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Feature

Twenty-year-old Tom Banton lights up the Blast and attracts T20 franchise interest

A small tweak in his stance has made all the difference to the batting of the Somerset opener who's caught the eye of Brendon McCullum and Kevin Pietersen

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
30-Aug-2019
In eight T20 Blast games this season, Tom Banton has scored 487 runs at a strike rate of 161.79  •  Getty Images

In eight T20 Blast games this season, Tom Banton has scored 487 runs at a strike rate of 161.79  •  Getty Images

"How many players now try and play like Kevin Pietersen?" asks Darren Gough in Sky's KP: Story of a Genius. "All of them."
There are shades of Pietersen in each of England's next generation of attacking white-ball batsmen, but few more unmistakably so than Tom Banton.
That much is evident as he shapes up to face Adam Milne in front of TV cameras and a packed Taunton on a midsummer Saturday night against Kent; in county cricket, stages do not come much bigger. Banton is comfortably over 6ft tall and upright in his stance. He crouches slightly as Milne approaches the crease, staying low like his mentor Marcus Trescothick has taught him. Milne flings down a back-of-a-length 90mph firebolt. Banton climbs into it, unfurls a checked square drive and the ball cracks off the bat away for four through point.
An hour later, on 94, Banton seizes on a Daniel Bell-Drummond offcutter, smoking it off his hip into the Priory Bridge stand to bring up a maiden T20 hundred from only 51 balls. He is 20 years old.
It took one look at a fixed-cam highlights package from a 50-over innings for Brendon McCullum to see shades of Pietersen in Banton's game. Then KP himself tweeted: "Wowza! He can play!"
If Pietersen's influence on England's white-ball teams was never quite realised in his own career, it is unmistakable now. The questions he asked - Why can't I play in the IPL? Why shouldn't I hit that ball over there? - are ones that no longer get thrown back in players' faces.
But even with the path cleared, it takes a special talent to stand out in a generation filled with wannabe KPs.
"We first knew him as a cricketer when he was playing in the Warwickshire Under-10s - he got a double-hundred for them and a couple of hundreds that year as well. We had identified him to come through and be a potential first-team player for us at a very early age."
Dougie Brown was director of cricket while Banton was coming through the age groups at Warwickshire, but the connections run deeper than that - they both played at Barnt Green CC, Brown's daughter was in the same class as Banton at school, and he is still in semi-regular contact with him now.
But after a bright start at Warwickshire, things started to stall in his mid-teens. After moving from Bromsgrove School to King's College, Taunton, for sixth form, Banton made the switch to Somerset.
"By his own admission, he was quite a tricky character as a young player, quite headstrong, quite determined," says Brown, "and it really was always going to take a change for him to properly develop into the cricketer we knew he was going to be. We knew him going somewhere else would mean we were going to be losing out on a potential diamond, but we had a duty to ensure that he wasn't lost to the game.
"Somerset was the perfect move for him - it allowed him to finish his schooling, mature as an individual, develop his cricket, maybe in a different way to what he would have done at Warwickshire."
Banton moved schools at 16, and by then his talent was clear. He was given a room Jos Buttler had stayed in during his years at the school, and Banton himself cites "the whole Jos Buttler thing" as the reason behind the switch.
The summer between upper and lower sixth, Banton hit 96 in his first innings for Somerset's second XI against a Middlesex attack including Tom Helm and Ryan Higgins - now regulars on the county circuit - and the following year he was on an England U-19 tour to India.
"What you could always see was that he had this certain flair about his game," recalls Marcus Trescothick, who has seen his fair share of players pass through the Somerset system. "He had all these shots - he was quite a good hockey player at school, so all those sweeps, reverse-sweeps and the wristy shots have always been very evident.
"We looked at it and thought: 'how we were going to get this guy to be even better?' He was very one-day dominant, and we were looking at getting him to potentially play four-day cricket. You could see that he had a certain amount of skill and entertainment about him, and it's then about bringing it down to the nuts and bolts of batting at the professional level."
Banton struggled badly against spin in India, and was in and out of the side that was then hammered at home by the same opposition later that summer in 2017.
