George Dockrell prepares for second coming, this time as a batting allrounder
Dockrell is averaging 101.28 since Ireland's inter-provincial competition gained List A status in 2017
George Dockrell's Instagram bio reads: "If I were right-handed, I probably wouldn't have a job." There is some logic amid the self-deprecation: left-handers are hugely over-represented in international cricket compared to the wider population on account of their scarcity value and, in the case of left-arm fingerspinners like Dockrell, their ability to spin the ball away from right-hand batters.
It is a good line, but one he is on track to delete from his profile. While his bowling returns have tailed off, he has been a revelation with the bat. A No. 10 or 11 for the first five years of his international career, Dockrell has become the most consistent batter in Irish limited-overs cricket, winning a recall to the ODI squad to face Netherlands in three World Cup Super League fixtures this week as a batting allrounder. Since Ireland's inter-provincial competition gained List A status in 2017, he has scored 709 runs for Leinster Lightning in 17 innings while averaging 101.28.
"It's not something I would ever have realised was a possibility," he told ESPNcricinfo before leaving for Utrecht. "It feels absolutely fantastic, and like a real appreciation for the work I've put in. I was an opening batter for the Irish Under-13s and that was my first skill - through underage stuff, I'd have considered myself an allrounder. But once I made my debut, I didn't give it much focus for a few years.
"In my last couple of years playing county cricket at Somerset, it was really tough getting into the side and I realised that I needed to have a bit more about me in terms of my batting and my fielding.
"My bowling hasn't exactly kicked on the way I'd have liked from my early career, but I've been able to keep putting my hand up with the bat. I got a couple of ODI fifties against Afghanistan, and this season, with the restructuring as to how the squads are selected domestically [several of Leinster's top batters have moved to other provinces] that's allowed me to get up into one of those batting spots at No. 5."
Dockrell, Ireland's third-highest wicket-taker in ODIs, was the ICC's associate player of the year in 2012 and is perhaps best known for trapping Sachin Tendulkar lbw in the 2011 World Cup when just 18. But his performances with the ball have stagnated in recent years to the extent that he lost both his spot in the Ireland team and, at the end of last year, his central contract.
Having also been dropped for the tour to the UAE in January and then declining the opportunity to tour Bangladesh in the spring with the Wolves - which is the Ireland A side - due to concerns about travelling mid-pandemic, Dockrell has had a flying start to the season with four fifties and an unbeaten hundred in five Inter-Pro innings.
His form led Andy Balbirnie, Ireland's captain, to mention him in the same sentence as Steven Smith while commentating on a Wolves fixture earlier this month, and while Dockrell laughs off the comparison, he sees it as vindication on his investment.
"I'd be pretty happy with that [comparison]," he said. "Coming through at Somerset I used to live with Lewis Gregory for four or five years. He came in as a batter and is now a bowler, really, but you can see he's incredibly talented and has that foundation. There are lots of people who can make that transition.
"This is my 11th year as a professional and that has allowed me so much time working on my batting. I've been lucky that I've been involved for that long and that I've been able to keep chipping away - and that coaches have helped me even when I was batting at No. 9 or 10 and adding very little value. I guess it proves it's worth it down the line."
"I've done a lot of work on my batting with Pete Johnston and Nigel Jones at Leinster Lightning, but a huge part of it is the mental side of my game: being more prepared and being incredibly clear about what I want to do when I'm batting."Dockrell on improving his skills with the bat
Dockrell also attributes his form this season with the fact that he is now balancing cricket with work commitments, allowing him to throw his energy into the limited opportunities he has to train and play. While he is on a retainer contract with Cricket Ireland after losing his central contract at the end of last year, he has also been interning as a technology consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in the third year of his data science degree at Dublin City University.
"They've been fantastic in supporting me through it," Dockrell said. "In terms of timing, it wasn't the worst: there's obviously more of a focus on that now and a little less time on the cricket. That's maybe taken a bit of the weight away from my cricket and means that when I'm there, I'm fully enjoying it - and maybe a little bit more driven when I do get the opportunity to play.
"I've done a lot of work on my batting with Pete Johnston [the Wolves coach] and Nigel Jones [the Lightning coach] at Leinster Lightning, but a huge part of it is the mental side of my game: being more prepared and being incredibly clear about what I want to do when I'm batting. When you're working through the week and you know you have your one day off to play, you're absolutely going to make the most of that as best you can."
In the series against Netherlands, who are without several first-choice players due to county commitments, Dockrell is set to balance the side as a batting allrounder at No. 5, with both Curtis Campher and Gareth Delany ruled out through injury.
"Having that ability to turn the ball away from the right-handers is always useful," he said. "I'm still working away at my bowling and I quite enjoy the balance now of less pressure on it, and seeing it as something I can add to the team. I'd like to put my hand up for a batting spot, but I've never been fussy: I think I've batted every position from No. 6-11 for Ireland and if there's an opportunity to go a little bit higher, I'd be delighted."
And as for his Instagram bio? "I might have to delete that if things go well this year. That'd be a lovely place to get to. Maybe this time next year I can get rid of it."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98