Tom Banton's best is bubbling back after struggles with lockdown lifestyle

Eye-catching innings in defeat augurs well as opener reaffirms his potential for England

Aadam Patel
After the English summer, Tom Banton took a much-needed break from the game to "live a bit of a social life" and "see friends and family". More than a year of quarantines and bubble fatigue had taken its toll and Banton insisted that he needed some time away from cricket.
Such was the mental effect that, in Abu Dhabi in November, Banton admitted that he hadn't done anything cricket-related throughout the whole of October. In Bridgetown in January, he was back in England colours, over a year after his last England appearance, showing exactly why England had given him a debut before his 21st birthday.
After a disappointing dismissal in the first T20I for just four, Banton failed to capitalise on a good start in the second T20I as he reverse-swept his way to 25 before stunning a drive straight back to Fabian Allen. Such was the quality of Banton's strokeplay that Mark Butcher on commentary stated that his reverse sweep "comes almost as naturally as a forward defence would have come to Geoffrey Boycott".
On Wednesday evening in Barbados, a fine innings of 73 off 39 deliveries - his highest in an England shirt thus far - nearly helped England pull off an improbable chase of 225 after Rovman Powell's pyrotechnics at Kensington Oval. It was a bittersweet feeling for the 23-year-old as his superb knock, which included six sixes, ultimately came in a losing cause. For Banton, just being back in England colours is a feeling unlike any other.
"Getting the chance to walk out at Kensington Oval in front of a full house… it's probably just the best feeling in the world," Banton said. "It's just so good to be here, playing for England is what everyone wants to do and doing it in front of a full house was amazing."
With Sam Billings out due to illness, Banton was handed the gloves and perhaps had the best ticket in the house to witness Powell hit his first ever T20 century, as West Indies posted 224 for 5, the highest T20I score at Kensington Oval (England's reply of 204 for 9 came in at second).
As much as he was impressed with the way the hosts batted, Banton admitted that England must execute their plans better with the ball if they want to win the series. England's bowlers are currently ranked 11th from all the ICC Member nations in terms of T20I economy rate at the death.
He said: "They're such good strikers of the cricket ball. I remember I was keeping last night and just seeing how far they hit it, it was pretty scary to be honest. I think maybe we just have to be a little bit clever with our bowling plans. I think the bowlers had great ideas, but they probably didn't execute as well."
Speaking after Paul Collingwood's frank assessment of bubble life. Banton agreed with the view of England's stand-in coach for the Caribbean tour, and admitted that he, himself, had struggled with the experience.
"I think people won't actually understand it till they've done it," Banton said. "I remember having to go to IPL in Abu Dhabi and having to isolate myself for eight days in my hotel room and then I was allowed out. After a time, it just takes its toll. I was like, 'I want to be able to also live my life and not just be stuck in a hotel. I want to see my friends and be at home, see my family, as well as playing cricket.' Just in the end, it was too much for me."
He added that for his own mental health, pulling out of the Big Bash last year "was the best thing to do" and that after his own experiences over the past two years, he is now making reasoned decisions that allow him to play cricket, enjoy the game and also provide him with sufficient time to spend with his friends and family.
Banton has not entered the IPL auction after he was released by Kolkata Knight Riders last season and also declined the opportunity to play in the PSL, after a torrid experience last season where he contracted Covid-19, which led to 10 days of isolation in Karachi, followed by 10 more back home.
"There was an option to go to Pakistan after this trip, but I'm just going to go home and make sure I'm ready for the English summer," Banton said.
Asked about whether those decisions were made with a focus on red-ball cricket, Banton believes that it is the right route for him to take at this time of his career, although the IPL is a pathway which he'd still like to go down in the future.
"I think it is, but I don't think it really matters what colour of ball it is, it's just important for me now to keep playing and also I'll be in England and I'll be at home - I won't be sat in a hotel the whole time so I'll be able to go out and live a normal life as well.
"If I'd have gone to the IPL, I probably wouldn't have played. But yeah, that's still one of the things I want to do all the time, to go to the IPL, but I think at the moment it's the right decision for me to stay at home."

Aadam Patel is a freelance sports reporter who has written for BBC Sport, the Daily Mail, ESPNcricinfo, the Cricketer and other publications @aadamp9