April 9, 2014

'I'll head in all guns blazing'

A mere three years after Tymal Mills was a stand-in for his mate's midweek village side, the left-armer from Essex is knocking on the doors of the national selectors

Type Tymal Mills into YouTube and one of the top videos is entitled "Future Stars of Cricket". Mills doesn't feature in the video but one of the world's most intricate search facilities feels they belong together. The ECB seems to think likewise - his has been a rapid ascent.

At 17, a mere three years after first playing cricket as a stand-in for his mate's midweek village side, Mills was selected for the ECB Elite Player Development XI against Sri Lanka Under-19s at Loughborough and took 3 for 42 in the first innings. A marker was laid and a year later Mills was picked for the same XI to play at Old Trafford - also against Sri Lanka, (a theme develops). At least this time he could drive himself to the ground.

"I'd just passed my driving test that week," Mills says, happy to report he only picked up five minors. "My mum wasn't happy about me having to drive all the way up to Manchester after only being on the road for a week or so. But it came out of the blue. David Graveney called me up and said could you be at Old Trafford next week to play a game.

"I'd hardly played at all before then, I think I'd played a couple of games for Essex, I was still playing a lot of second team cricket and turning out for Suffolk as and when, just playing as much as I could to try and improve. And then I got asked to go and play at Old Trafford which at the time was a really big deal for me."

Having only "messed around" with cricket in the park, Mills' first six deliveries in organised cricket for Tuddenham came as a surprise to everyone, including himself. He hit someone in the head and bowled "about five wides". It was enough to bring cricket into his life and steadily he found an adoration for the game.

"That first day, there were guys batting in just caps in a very village, friendly game on a Wednesday night, that's when I noticed that I was a bit quicker than what most people, including myself, would have thought. I just played socially on a Sunday, bowling loads of wides, no-balls, beamers, everything; in my trainers, I didn't have cricket spikes. I was just enjoying it, a few of my mates played for them so it was just a bit of a laugh really."

Tearaway Tymal was quickly too good for village cricket and very quickly he moved to Mildenhall and Saturday league cricket. It was the first in a rapid promotion through the cricket pyramid that now sees Mills considered in the top ten bowlers in England having been selected for England Lions' tour of Sri Lanka.

There was even some clamour to have 21-year-old Mills thrown into a Test debut during the Ashes; his peppering of England's batsmen in the Perth nets seized upon as evidence that Mills could be used as a British Mitchell Johnson - but there was no call for any facial hair whatsoever.

"I still want to bowl quick whenever I bowl because that's my main weapon, my selling point, I never want to lose that"

It was hideously premature talk. He was back playing for Minor Counties and club cricket last summer during a difficult middle period of the season where Essex appearances were thin on the ground - but the odds against Mills fulfilling the YouTube prophecy are shortening.

How England would love their own terrorising 90mph left-armer; theirs would also be more graceful, Mills has a smoother approach to the crease and a more flowing natural action - and he rejects the idea of becoming an enforcer.

"I'd like to think I'm a better bowler," Mills says, but simply bowling as fast as possible earned him a first-class best 4 for 25 against Glamorgan in 2012. He recalls the spell: "I remember bowling a lot within myself, I was trying to do the right county cricket type thing. I had a good start to the season and was taking a few wickets and that spell in Cardiff, just trying to bowl as quick as I could paid off. But I did tail off and after that I realised that bowling quick isn't enough. You need to be able to back it up with consistency. In a perfect world I'd be swinging it on a length at 90mph but that isn't always going to be the way.

"When I do get it right, I think I've got decent skills, I can swing the ball and I can operate at a decent level. I still want to bowl quick whenever I bowl because that's my main weapon, my selling point, I never want to lose that."

It is indeed a rare commodity and a number of selectors have been instantly sold upon seeing Mills' pace. Bobby Flack at Suffolk sent him to John Childs at Essex. Mills was instantly offered a place on the academy and his life got a great deal busier. A first-class debut against Sri Lanka (them again!) wasn't far away.

Since then, it's been slightly stop-and-start. He has caught eyes everywhere he has been but too often for his liking those eyes have ended up flicking skywards as another spell of exciting pace has ended up fruitless and expensive. Too much of his time has been spent off the pitch. He sounds a little fed up.

"I've spent a lot of time not playing over the last few years and I've got to a stage in my career where I've got past this potential stage, I want an opportunity to deliver. I'm in a better place now. If I don't deliver then obviously that's on me and I'll have to go from there but I'm at a stage where I want to show I can perform how I think I can perform."

Mills should just need a bit of moulding. Chris Silverwood, Essex bowling coach, and ECB lead fast bowling coach Kevin Shine are the sculptors. He's malleable and open to new suggestions, but very little has changed since he first ran in for Tuddenham.

"My action is quite simple, there's not much going on. My run-up I've had to work with quite a bit, that's been a big thing for me, it's always been quite long and I think I'm stuck with it now. The tempo is the main thing so when I'm at the crease I'm balanced and the more balanced I am the more repeatable my action should be. I found a nice balance at the moment so I'm sticking with it."

English cricket has its fingers crossed for Mills' development. He is the type of bowler that very rarely appears. England Lions picked him immediately this winter but it seems to be tougher winning a place in the Essex side. His contract at Chelmsford expires at the end of the season.

"My first goal is just to be in the team. There's a lot of competition for places. This winter has come at a good time for me. I played some games in Australia which went nicely and I've been picked in Sri Lanka too. I'll head into Essex all guns blazing."

This article appears in the May issue of All Out Cricket magazine. Click here to see what's in the new season issue, available now in print or digital

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