Meaker primed to be England's fastest gun again

Injuries derailed him but a fit Stuart Meaker could provide the speed England need

Alex Winter
Alex Winter
It's a statistical quirk to rival any other. In 2011, Stuart Meaker took 44 Championship wickets at 22.56. In 2012, he also took 44 Championship wickets at 22.56. "And the coaches want me to be more consistent!" Meaker quips.
Those years saw the emergence of a bowler tipped to become a leading international force. The quickest in England, clocked at 93mph, with a front-on action likened to Malcolm Marshall, Meaker seemed a star in the making. But injury has hindered his progress and after two operations and two "gritty" years, Meaker begins 2015 with a host of bowlers ahead of him in the England reckoning and his form to prove once again.
"People ask, where are England's crop of fast bowlers compared to Australia? We've got them. And hopefully I can be one of them," Meaker told ESPNcricinfo.
Meaker was first selected for England on the ODI tour of India in 2011. "I was flying that summer: swinging the ball both ways, knocking people's poles over for fun and thinking this is fantastic, I'm the new Allan Donald." He did not disgrace himself in the final two matches of the series but returned for two T20s, also in India, the following year and took greater punishment, sending down four overs for 42 in the second fixture.
"A big part of me wishes I had been picked a little bit earlier and at a time when I wasn't carrying the niggles," Meaker says. "The first tour I was at my peak and really starting to break through but after that I'd injured my shoulder and my knee was playing up. I'd gone through a good season but things had really started to hit me in terms of the body being affected by my performance."
Equally impressive returns (to the decimal place) followed in 2012, this time in Division One of the Championship, but Meaker's much-needed rest at the end of the season was cut short by a call up to the Test tour of India following an injury to Steven Finn.
"I had a jab in my knee but when you get the call up you're just going to do whatever you can to be able to try and perform and I carried those injuries through the tour. There were net sessions where I was in all sorts of bother but not being able to say much because I was worried they wouldn't pick me or even send me home."
He struggled on through a tour of New Zealand, where he didn't play, and then in eight Championship matches during 2013. But ultimately surgery was needed and, having never previously gone under the knife, Meaker was in for a double bout within a month, dealing with patella tendonitis - treated by the same surgeon that saw Stuart Broad at the end of last summer - and a shoulder decompression, ironically suffered in Meaker's last England appearance with a superman dive in the outfield.
"I got over it and came out of the blocks flying at the start of last season," Meaker says. "But then, as happens, you prepare, you do your rehab and then you pick up another injury out of the blue. I had a rib that got inflamed from constantly bashing it bowling. By the time I got back in August, the way the structure of the season works, we had 60-70% of the season done and it was it was difficult to get back in the side.
"Previously, when Chris Adams and Ian Salisbury were here, there were times when I had been bowling well enough to just go straight back in the side but I don't think that's a good thing for the squad. It's not fair. So I was back in second XI cricket, it swung around corners for me down at Kent and then I was called back into the first team at Guildford."
That match against Kent saw Meaker back close to his 2011 self; bowling with pace and moving the ball. He took 11 wickets and enjoyed a brief purple patch until his body caught up with him - painkillers were needed for his knee, with no time to continue the strength work that he stuck too so painstakingly during his rehab of almost four months.
"I'm quite fastidious in nailing my rehab and doing the right things and being disciplined. That's just who I am. People might look at it now and go 'oh why are you doing so much?' but down the line it's got to help and I try to look as long term as I can."
Meaker's "long term" is aiming to get back into the England set-up. He name-checks Liam Plunkett as an example of a bowler who can come back strongly having drifted from the international scene. But, unlike Plunkett, Meaker is yet to really get a thorough crack for England.
A brief chat with Kevin Shine, the ECB lead bowling coach, at The Oval has been the only recent contact with the England management. This time, Meaker, who boasts far superior red-ball figures - 210 first-class wickets at 28.27 - to white-ball - a combined 68 List A and T20 wickets at 35.97 - is perhaps looking straight at the Test squad, with the skills required to bowl in one-day cricket becoming far removed.
"That path is perhaps becoming eroded now," Meaker says. "You look at someone like James Faulkner, I don't see how you can bowl like he does with his tricks and guile and nailing those yorkers, and the way you have to contort your body into all sort of different positions - to then do that with the red ball, in Tests you just have to be consistent in the same areas day after day, it's completely different. The physical angles are so different so I don't believe the path to Tests is through one-day cricket now."
That may help Meaker as he tries to deliver on the promise of speed-gun readings and statistician-pleasing consistency.

Alex Winter is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo He tweets here