daughter landed in the same place.

"I was watching women's cricket back when I was playing, mainly because Miriam Grealey, who I believe is Ireland greatest women's cricketer, was playing and scoring centuries against men's teams of the day. I think she was born in the wrong era to do justice to her talent."

"The athleticism and skill of the women's game today has improved greatly, the batting, bowling and fielding - probably there is still a gap in power hitting but that is improving every year."

A generation apart, but the pair clearly share a common upbringing, a passion for the game and an optimism for the future of women's cricket.

It seems cricket's traditions are as much in the lives of the players as the rules of the sport.

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