Studious Kerrigan works on his art
If Simon Kerrigan does fulfil the predictions of many good judges by one day playing Test matches for England, the media will do well to make a headline out of anything other than his cricket. Then again, they may not need to.
The quietly-dedicated slow left-armer, Kerrigan only made his Championship debut for Lancashire in 2010, but his performances since then have grabbed the headlines in a manner only international spinners tend to manage. What is more, perhaps, they have attracted high praise from shrewd judges. Last week Kerrigan claimed the 100th wicket of his first-class career; this week or next, he may make his four-day England Lions debut in an unofficial Test against Australia A. He is in the 13-man squad for the two-match series and despite the presence of fellow twirlers Samit Patel and James Tredwell, it would seem a little odd if he didn't get his chance either at Old Trafford or Edgbaston.
Yet while Kerrigan, 23, admits he is delighted to be in the Lions squad, it is entirely consonant with his approach to his cricket that he regards this week's match on his home ground as "just another game". To do anything else would be to risk losing the settled rhythm and calm approach that have served him so well in his brief but burgeoning career. He is already a technician, well versed in arts like drift, drop and loop which are essential items in a top-class spin bowler's tool-kit. While he concedes that it must be "very special" to make a Test debut in front of a full house at Lord's, as his Lions colleague Jonny Bairstow did earlier this summer, he knows that such experiences will only come about if he remains focused on his skills.
"I need to look short-term," he insisted. "It doesn't work for me to start thinking I need to do this or that today. If you go out thinking you have to impress the selectors you end up getting cluttered in your head. If I can perform in every game then, before I know it, things like being selected for an England Lions squad can happen for me."
And when they do happen, Kerrigan makes good use of the detailed preparation offered to England cricketers. For example, he has already studied a pen-drive of the eight wickets Ian Blackwell took against Australia A in Durham's victory over the tourists last week. But the ability to learn from his own and others' experiences is only one of the things which have impressed coaches like Lancashire's Peter Moores, who believes that Kerrigan has the qualities to cope with Test cricket.
"Simon's got an attacking mindset, he makes good decisions, he spins the ball hard, he's got a quick bowling arm, he gets the right shape on the ball and he gets good players out," said Moores. "His job is to become consistent and skilful and calm enough under pressure to deliver when it counts. If he does, he'll get his chance in international cricket. When it'll come I don't know, but he's certainly got the talent and the necessary qualities."
Moores is not alone in his assessment of the spinner. The ECB's national lead spin bowling coach Peter Such began working with Kerrigan three seasons ago and he too has been impressed with a cricketer who may not reach his peak for some years.
"Simon's got a very good attitude to the game, he works hard and he certainly puts a shift in whether he's practising or playing," said Such "Other attractive qualities about his cricket are that he has a strong mind and knows his game. He has clear ideas and plans, and those plans are based around his strengths. He's a very talented young spin bowler."
Yet for all that Kerrigan has taken 38 County Championship wickets this year, there have been days when he has been taken apart. The most notable of these was at Guildford when he encountered what might be seen as the spin bowler's perfect storm: a slow, flat wicket, a quick outfield, shortish boundaries - and Kevin Pietersen in his most destructive pomp. On that extraordinary Friday afternoon Pietersen made 234 not out off 190 balls and seven of his eight sixes were struck off Kerrigan's bowling. The slow left-armer's figures were 23-0-152-1.
Kerrigan's response to that onslaught impressed his coach. "Simon didn't back off the challenge," said Moores "He still wanted to bowl at KP, he still wanted to set attacking fields and that's part of his quality as a cricketer."
And on the following morning when it was clear that the final day of the game was to be lost to the weather, Kerrigan sought advice from a spinners' symposium of Mushtaq Ahmed, Murali Kartik and Ian Salisbury, all of whom offered advice as to how to deal with a world-class batsman on the rampage.
"One thing they said was give Pietersen a single and bowl at the other batsman, but that's easier said than done when he's hitting a four every other ball," observed Kerrigan. "They also told me to keep putting the ball in the right area and not worry about anything else. Even if a batsman does keep hitting you for six, he'll eventually make a mistake.
"I just had to keep going and going," he added "The only time you have been defeated as a bowler is if you have given in mentally and I felt like I didn't do that. I kept plugging away and I learnt a lot from it. If it happens again I will be more ready for it. In some ways it is good to know that I still have a long way to go to be where I want to be. But it was still nice to see Pietersen get that 149 at Headingley because at least that showed that it's not just me he's does it to."