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Feature

George Garton set for another wild ride with RCB in rollercoaster career

From being called up for the Ashes to freak injuries and an inaugural Hundred title, he has had an up-and-down career that may truly take off at the IPL this year

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
29-Sep-2021
George Garton struck with the new ball  •  PA Images/Getty

George Garton struck with the new ball  •  PA Images/Getty

An out-of-nowhere Test call-up at the age of 20 for the 2017-18 Ashes. A freak injury at the Los Angeles Airport in 2018 while picking up a suitcase to rush for a connecting flight. An ODI call-up in the summer of 2021 but still no England cap. A Hundred trophy for Southern Brave in its inaugural edition. And now a prospective IPL debut for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
If there was a rollercoaster to be opened in Sussex any time soon, it could be named after their 24-year-old bowling allrounder George Garton.
Garton is a left-arm quick who could possibly slot into the No. 7 position for Royal Challengers. It's a batting position they did not need in the first leg of the 2021 IPL and a bowling spot they would want to get all four overs out of, especially in the absence of Washington Sundar and Daniel Sams. As AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell and are going to be two obvious overseas picks, Garton will have to fight for a spot with a proven name in Kyle Jamieson, but will bring that X-factor of a left-arm quick that the franchise has lacked for a while.
Like Sams, Garton can bowl in the powerplay, something he did with aplomb in the Hundred recently with a dot-ball percentage of over 54 (minimum 30 balls), only behind Adam Milne's 62%, and he can even add some value with the bat down the order.
In the Hundred Eliminator against Trent Rockets, for example, Garton sent back the hard-hitting top order of Dawid Malan, Alex Hales and D'Arcy Short single-handedly to take home the Player-of-the-Match award. Malan was undone by extra bounce which Garton's height and unique action extract, Hales was deceived by a slow cutter, and Short spliced a catch to midwicket, also possibly because of bounce.
The night before the IPL resumed this month, Garton delivered in yet another knockout match, but in a lost cause for Sussex against Kent with a first spell of 2 for 12 from three overs by dismissing Zak Crawley (off a slower ball again) and Joe Denly. He later smashed a 23-ball 41 with some big swings, sweeps and reverse sweeps to hammer four fours and three sixes.
Garton's knack for removing the big fish began well before the Hundred though. In April this year, he dismissed Joe Root with a late inswinger in a county match and a format the batter is unmatchable in many ways around the world. Just a week before that, Garton scored a career-best 97 against Glamorgan to further add to his batting credentials. And against Essex in last year's Bob Willis Trophy, his maiden first-class five-for - in a total of nine wickets in the match - included the scalps of Alastair Cook and Dan Lawrence, his Under-19 team-mate from the 2016 World Cup in Bangladesh.
With the wickets of a former and current England captain in the bag, it's somewhat fitting that he has landed himself a contract with a team led by India captain Virat Kohli, thanks to a call team director and acting coach Mike Hesson made at the back-end of the Hundred. Some of Garton's intense celebrations - a leap with a clenched fist in his follow through - are already a perfect match for the on-field gesticulations a forthright and passionate character like Kohli believes in.
"I'm a very competitive person myself, being upfront and honest. And that seems exactly like how he is," Garton said of Kohli before leaving the UK for the IPL. "He's one of the icons of the game worldwide, so it'll be brilliant to share a dressing room with him. People like him and AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell, Dan Christian, who is a proven T20 player all around the world…It's certainly a star-studded team who I'm looking forward to tapping into a bit of knowledge when I can and just being around them."
What makes Garton stand out, apart from the value he will add as a sought-after left-arm quick, is his repertoire and the adaptability to mould his skills for the five formats he has played. Yes, five: the Hundred and T10 to add to the usual three. Since he was fast-tracked into the Ashes set-up nearly four years ago via the Lions route, Garton has excelled with the white ball too. He was the leading wicket-taker in the 2019 Abu Dhabi T10 and more recently joint-seventh in the Hundred with 10 wickets.
