County cricket April 6, 2011

Late-starter Dernbach catching up

It took many by surprise when Jade Dernbach was called into England's World Cup squad, but his development over the last 12 months has been rapid and he's eager for more honours

Jade Dernbach's elevation to the England squad during the World Cup proved the biggest surprises of their winter, but was just the latest marker in a steady rise for the Surrey pace bowler. In many ways his career has followed the natural path through domestic cricket, but it has developed from an unusual beginning.

He was Surrey's youngest debutant when he made his first appearance as a 17-year-old in 2003, but he had actually been a fairly late starter into cricket, barely playing the game until he was 14. That was when he moved from South Africa having been born in Johannesburg. Until then rugby had been his main sport and he was good enough to have been able to consider trying to take it further as a career.

Then, however, came the journey to England and he found himself playing club cricket near London. His potential was soon spotted and a place at the Surrey Academy followed. He's the first player to move from there into the England set-up Despite that, he has had to field the predictable questions about the country of his birth. "I owe South Africa nothing," he said. "I basically played a bit of schools cricket and nothing else. I learnt everything in England."

The main reason for surprise at Dernbach's call to replace Ajmal Shahzad was that Chris Woakes, the Warwickshire seamer, had impressed in Australia especially with his 6 for 49 at Brisbane. However, without gaining the same attention as England's fraught campaign on the subcontinent, Dernbach had been making a strong impression for the Lions in West Indies and on some flat pitches he bagged 19 wickets at 15.63.

"It was testing and they were conditions I hadn't really come across before, but like everything you have to find a way," he said. "I had to learn pretty quickly and it played into my hands. I like to think I have a few variations and it helped out there."

Dernbach has the accessories of a modern player; a pair of diamond earrings and arms emblazoned with tattoos. Perhaps it's those things that play a part in the 'preconceived ideas' people had of him, factors that Chris Adams, the Surrey cricket manager, spoke about when he was called up by England. However, he comes across as a very thoughtful and intelligent cricketer.

One of the tattoos emblazoned on Dernbach's arms carries the Latin saying carpe diem - "seize the day" and he has certainly seized his moment this winter. A few days after arriving in Sri Lanka he gave Andrew Strauss a tough workout during a net session in Colombo; the sight of the team captain in the nets can give a pace bowler extra impetus. In the end he wasn't selected for the quarter-final against Sri Lanka and England's 10-wicket thumping meant his World Cup experience was over. However, it was more than enough to whet the appetite.

"I'm over the moon with my achievements during the winter," he said. "My aim was to have a successful Lions tour which I managed then got the call up in the end which was a bonus. I'm now hoping to put my name in the mix for the Tests and one-dayers against Sri Lanka."

Dernbach clearly doesn't lack confidence, but with no shortage of pace bowlers in the England set-up a Test call is still likely to be some way off for him. His first job this summer will be leading the Surrey bowlers, in the absence of a resting Chris Tremlett, and it's a role he feels has already played a part in making him a more complete cricketer.

"Over the past couple of years I've taken that role on already without it really being mentioned so I've got the grounding and backing of everyone here," he said. "I'm not going to put any extra pressure on myself but of course I'm going to thrive with that, I like leading the team and being the man at the front."

However, his statistics make for curious reading. In one-day cricket his economy rate is above a run-a-ball (and in Twenty20 above nine-an-over) but a strike rate of 25.8 balls per wicket shows the priceless ability to make inroads. Dernbach isn't a traditional line-and-length merchant and his slower ball, bowled out of the back of the hand, has already filled a few column inches.

"It took two or three years to perfect it, it's a slower ball that comes out the back of the hand, but it's all well and good having that but then you have to develop it further. On a yearly basis I try and add bits and tweak it." However, he now expects batsmen to know far more about him. "Once people see it once they starting looking for it and I've a feeling they may be waiting for it this season," he said. "You have to constantly develop as a bowler."

That development has been swift over the last 12 months. More of it this season and that decision to leave the rugby ball aside could be looking very wise indeed.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo