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Feature

'The franchise lifestyle can be isolated, but I'm ready for that' - Harry Gurney on BBL call-up

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
11-Nov-2018
Harry Gurney was in the wickets for Nottinghamshire  •  Getty Images

Harry Gurney was in the wickets for Nottinghamshire  •  Getty Images

The story of England's tour to Sri Lanka this time four years ago is well known. Just as plans for the upcoming World Cup should have been falling into place, Peter Moores' side were thrashed 5-2 in a disastrous ODI series. They responded by sacking Alastair Cook as captain, dropping their promising young allrounder Ben Stokes, and conspired to bow out of the World Cup in embarrassing fashion as they were beaten by Bangladesh in Adelaide.
While Cook's axing and Stokes' omission headlined the aftermath to the tour, the series was another man's last in international cricket. After a quietly impressive home summer with the white ball, Harry Gurney had looked like a lock-in for the World Cup. His left-arm seamers were underestimated due to an ungainly action, but had proved reasonably effective, and offered the ODI attack some variety and a viable option at the death. But in the course of his 24 overs in Sri Lanka, Gurney took one wicket and conceded 158 runs, and has never pulled on the England shirt since.
Looking back, Gurney is honest about his shortcomings as an ODI bowler. "I refuse to be one of these bitter, deluded people," he tells ESPNcricinfo. "I can see why I didn't make it into the World Cup squad at the time I got dropped, and I can see why I haven't played any more 50-over cricket for England. I'm quite philosophical about that."
But there is a side point about Gurney's England career which goes unnoticed. In his two T20 international games, Gurney was excellent, taking 2 for 26 and 1 for 29 in his four-over allocations in games where nine an over was par for the course. And yet, with T20Is tacked onto the end of ODI series and his stock low after that Sri Lanka tour, Gurney never had the chance to kick on from that start.
"I'm honest, when I look back, I only played two T20 games for England, and I did really well in both of those: I think I was a little bit unfortunate to lose my place in the T20 team," he says. "In the T20 format, perhaps I was a little bit unlucky. Am I a better bowler than I was back then? Yeah, I probably have improved a little bit. Any cricketer does year on year in order to survive: you have to, because elite sport keeps evolving."
Indeed, those who follow the domestic game will tell you that, despite his discarding by England, Gurney's reputation as one of the best death bowlers on the county circuit has continued to grow. In 2017, he was a key part of Nottinghamshire's white-ball double, taking 13 wickets in the Royal London Cup and a further 21 in the Blast, including record figures of 7 for 36 on Finals Day, and no bowler has more T20 Blast wickets in the past three seasons.
It was no great surprise, then, that the Melbourne Renegades jumped at the chance to sign Gurney for the second half of the Big Bash season this week, in a data-driven pick that sees him share an overseas spot with Pakistan's Usman Khan Shinwari. "I can't remember where the first contact came from," he says, "but I had an inkling through Dan Christian [Gurney's Notts team-mate, who signed from the Hurricanes in May] that they might be interested, or that I might be on a shortlist, and I handed it over to my agent to deal with.
"I've spoken to Andrew McDonald [the Renegades coach, and Gurney's team-mate in Leicestershire's 2011 Friends Life t20 campaign] on the phone, and from what I've read I think he's said they wanted a left-arm seamer to balance their attack. They've gone for me and Usman, and hopefully we can do the business.
I can see why I haven't played any more 50-over cricket for England. I'm quite philosophical about that.
"When the phone rang I was over the moon. The Big Bash is probably the most high-profile T20 tournament in the world other than the IPL, I would say, and it's one I've always admired from afar. I absolutely love Australia as a country, I've spent a fair bit of time there over the years, so to get an opportunity to go and play in it is a bit of a result really."
The prospect of bowling on hard, Australian wickets might be daunting for some, but after honing his skills on the flattest one-day pitch in England, Gurney is looking forward to the challenge. "Within England, Luke Fletcher, Jake Ball and I tend to find it easier away from home, that's for sure. If you can bowl economically at Trent Bridge, you're going to find it easier when you go away from home. I'll have to adapt, but I relish the challenge of doing that."
Gurney's resurgence leads him to an intriguing point in his career. While an England recall looks improbable at 32, he is confident that a good winter for the Renegades - and in the T10 league next week - could help him crack franchise cricket.
"Honestly, I'd say breaking into the franchise scene is more on my radar at the moment than an international recall. If, ultimately, I end up pulling on an England shirt again in the T20 format, then that'd be a fantastic offshoot, of the main target, but I want to get into franchise cricket, and give a good impression, and hopefully keep doing that for a few years."
Despite finishing 2018 as Nottinghamshire's leading Championship wicket-taker, would Gurney consider going white-ball only in the future? "I wouldn't rule it out. It's a case of taking it year by year, month by month or even week by week. So much can change - over the next 12 months, my absolute dream scenario and my absolute worst-case scenario are poles apart. Of course, I'm committed to all forms at the moment, but I can see a time in the future where I do only play white-ball cricket.
"My personality type and the way I go about my business would lend itself quite well to that lifestyle. I'm quite an independent cricketer, I have specific ways that I train, and I'm quite stubborn about that - I'm able to do it on my own, in isolation. One thing that you hear people say about the franchise lifestyle is that it can feel a bit isolated and lonely, but I think I can deal with that."
Gurney's outlook on the game is refreshing, and helped in part by his interests outside of cricket. He co-owns a pub company with county team-mate Stuart Broad, and thinks it has helped him avoid heaping pressure on himself.
"Since I started the pub company, my career if anything has gone on an upwards trajectory, rather than being a distraction. Life after cricket is something that I have always given a great deal of thought to throughout my career, because I'm aware that once your career finishes, you're in your mid-to-late thirties and all of a sudden you're out of work and you need a job. I wanted to put myself in a position where I've got something to soften the blow."