England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's

Revitalised Plunkett faces acid test

Having slipped off the rails, Liam Plunkett found the simple philosophy he needed at Yorkshire and is now set for a menacing role in England's attack

David Hopps

June 11, 2014

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Liam Plunkett celebrates a wicket against his former employers, Durham v Yorkshire, County Championship, Division One, Chester-le-Street, 1st day, April 24, 2013
Liam Plunkett has been rejuvenated at Yorkshire © Getty Images
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Yorkshire have handed a rejuvenated Liam Plunkett to England with a heartfelt message. Please keep it simple. He is the fastest bowler in England this season: let him show it. He needs to attack: let him do that, too. And please, no messing with his technique or his mind.

The days when England bowling coaches could barely look at a quick bowler without wanting to dismantle an action have long gone. David Saker, the current incumbent, prefers to concentrate on tactical approaches rather than intricate analysis of actions - and his problems trying to solve the quandary of Steven Finn in Australia should only have hardened him in that view.

That conservative approach should leave Yorkshire and Plunkett confident that England will leave well alone. Their appeal has common sense behind it. Memories of Plunkett at the lowest point of his career are of a bowler beset by technical doubts, anxiously re-enacting his delivery position as he walked back to his mark: wrist cocked, arm pushed through, thoughts troubled. It virtually forced him into premature retirement.

As his career went off the rails, so too did his personal life as he suffered two convictions for drink driving - the second of which, reduced to 30 months on appeal - will leave him off the road until early next year.

Plunkett's gratitude to the faith shown by Yorkshire's caches runs deep. Martyn Moxon, who had seen his potential close hand when director of cricket at Durham, brought him to Yorkshire when the message from some Durham coaches, Alan Walker foremost among them, was that his best days were behind him. Jason Gillespie, a former Australia fast bowler, then arrived at Headingley and the uncluttered philosophy that Plunkett needed was established.

"The coaching staff have given me a simple clear vision, which is to run in and bowl fast," Plunkett told Yorkshire's website after learning of his selection while returning from a golf day for Tim Bresnan's benefit year.

"I'm not over complicating things. I'm just concentrating on generating as much pace as possible and being as aggressive as I can be in the middle. It is working and is really benefiting my game. I hope that I can reproduce that for England this summer.

"I have to thank the coaches and the players at Yorkshire for having faith in me as a cricketer. Before joining Yorkshire, I was going nowhere and coming to Headingley gave me a new lease of life. I have benefited from a change of scenery and from a coaching team that has put faith in my ability. They gave me the confidence to believe in my ability and to go out and perform. I owe it to them for this return to the Test team."

Plunkett is the England bowler expected to rough up Sri Lanka, to bowl at 90mph and make things happen. He will leak runs, just as Finn did, and England's seeming willingness to accept that fact suggests a slight shift of emphasis from the attritional seam bowling championed under the previous coach, Andy Flower. There again, Flower had Graeme Swann as an attacking force.

Making things happen at Lord's is not always easy. Plunkett has painful personal experience of that. Three of the nine Tests of his youth have been at Lord's and brought him five wickets at 82 runs each. Eight years ago, Sri Lanka saved a draw by scoring 537 for 9 in their fourth innings with the ninth-wicket pair Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulusekara putting on a century stand.

 
 
The endless weights sessions that used to take his mind away from his problems, now supply the strength that has made him the fastest bowler in England.
 

Seven years on from his last Test, Plunkett - and the England selectors - will draw sustenance from his hostile bowling at Lord's in Yorkshire's Championship match against Middlesex. As he cranked it up beyond 90mph, it was then that England's enthusiasm for recalling him took shape. Nothing has been easy for Plunkett at Lord's though: Middlesex made their highest successful run chase in the fourth innings - 472 for 3 with Chris Rogers striking a double hundred and Plunkett unrewarded as, oddly, he bowled only bowling 13 of the 101 overs. He says he likes Lord's, but Lord's has not often returned the favour.

Only two years have passed since Plunkett was relegated to Durham's 2nd XI. Control had deserted him and so had his pace. But the decline had set in much earlier. David Graveney, the former chairman of selectors, was a great fan and on one occasion late in his term of office looked around the Chester-le-Street press box for support for his conviction that Plunkett remained an unfulfilled talent. The next ball flew miles down the leg side for four wides. Graveney left the box to light-hearted derision.

"We thought Liam still had something to offer otherwise we wouldn't have signed him," Moxon said. "But his re-emergence has been quicker than anyone would have expected. It just shows that when someone with natural ability is confident and relaxed in his game, that is when you get the best out of them. It's a lesson for everyone that they try to create that state of mind.

"Our message to Liam from day one has been to run in and bowl fast. Once he starts thinking about technique and line and length he puts it there. And once he just puts it there he loses pace and rhythm and flow. There are many bowlers whose actions might not be technically perfect but who succeed because they feel strong and natural.

"That spell at Lord's attracted a lot of attention, but he has maintained that hostility all summer. It was no flash in the pan. He did well last year, but this year he has really unsettled batsmen."

The endless gymnasium weights sessions that during his lowest periods seemed to bring him comfort, to take his mind away from his problems, now have a purpose, supplying the strength that this season has made him the fastest bowler in England.

"Liam will benefit from the encouragement of being able to run in, bowl fast and hit the track hard and be really positive with the bat in hand as well," Gillespie told The Daily Telegraph. "I've told Liam he's not going to get it right and land the ball on a shoebox every time you bowl. You're going to have an off one and batters are allowed to play good shots and they're allowed to score runs - that's what the game is all about.

"I think the key if Liam plays is how he's used. If he's used as a line-and-length bowler who doesn't go for too many runs then you're not going to get the best out of him. If they tell him to run in, bowl fast and back him 100 per cent then that's the best way to go."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Madpashcrickers on (June 13, 2014, 8:25 GMT)

"Yorkshire have handed a rejuvenated Liam Plunkett to England with a heartfelt message ... please, no messing with his technique or his mind." That's correct, but more precisely they will be saying please, under any circumstances, please don't do to Liam Plunkett what you did to Steve Finn.

"David Saker, the current incumbent, prefers to concentrate on tactical approaches rather than intricate analysis of actions ... " - that's not correct, it's well documented that Saker tried to make Finn bowl off a shortened run up, with disastrous results. It's been well documented by George Dobell that England bowling coaching has a negative effect on genuinely fast bowlers which becomes worse the longer they are with England. Hence newcomers such as Stokes and Jordan make an immediate impact as they are untainted by meddling at the start of their careers.

Boycott put it trenchantly - "there are too many people in the England set up who justify their existence by tinkering with bowlers actions."

Posted by Spartacus_Aardvark on (June 12, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

Liam came back to Durham on a couple of occasions damaged by his time with England. There is a lot of sense in this article... just let him be himself and don't try to mess with his action (again). I'm not sure whether Pudsey will be a top, top test match bowler, but having watched him a lot at Durham during his ups and downs I can see why he is being given another crack. It helps that he can bat a bit too and he is a tremendous fielder... one of the best on the county circuit.

Posted by Roshan_P on (June 12, 2014, 20:03 GMT)

Good for Liam. He can bat well, field well, bowl well. I know he will be a great asset to the team if he bowls like he does for Yorkshire. I hope Finn can undergo a similar transformation.

Posted by lebigfella on (June 12, 2014, 18:13 GMT)

I have only just realised that Liam Ka-Plunkett is in the team... one of the strangest and out of the blue selections in... wait a minute, this is England. He hasn't done too much recently to warrant even the faintest consideration. Mmm, not entirely sure ... his overall first class averages is pretty mediocre… we will see Big shame about the token Aussie but great work by Root and Matt Prior... back in nick it seems... Hopefully the start of a great summer for all... and I seriously hope Mr Plunkett pays the selectors back for their audacious choice Good luck Lads

Posted by Jaffa79 on (June 12, 2014, 16:47 GMT)

I wasn't overly impressed with Plunkett when he played 7 or so years ago but I think he might turn out to be one of those picked too young. We all cry out for (me included) youngsters to be given a go but it must be at the right time. There are plenty of examples for each country of people getting a Test before they were ready and it setting back their development.

Posted by ArthursAshes on (June 12, 2014, 7:54 GMT)

It's a strange change in direction for England and Plunkett. All this talk about just going out and bowling fast is nonsense, might work at county level but some control is needed at Test level.

Mitchell Johnson could always bowl fast, but 3-4 years ago he was all over the shop and Test batsman can feed off that. Last winter he found accuracy to go with his pace and was unplayable. Devon Malcolm was up there in pace, but the radar was mostly off. When he got it right he could be as good as any quick out there, but more often than not he was loose.

So what about Finn? Often accused of bowling too many 4 balls, but has pace and takes wickets. Like others seemed to fall apart in Australia but from over coaching and now they don't want to bring him back too soon despite a good start this year. If occasional 4 balls are now ok why not Finn?

I hope Plunkett really is 90+ but with some control because Sri Lanka and India won't mind if he's just the former and sprays it around.

Posted by TripleCenturian on (June 12, 2014, 7:52 GMT)

Look guys, he is the fastest bowler in England at the moment and if you dont want him then we will happily have him back at Yorkshire in our push for the title.

Different player to when he last played 7 years ago, mainly due to him learning from mistakes and grabbing a second chance in a new environment.

If seam bowlers can't learn the art from Gillespie then they may as well pack up and go home.

Good luck Liam

Posted by   on (June 12, 2014, 7:16 GMT)

how fast is he actually bowling....?? i remember he was hitting 91 mph mark 3 years ago in australia how fast is he now??

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (June 11, 2014, 23:48 GMT)

Sometimes players in their second innings turn out better than the first.....that said hope all the hype and hoopla about bowling at 90 kmph+ and shaking up the opposition does not get to him and he does what comes natural to him. I still feel Englands attack is superior to SL's but Sl's batting should be better than Englands inexperienced batting line up.....should be a shootout between eng's bowling and sl's batting.....hoping for a good test match where only the cricketing skill and not the slegding, grudges, malice are on display:)

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (June 11, 2014, 21:17 GMT)

I haven't been following Plunkett in County Cricket at all, but in the Lions squad I remember thinking Plunkett still lacked penetration when bowling, with not even a great economy or anything to compensate. If anything, it was his batting that showed significant improvement. He might do O.K. this series, and he might not... My gut feeling is that he's still not a good enough bowler to occupy a seamer's slot in tests, but hope I'm wrong.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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