Former Manchester United and England right-back Gary Neville is a certified legend of the game. He is one of the greatest right-backs of his generations and his leadership skills for Manchester United were highly lauded. He was regarded as a tough no-nonsense defender who hardly gave his opposition an inch and had an unparalleled winning mentality. But if Neville himself is to be believed, he got this attitude not by playing the game of football, through cricket at a very young age.
Both Gary and his brother Phil were very good cricketers in their young age. In an interview with the Guardian, Gary reveals how being ‘Mankaded’ at the age of 14 toughened him up. He says, “Cricket toughened me up in my early years a lot more than football. From a very young age, you’re playing against men. It was scary. When I was 14 I got Mankaded by a grown man. I’d say he was older than 40. I backed up, not concentrating. He stopped and warned me. I did it again without thinking. He clipped my bails off. It kicks off. My side came running over, ‘You’re a f*****g disgrace’ and the rest of it. At the time, I blamed him and thought it was unsporting. But actually, looking back at it now, it made me think: ‘I need to be smarter, shrewder, cuter.’ It’s a bit like diving for a penalty. Football fans hate diving. But, to dive, you’ve got to give someone the chance to dive. I take my responsibility. Cricket taught me a lot about adult sport.”
He also revealed that he played at the club level with Australian legend Matthew Hayden at the club level and he admired his resiliency. He recalled, “Did you know I had a partnership with Matt Hayden at club level, 200-odd? I’ll tell you what I remember, nearly losing the bastard game. I hit a bad shot, Hayden came up to me and said: ‘Concentrate, I don’t want any of that crap – this is not the time.’ That mentality of: ‘You don’t give your wicket away’. That was something I didn’t value enough. He did. Even then. He could actually just flick it off his legs for six, just glide it, and you’d be like: ‘Hang on a minute, how’s that ended up in the trees?'”
Neville also adds that cricket is much more of a community game than football. “A cricket club is a community. You’ve got the whole family there. Grandparents are watching, parents are playing, kids are on the field trying to learn about cricket. Cricket is a far better social sport than football.”
Finally, Neville concluded that watching an Ashes series in Australia was a dream of his and he preferred Test cricket over the shortest format of the game. “I’d rather watch six hours of Test cricket than six hours of T20 any day. If something’s not happening, sometimes it’s even better! To not make something happen for six hours is a talent. My dream is to go to an Ashes series in Australia. I’ve never been. One day I’ll ask for three weeks off…”