With a grandfather who played first-class cricket, and a father who had a distinguished career for South Africa, it might be easy to think Michael Richardson was always destined for international cricket.
The route he has taken to get there, though, has been a circuitous one – and via the other side of the family bloodline.
Now aged 35, and two-and-a-half years out of the English first-class game, Richardson will be lining up in the colours of Germany in Muscat this week.
A side made up of roofers, chefs, students, computer programmers and – in Richardson’s case – unemployed ex-professionals will be in the same group as Test nation Ireland, as well as UAE and Bahrain.
For Richardson, it is a chance to honour the memory of his mother’s dad, Helmut Gruttner, a German who migrated to South Africa in his late teens.
Richardson was first approached to play for his grandfather’s nation in 2019, when he was still part of the same county side as the likes of Mark Wood and Ben Stokes.
“Initially I was asked to play but couldn’t because of Durham commitments,” Richardson said of being contacted to join an inexperienced but enterprising national team who were casting their net wide for German-qualified players.
“I only got to play in that tournament because three players broke their fingers. They were short, and phoned up again realising I wasn’t playing for Durham. I said, ‘Yes, that would be amazing.’
“My grandad was German and moved to South Africa when he was 18. It was sad because he passed away just before I got to play in that tournament.
“He was so patriotic. The timing was terrible, but it was still nice for me to be able to represent Germany simply because of that.”
With a son-in-law – Dave Richardson – who played 42 Tests for South Africa and later became the chief executive of the ICC, it would be a push to suggest Gruttner was unaware of cricket. Football, though, always remained his sport of choice.
“He loved football, and he used to come and watch us play cricket but he knew nothing about it,” Richardson said.
“In some ways that was so nice, because he thought everything was brilliant. If you caught a ball standing back to a fast bowler, he’d say, ‘Oh wow, look how fast that was going’. He wouldn’t mind if I’d let through 28 byes on the day.”
After a decade as a professional in the UK, Richardson acknowledged the intricacies of the competitions structure below international cricket’s elite level were alien to him once he had joined up with Germany.
He discovered the hard way. His new side missed out on a trip to UAE to play at the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier after their net run-rate in their European qualifier was a miniscule 0.053 inferior to group winners Jersey.
“I went in relatively blindly,” Richardson said. “I was so naive to Associate cricket and the fact that literally every ball counts.
“All these tournaments go down to net run-rate. We smashed [Jersey] in the last game, but because we had lost to Italy earlier in the tournament and we were second on run-rate, we didn’t go to Dubai. The guys were gutted.”
They have made it to that level this time around. Now, three wins in Muscat could be good enough to take them to the biggest stage of all, to play at the World Cup in Australia later this year.
Richardson, who is himself in the process of relocating from the UK to Zurich, points out the odds are stacked against his side. There is not one full-time pro among the Germany squad.
Richardson himself had not met every member of the side before they all arrived in Muscat, given their budget allows them to train together sparingly, while team meetings are generally limited to Zoom.
A group of players who formed a sponsorship committee did, though, manage to source some equipment for the tournament, from a kit-supplier associated with Adidas.
And Richardson says the side are not short on natural talent – thanks, in large part, to the large influx of refugees to Germany in the past decade.
“I had such a naive and embarrassing view of refugees,” he said.
“These guys all speak more languages than me. They are grafting. And they are all desperate to play cricket. We do have incredible talent, especially our Afghanistan-origin players, even if it is so raw.
“We have some South African players. You never know. There is a worry that the gap might be too big between professionalism and amateur – but I could never say that we don’t have a chance to do this. If things align, anything can happen.
“We have a chance and it might sound corny, but we play for something a bit greater than us.”