"He was either very good or very bad," recalls Jon Lewis, part of the U-19 coaching staff throughout Banton's time in the team.
Perhaps the biggest frustration was the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand in the 2017-18 winter. Despite a talented squad, which boasted Will Jacks, Harry Brook, Dillon Pennington as well as Banton, England could only manage a seventh-place finish.
In the quarter-final, against Australia, England were 47 for 0 and then 71 for 3 chasing 128, but after Banton, on 58, reverse-swept legspinner Lloyd Pope to slip, they collapsed to 96 all out.
"We had some interesting conversations about shot selection and right place, right time," Lewis recalls. "He's always been able to do something a little bit special compared to his peers. But having the game sense, the knowledge of when to implement that is really tricky for a young player."
Banton doesn't look back at the tournament with a lot of regret. "It was so annoying to get knocked out how we did in that quarter-final, but I didn't know my game that well when I was in the U-19s. I was still trying to find it. But it was still good overall - we had a lot of good coaches, and the main team set-up came and helped. I made a lot of friends - Harry Brook, Will Jacks - and still keep in contact with them. That World Cup was still the best thing we did."
By the time Banton was playing in that World Cup, he was no longer just a precocious youngster but a professional for Somerset.
"There was a point when I thought, 'Yeah, I actually would like to do this', he remembers, "and then suddenly it became a reality when I was 16 or 17 and I did all right in the second team - it all happened pretty quickly from there."
There was never any temptation to go to university - "I couldn't have done any more work" - and last summer he was afforded a run in Somerset's 50-over team, although he flattered to deceive with 70 runs in his six innings.
Later in the summer there were a pair of T20s, a standout ton for the England U-19s as captain in a four-day game against South Africa, and a first-class debut, opening the batting with Trescothick - but a proper breakthrough into the first team was not forthcoming.
It is instructive that Banton realises he "didn't look up to Trescothick as much as probably other Somerset players have done," as a result of his Warwickshire roots. He is part of the post-2005 generation, and his first memories of watching the game involve Neil Carter whacking it on T20 nights, not Trescothick working red balls off his pads.
After a solid but unspectacular 2018 summer, a winter in Australia kick-started things. He averaged 25 across all formats in grade cricket and while his numbers weren't great, the time away - he spent much of his downtime with Somerset captain Tom Abell - clearly did him good.
By the time he returned, Banton had a plan for 2019 in his mind.
"Sometimes he'll come to me and say, 'I want to try this' or 'what do you think about this idea, I've been watching someone bat on TV, how can I put that into my game'"
Trescothick on how Banton looks to improve himself
"At the beginning of the year, I targeted trying to play all the white-ball cricket this season," he says. "I started well against Kent in the first game [of the Royal London One-Day Cup when he made his first Somerset hundred], and then went through a real quiet patch, and struggled a bit in the middle. I was working on a few things, and didn't really know my game properly."
Indeed that ton was followed by 54 runs in six innings, and as Somerset fell to defeat against Hampshire, their final group game became a must-win. But in that defeat to Hampshire came an important innings - not Banton's own run-a-ball 18, but a classy 61 by Hampshire's overseas player, Aiden Markram.
Keeping wicket - he has kept throughout the white-ball season, but doesn't see himself taking the gloves in the Championship - Banton had the best view in the house for Markram's innings and noticed a very minor trigger movement with a slight crouch to keep low as the bowlers were about to release. Banton asked Trescothick what he thought and quickly incorporated it into his own game.
"He's constantly thinking about what little things to try and tweak," Trescothick says. "He tried it himself and found the outcome was a lot better, in terms of getting closer to the ball, feeling like he can get into the ball a lot better, so he adopted it."
The change had an instant effect. Banton kicked off Somerset's successful chase in the Surrey game to seal qualification, before scores of 112, 59, and 69 in the knockouts led them to the trophy. His innings in the final at Lord's was overshadowed by England's World Cup warm-up against Australia on the same day, but included a memorable duel with a fired-up Fidel Edwards.
Banton has also played a handful of games in the County Championship, and his crucial 44 when Surrey were threatening to roll through Somerset's middle order at Guildford remains head coach Jason Kerr's favourite Banton innings. With every first-team appearance, he is beginning to understand his game more and more.
"You can see it now," Trescothick says. "He takes his stance, and he has that little dip in his legs, like a little bend in his knees, just to get lower into the crease. It's enough to make a difference to feel good, but not a massive amount that makes you go 'that's a massive thing, he's changed his stance'."
The pair work closely, and when Trescothick has been away working for Sky or coaching England, he texts Banton to see how things are going.
"Sometimes he'll come to me and say, 'I want to try this' or 'what do you think about this idea, I've been watching someone bat on TV, how can I put that into my game'," Trescothick says. "It's also a case of me re-affirming some of the things he does really well, and then sometimes reminding him with a checklist of what he goes through to say 'what do I do normally to make this work?'"
The other word that Trescothick has been hammering into Banton is "tempo". "For him, it's about trying to find the right time to play the big shot, to rotate, to push into a gap and run two - it's about working that out."
The T20 Blast, then, has been an opportunity for Banton to let loose. He made 64 off 34 in the first game of the season, against Glamorgan - "I was so excited, Babar [Azam] was telling me to calm down after every ball". Against Surrey, he hit a 37-ball 71 to gun down a target of 204 with an over to spare, an innings that included a reverse-swept six off Sam Curran.
There is something about the TV cameras that gets Banton going and Sky's schedule worked perfectly for him. Along came Kent, for a Saturday night game under the new Taunton lights, between Ashes Tests, with nothing else to compete for the cricketing world's attention.
"He can finish a game like AB de Villiers. He plays 360, he's got innovative shots at each end of the innings, he's got boundaries in him at every stage"
Dougie Brown, who worked with Banton during his Warwickshire days
After hitting Milne's 90mph delivery for a four through point, Banton went on to get the hundred with his usual array of scoops and reverses as well as plenty of range-hitting over midwicket.
"The T20 leagues, and people within England, will have been watching that and gone, 'Wow, that's pretty special'," Trescothick says. "When it's on TV, they can see the context. They get a better picture because the whole game is on. It wouldn't be a surprise at all if he's now even more on the radar than where he was."
Banton says he doesn't spend much time reading the press, but even then he was at least aware of a possible England XI for the 2023 World Cup that the Telegraph suggested in the aftermath of this year's final: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Tom Banton, Sam Curran, Dom Bess, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, Saqib Mahmood
"That top six sounds good!" he laughs. "I think it was Dom Bess who sent it to me - probably because he was in it as well. I just can't look too far ahead, but obviously that'd be something I'd love to do."
The shorter-term question, then, is whether Banton can force his way into the squad for the T20 World Cup next year.
"The England batting line-up is so strong - it'd take a lot to push someone out," he says. "It probably isn't going to happen, but if I keep performing, then you never know."
Trescothick reckons Banton can get there if he can be really consistent. "When you see someone like Alex Hales getting 180 in a final, that's the benchmark really - if you want to be breaking into this world No. 1 England side, you've got to be exceptional. It's about keeping on pushing him to do more, not letting him settle with where he is."
Brown expects to see Banton's name in the England white-ball XIs soon enough. "He can finish a game like AB de Villiers. He plays 360, he's got innovative shots at each end of the innings, he's got boundaries in him at every stage. If he can take his game to that level where he finishes games as well as just making good contributions… if he actually wins games, it won't be long before we see him playing international cricket."
Whether England come calling this winter or beyond is one thing, but there are other goals for young players these days. Franchises are already queuing up for Banton, with at least one IPL side known to be interested. And with five T20Is scheduled for November - plus a Lions tour to Australia and a swathe of teams around the world undoubtedly scrambling to secure his signature - the winter is sure to be a busy one.
"He's a good kid," Trescothick says, "and he works really hard at his game. I've challenged him to keep improving, to get fitter and stronger, and then he'll hit the ball even further and harder. But for sure, we'll see a lot of him in the next few years."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98