How England drag-flicker Mark Gleghorne almost became a wicket-keeper

England defender Mark Gleghorne says some of his former training in cricket helps him with his hand-eye coordination in hockey. Alex Morton/Getty Images

A drill for the England team a day ahead of their World Cup semi-final against Belgium sees assistant coach Russell Garcia teeing up balls randomly inside the striking circle, needing strikers Liam Ansell, Will Calnan and defender and drag-flicker Mark Gleghorne to stop the ball, spin and shoot after setting their bodies up perfectly.

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It doesn't look too far from a cross between a cover-drive and a slog sweep in cricket, and most certainly not on 33-year-old Gleghorne, who was once an Ireland age-group cricketer, and a very good one at that. He stitched together useful partnerships with Eoin Morgan and William Porterfield to help Ireland win the European Under-15 Championship in Netherlands in 2000, and played a key role as wicketkeeper-batsman a year later when Ireland won the U-17 crown in Denmark.

"When we were younger, we just played every sport -- hockey, football, rugby, cricket -- anything we could get our hands on, really," says Gleghorne, who started out in international hockey for Ireland, a team that younger brother Paul now plays for. "I was 16 when I started playing hockey all year round and cricket whenever I got the time, and I just picked hockey. It was almost at two extremes - hockey [played] at that pace, and four-day games with the cricket. I just enjoyed my hockey a little bit more."

A run through the Ireland junior teams that Gleghorne played in reads like a who's-who of Ireland cricket, some of whom have also played for England -- Porterfield, Morgan, Kevin O'Brien, Boyd Rankin and Gary Wilson, for instance. However, Ireland's rise in international cricket has actually only taken off sharply in the period since the 2007 World Cup, by which time Gleghorne's run in hockey was well and truly underway.

Saturday's semi-final will be Gleghorne's 236th international cap, 80 of which came in his early years for Ireland. Kevin O'Brien was one of those future cricketers who also played hockey at a good level alongside Gleghorne, he says, adding that Kevin's brother Niall is also a "good player".

He has lost touch with most of his teammates from his cricket days due to international commitments, though. "Back in Ireland, the sports world is pretty small -- whether it's rugby, football, or hockey -- you kind of just get to know [everybody]." Gleghorne has attended some home ODIs of the Ireland team, but failed to make it for Ireland's first Test in Dublin over the summer, though his father made the trip over to Malahide.

Gleghorne says his foundations as a cricketer, especially as wicketkeeper, have helped hone his hand-eye coordination in hockey. Specifically, he says those in the England hockey team that have played cricket before tend to be exceptional at protecting the post when defending.

Does he ever wonder what might have been if he had continued with cricket? "Yeah, they probably earn a bit more as cricketers, don't they?" he chuckles. "I don't know -- I don't really think about that. I have no regrets.

"I follow cricket, and it really annoys my wife. I really enjoy it and she doesn't like it. I don't play [nowadays], but certainly when I stop playing international hockey, I intend to take up cricket again."