Bowling around the 135kmh-mark, Garton is a smash-the-deck-hard kind of bowler with his back-breaking action, releasing the ball like a vertical slingshot that gets him extra bounce. His slower delivery can dip below 120kmh and the offcutter moving away from right-hand batters makes the angle tougher to tackle. If he gets a good run with Royal Challengers, Garton's skillsets could come in handy the way James Pattinson's did last year for Mumbai Indians on the same UAE surfaces - tie up the oppositions with pace and bounce from hard lengths in the powerplay and slip in some cutters in the middle overs.
"I think there's a lot more to bowling than just trying to bowl fast and I think especially with the white ball, I guess all cricket is now the faster you bowl, the faster you go to the boundary if you don't put it in the right place," Garton said. "It's certainly learning more about my skills, being more accurate and you just have to look at someone like Jimmy [Anderson] who, at the age of 39 is, probably as skilful as he ever has been and that's probably why he's taking more wickets than he has at a better average. So there's certainly more to bowling than just raw pace but it's nice to be able to fall back on that for sure, and go, 'ok, well, I might be struggling a little bit today with my skills so just ramp it up a bit and put some pressure on the batters that way'."
Developing his array of skills and maturing with his mentality is something Garton worked on since almost getting a taste of international cricket in 2017, when he couldn't convert a trial with Rajasthan Royals before the 2020 IPL into a contract.
"I think I've developed massively, both on and off the pitch," Garton said remembering his Ashes call-up. "I'm not just an angry fast bowler that runs in and tries to bowls fast. There's a few more strings to my bow - batting has come on a lot, my knowledge of my bowling, when to turn it on and when to bowl within myself, my skills around red-ball cricket as well. I feel like I'm developing nicely, I'm still got a long way to go but definitely if I look back to the bowler I was or the cricketer I was three years ago, there's been big developments."
In these years, Garton has had to cope with the sudden pressures of being fast-tracked into the Lions and England's international set-up, but sometimes not even finding a place in the Sussex XI which already had Jofra Archer, Ollie Robinson, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills and Reece Topley in the ranks. Whether getting game time or not, Garton also tapped into his team-mates' wealth of experience, especially taking death-bowling tips and tricks from Jordan and Mills.
"Off CJ it's just staying calm and collected and really picking your moments and try and take wickets but also picking your moments to try and take a medicine and go for a single," Garton says of his conversations with Jordan. "CJ is brilliant, especially in the death overs, very experienced. Millsy has got the best record I know of bowling in the death as well. So they're two pretty good people to tap into for the death. It means I don't bowl too much at death for Sussex but definitely in the nets I tap into them as much as possible. I've learnt a lot from those two and Jof as well, Ollie in the powerplay so we're very lucky to have such a good bowling unit to tap into."
More death-overs experience in Garton is something Royal Challengers might have valued, but being in red-hot form in recent years and the ability to think on his feet is what his IPL team bought him for.
"Recently I've been thrown the ball in the powerplay a lot and I think wickets in the powerplay is the biggest thing," Garton says. "My mindset in the powerplay is to be as aggressive as possible, try and take wickets because that really sets the game up in your team. If I'm coming in the middle and towards the death then you have to assess, are there two set batsmen, is there one in and one not? Can I get that bloke off strike and then looking at the opportunity to take wickets as well? I think shorter-format cricket, the more wickets you take the better off you are but you also have to sometimes concede and take your medicine and try and be smart as well."
This, being a gun fielder, and a handy batter down the order to become a "genuine allrounder" has drawn Garton a lot of praise from several coaches he has played under. A "real gem," Sussex bowling coach Jon Lewis called him. "Great package," said Mahela Jayawardene for Brave in the Hundred.
"He is one of several players that we see as pillars of our side in the years to come," Sussex's T20 head coach James Kirtley said recently. "He adds great balance to any side and is one of the best fielders in the world."
Garton says he is in a "really good space physically and mentally" before the IPL, which, in some ways, is like his third coming even before his career has taken off on the big stage. He may not have an England cap yet but a Royal Challengers and IPL debut could do justice to the hype that has been built around him.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo