Jon Lewis April 26, 2006

Never knowingly underbowled

Andrew Miller looks at Jon Lewis, Cricinfo's top performer of the week



Jon Lewis: the medium-pacer who sounds like a department store © Getty Images
It's not often these days that England's selectors play horses for courses, but at Centurion in December 2004, there was nearly a reversion to type. On a rainy high-veld afternoon that could easily have passed for Headingley in April, the Gloucestershire seamer, Jon Lewis, was seen shaking hands with his England team-mate, Simon Jones. It was a gesture that set the press-box tongues a-wagging - after just four days in the country, it seemed Lewis was on the verge of an unlikely Test debut.

As it happened, England delayed naming their team until conditions brightened up the following day and Jones was retained in the XI after all. But to judge by his performances in this English early-season, Lewis would have done himself and his country proud if he'd been let loose on the South African batsmen. If all seasons consisted of showery April days, he'd probably be one of the finest bowlers in the world.

As it is, he isn't half bad, as Marcus Trescothick among others can testify. Tresco's much-anticipated return to the crease ended in embarrassment at Bristol last week, when Lewis nailed him twice in a single day for a paltry total of 16 runs. A match tally of ten for 75 sealed victory by an innings and 7 runs, and gave Lewis the perfect start to his first full season as Gloucestershire's captain. Two days later, and he was at it again - this time with a lethal spell of 4 for 14 in 10 overs of the C&G Trophy, as Middlesex were gunned down for just 95.

A solid and archetypal English swing bowler, Lewis is a man who relishes hard labour and thrives on overs under his belt - "never knowingly under-bowled" as the predictable punchline goes. He bowled more than 1,000 over the course of the last two seasons - a tally that the frontline England seamers (and Duncan Fletcher) would baulk at, and had it not been for a stress fracture of the spine, sustained during England A's tour of the Caribbean in 1999-2000, Lewis might have been an England international long before last summer.

As it is, however, he'll never trade in the memories of his eventual England bow, on June 13 at that modern-day seamer's paradise, the Rose Bowl. In a giddy half-hour that set the nation's pulses racing, England reduced the mighty Australians to 31 for 7 in the inaugural Twenty20 international, with Lewis grabbing four wickets in 11 extraordinary balls. That performance didn't actually count as a full international cap, but he made swift amends in the NatWest Series three days later, exposing Bangladesh's weakness against the moving ball to grab three wickets in his first five overs at The Oval.

Lewis's fortunes faded soon afterwards as Australia exposed his lack of variety on the truest of surfaces. But give him a greentop, and he'll play merry hell.

He says
"When you have an injury as serious as I had, it opens your eyes as to what else you might do to earn a living. I worked out that I couldn't do much else than run in and bowl, so I got my head down and started working rather than just playing cricket." Lewis's back injury could have curtailed his career, but instead it focused his ambition and he resolved to return fitter and more professional.

They say
"Jon Lewis, the medium-pacer who sounds like a department store, will never forget the incredible evening when he brought Bruce Almighty to his knees on his England debut and gave the nation renewed hope of Ashes glory." Writing in The Mirror, Mike Walters sounds the bugle charge after England's Twenty20 victory at The Rose Bowl.

What you may not know
One of Lewis's quirkier superstitions is that he refuses to have his hair cut whenever he's in the wickets. It was a trait he learnt from Courtney Walsh during his Gloucester days, and during the NatWest Series last summer, his barnet began to resemble a King Charles spaniel. "He could look like Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen before the season is over," commented The Mirror.

What the future holds
In terms of international cricket, not a lot sadly. Lewis turns 31 in August and there are younger, pacier rivals in the pipeline, as evidenced by the selection of Chris Tremlett, Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett for England A's showdown with Sri Lanka next week. But as Gloucestershire's new captain, Lewis has quite enough to be getting on with this season - the county's double relegation and early exit from last year's C&G Trophy means that, in 2006, the only way is up.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo