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Sam Curran: 'I look back on the 2018 India series thinking, yes I can perform at this level'

The England allrounder talks about facing India again, and what he has learnt during his time with the Chennai Super Kings

Rookie of the year: Sam Curran averaged 39 with the bat and 23 with the ball against India in his first summer of Test cricket  •  Philip Brown/Getty Images

Rookie of the year: Sam Curran averaged 39 with the bat and 23 with the ball against India in his first summer of Test cricket  •  Philip Brown/Getty Images

It's three years since you made your international debut, which was followed by winning Man of the Series for the Tests against India. Is that something you reflect on often?
I do. I've always said that summer was pretty amazing. Making my debut against Pakistan at Headingley probably came out of nowhere, but I managed to get through that and get picked for that first game [against India] at Edgbaston. It's three years, but probably doesn't feel that long ago. With the Indian side coming over, naturally I'll have that at the back of my mind. Thinking how that series went gives me great confidence going into Trent Bridge. I haven't played much Test cricket in the last six months, so it's exciting for me to hopefully try and replicate 2018. India are a fantastic side, so I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic series.
You had quite an amazing impact - five wickets and a vital half-century at Edgbaston, top scorer at the Ageas Bowl, played a part in all four wins. Everything seemed to click for you.
As a player, you naturally have periods where you're in form and you've got to ride those good waves. I always remember the exciting parts of that series. Luckily for me, it went well with bat and ball and we managed to win 4-1. Looking back on it, it gives you great confidence when you perform against that type of opposition. For me, there's no better feeling. I always look back on that, thinking, yes, I can perform at this level. Naturally, anything that goes well gives you confidence, so it's definitely been good and probably helped my game across all formats. It gives you belief that you can perform against high-quality players.
Did you actually surprise yourself with how well you performed?
I wouldn't say surprise yourself - you probably do better than you think [you would]. It probably helped me that I got called up due to Stokesy [Ben Stokes] getting injured [against Pakistan]. When you don't have to actually think about what's ahead of you, you go in with an open mind and perform like you're in a county game. But when I'm in a tough place, I probably look back on series like that and that's what gives you confidence.
What was your standout memory of the series?
That Edgbaston Test was my favourite, the way we won that game on the last day, last session, where it could have gone either way. I think we needed four-five wickets. And yeah, the way I batted, the way I bowled. The whole atmosphere at that stadium - it was my first experience of Edgbaston, so great memories.
You've not played a Test since Sri Lanka in January. What is your ideal preparation like? Do you like to keep it simple, or do analysis on who you'll be coming up against?
I wouldn't say I'm a very technical person. I don't do too much analysis or overthinking. I'm quite an in-the-moment type of person, just reacting to situations. That's what I feel is best, because if I'm overthinking things, I don't think that's a good place to be.
Kumar Sangakkara, who was a team-mate of yours at Surrey, said you had very good "situational awareness". Do you think you have a natural sense for the game?
I always feel I perform my best when I'm in the moment. I'm quite an instinctive player when it comes to deciding things. Don't really watch too much in terms of analysis, what the bowlers do, what the batters do. I go on my gut feel quite a lot. I think a lot of players do that. There are players who love looking back on things, but I'm pretty easy in terms of moving on. More that I don't want to overthink my game, because for me personally, that's not helpful.
You started so young - making your debut for Surrey at 17, England at 19 - but you seem to know what works for you.
The next couple of years, I may fall into wanting to do different things, but for now I just love the responsibility of playing for England, trying to perform in front of the amazing support. I never really get too down, because cricket's a sport where you get so many ups and downs. But the pride of walking out for England in a Test match - there's no better feeling.
Your exploits against India also helped win you an IPL contract when you were picked up by Kings XI Punjab in the 2018 auction. You must look back on it as a life-changing summer?
That's how it worked out. I played that India series and then went to the IPL, and things progressed quite quickly. I've just enjoyed the journey so far. I've learned a lot of things. I guess I was pretty new to the scene then, but I feel like now I've played quite a bit in all formats, where you learn things, you improve on things, you find out things - certainly different players at the IPL, where you can pick their brains, especially the foreign players and the local Indian players. That's benefited my game quite a bit.
Moving to Chennai Super Kings for 2020, you had an immediate impact - albeit the team didn't have a great season.
I think it's a tournament where I got very lucky. I got thrown into it quite young, moved from Kings XI to Chennai, which worked out pretty well in terms of coming to a team where you had Stephen Fleming as coach, MS Dhoni as captain, some big foreign players. It's just an environment where you eat and sleep cricket. You're always around the guys and you can ask questions, see how guys train, learn new tricks. It's an environment where you come across guys you never see in day-to-day life. It's been fantastic for me. It gives you great confidence when you perform. At the IPL there's no weak team, so whenever you play, you're under so much pressure. You just go out there and do what you do and if it goes badly, you learn from it. If it goes well, you take confidence. It's a great tournament for me. I've loved every minute of it.
Dhoni called you a "complete cricketer" during that IPL out in the UAE, where you were used in a variety of roles and even opened the batting. That must have felt pretty good?
A player like Dhoni, he's got such a big presence in the game. He's achieved so many amazing things. Naturally you get confidence from that. There's nothing better for me as a younger player to get put in those scenarios. It wasn't the best season for the team but you learn so much and obviously this season when the IPL was going ahead [in India], we were second on the table. It's a great franchise and hopefully I can contribute more in the coming years.
In Mumbai earlier this year, with Andre Russell on the rampage for Kolkata Knight Riders, you came on and bowled him around his legs as he attempted to leave.
It was just [one of] those moments when you come across players like that, where it's you or him in the moment. He's one of the most powerful hitters and you bowl to him: you execute and you get him out. If you don't, you're going into the stands. It really tests your game and that's why I really do feel like I've benefited from being around such high-quality players and hopefully I bring that form into playing for England. I'd love to be part of a World Cup, so fingers crossed I can make the squad.
Your flexibility is clearly an asset. Is that something you think can help your case with England?
You've seen how good the England white-ball sides are. Any time you get picked in the XI, you're very proud and honoured to be playing, because it's a phenomenal squad and whoever gets picked, you know you've got to keep performing because there's so much depth. You saw that with the Pakistan series, where guys who hadn't really been playing put on such a good performance, so it's a great place to be.
Will there be some messages flying around with the CSK guys ahead of the India Tests? Guys like Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur go from being team-mates to the opposition.
There are a couple of guys I got friendly with at the IPL, but come the series, they'll obviously be enemies. They are really nice guys that I played with at Chennai and there's a few I look forward to seeing.
Going back to into Test cricket - this will actually be the fourth format you've played in the last month or so, after playing the opening game of the men's Hundred, as well as ODIs and T20Is with England. Do you find it hard to make the switch?
I haven't played a red-ball game for a while, so I feel pretty fresh. Got away from the game for a bit in terms of getting a rest. The basics stay pretty similar. The patience element comes into it a bit more [in Tests], but I don't change too much. You've got to be prepared for bowling a lot more overs, batting a longer period of time. Fielding's a longer situation. The group had a training day the other day at Loughborough, where we went through some nice bowling spells, getting those overs back in the body.
What are you aiming to do once you get to the top of your mark in a Test?
I'm pretty open going into the game. Like I said, I don't analyse too many players. I try and stick to my strengths and go out there with a clear mind. If I do play, it will be pretty stock standard how I go about trying to contribute - take a few wickets, score a few runs. Really excited - five Tests against India in England with the crowds back. I love playing in front of the fans. It gives you that extra adrenaline and rush to keep performing.
For all your success with England so far, your first five-for only came last month, in the second ODI against Sri Lanka at The Oval. The way you celebrated suggested it was quite a significant moment for you?
That was really special that day - home ground at The Oval, played there so many years. I think it was just relief. It was my first five-for for England. Such an amazing feeling, one of those moments you cherish. You dream of scoring hundreds, taking five-fors, winning games. To do it on your home ground, with family there, it was very special.
You also made 95 not out in an ODI against India in March, nearly getting England over the line chasing 330. Was that just a case of breaking it down ball by ball in your head or feeling it in the moment?
A bit of both. You try and read the situation, and we got very close. But you take confidence from doing well. I'm that type of player. Hopefully, the next couple of weeks and months will be good for myself and the team.
You've made a couple of 90s in first-class cricket for Surrey as well. Presumably you're keen to convert one?
Yeah, of course. I don't think about those things too much. It's in your head, but I don't want to look too far ahead. Fingers crossed it comes soon.
What do you make of the theory that you might one day end up as more of a batting allrounder?
Yeah, I love contributing. I look up to someone like Stokesy, who scores big runs and takes loads of wickets. That's someone I want to emulate, keep try to improve day by day and keep getting better.
Eoin Morgan has said that you and your brother Tom are among the most competitive people he's ever met. Where does that come from?
We're a competitive family - three brothers [Ben plays county cricket for Northamptonshire]. My dad played cricket. In the back garden, messing around, you've got to be competitive. I love winning, I hate losing. It's just in our blood. When you're in a tough situation, I just try to get in the battle. I'm not a bad loser, but I don't like losing.
Did your dad being an cricketer, playing internationally for Zimbabwe as well as having a long career in county cricket, help with your drive to play the game professionally?
I think just being around cricket, my dad coaching, always being on a field messing around on the boundary while teams were playing. We just lived cricket, sleep cricket, a big cricketing family, loved the game. I'm sure he would have loved to be here to see us [playing now].
Did you know that no left-armer seamer has ever taken 100 wickets for England? You're already almost halfway there at the age of 23…
I'm not a massive stats person, but I just want to play as much Test cricket as I can through my career - it's obviously the pinnacle, so fingers crossed I can become the first.
You're a multi-format player, but is Test cricket still the ultimate?
Absolutely. That's why I think the next six weeks are really exciting. Sure, it's going to be a fantastic series and I hope I can be involved in any way, shape or form. Just got to try and get in the side and never lose my spot.
Have you heard the phrase, "Sam Curran: makes things happen"? What do you make of it?
I have come across it, yeah. Any player tries to make things happen. I don't know why I've got that tag. I just love trying to impact games, whether that's with bat, ball or in the field. I'll keep trying to make it happen.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick