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June 18, 2014
Sri Lanka would be happy with 0-0
Friday will be a special day in the Plunkett household. Not only will Liam Plunkett play a Test on his new home ground of Headingley, but he will be watched by his father.
For both men, it was a day they thought would never come.
It is more than seven years since Plunkett last played a Test at Headingley. Since then, he has moved counties and rebuilt a game that had fallen apart so completely that he could barely be trusted to land the ball on the cut strip at times. From taking the new ball for England, he suddenly found himself playing second XI cricket for Durham.
More pertinently, his father, Alan, has been seriously ill. Having already had a liver transplant, he also required a kidney transplant after being diagnosed with a hereditary condition called polycystic kidney disease. From 7am until 1pm, three days a week, he was forced to undergo dialysis.
When it became clear that a kidney transplant was the only option left to Alan, Liam immediately offered to donate one of his own kidneys. Tests showed that other family members had the same condition and were unsuitable donors.
But Alan declined the offer fearing that it would damage the cricketing prospects of his then 21-year-old son.
"He's good now," Plunkett said. "I offered him my kidney a while back and he's had a transplant now so he's healthy, but you'd do that at the drop of a hat for your old man wouldn't you?
"He didn't take one, because I was young and he wanted me to play cricket for as long as I could. He wanted me to play for England.
"He was on dialysis for quite a few years. It's just tedious, and ties up your life. You can't really go away with your family. It's Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 7am till one o'clock. But, he's never complains; that's the thing with my dad.
"He said to me on the phone the other day 'I honestly thought you probably wouldn't play for England again. You've proved me wrong, and I'm over the moon for you.'
"But he lives down the road from here, so I'll be disappointed if he didn't pop in to the Test."
Almost as important to the development of Liam Plunkett has been the input of Jason Gillespie. The former Australian fast bowler has shown huge belief in Plunkett, coaxing him from Durham and nurturing him at Yorkshire.
"I was in Durham seconds before I came here," Plunkett said. "I didn't complain; I like playing, and I batted a lot more playing for Durham seconds. But, I used to go back to the hotel and think 'where am I going with this? Why am I not bowling to my full potential; why am I not getting wickets?' I wanted to play more and I wasn't playing for Durham.
"I just still felt I had a lot more to give. I love playing cricket, and I didn't want to do anything else. I never thought about walking away from it, not for one minute.
"I just felt like I needed a change, because that can slip away. I've seen so many people who've played for England and then two years later they're not even in the game. I didn't want that to happen to me.
"It was over-coaching, thinking about the game too much myself. And I just didn't play enough cricket. It got to the point where, when I was going to sleep at night, I was thinking about bowling four wides first ball.
"If you get down on yourself, if you haven't played for a couple of months and then you play you and bowl a few wides, when you're younger you think it's the end of the world.
"Then, when you come to bowl again, you're a bit afraid to bowl.
"Different coaches told me different things and when you're a youngster you're like a sponge and take a lot of things in. I think you learn when you're older to filter stuff in and out. If it's good advice you can keep it and take it with you but if it's not you can say no thanks. I think I've learned to do that a bit better and just back myself.
"Back then I didn't back myself and just got by on a bit of talent. I would get my wickets and not think anything about it but now I have learned how I do stuff.
"When I came to Yorkshire, Jason Gillespie just told me to run it and bowl quick. And when I did that I backed myself, bowled in my good areas and started picking up wickets. So I am thankful. I made mistakes but I'm back here now and hopefully I've got a few years left.
"Gillespie said 'just don't think about it.' Actually that may also have come from Geoff Boycott. I met him when I first signed and he just said 'don't think, just bowl' and walked off. That's all he said to me and I haven't spoken to him since but it makes sense now to be honest.
"I do best when I don't think too much about it. It's like when you speak to a bowler. You ask what they think about when they bowl well and you just have to think about getting him out. It went worse for me when I started thinking about it too much. Dizzy gave me clarity. Once I got that I think I excelled."
Now aged 29, Plunkett's dream of playing 100 Tests may have gone. But, if he can help England regain the Ashes and enjoy a couple of years of success, it might just make the years of dissatisfaction and the sacrifice of his father seem worthwhile.
Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England. Visit investec.co.uk/cricket
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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