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Saturday, 21 June 2014

On Liam Plunkett and second chances

Saturday, 21 June 2014
When Liam Plunkett played his first match for England in late 2005 the circumstances weren't ideal, particularly for a twenty year old seam bowler. The third test against Pakistan in Lahore saw England in the midst of their post-Ashes hangover and up against players such as Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Yousuf at their brilliant bests. Plunkett didn't do especially badly, picking up two wickets, but Pakistan racked up over 600 and won by an innings and 100 runs.

Plunkett showed promise in his first spell in the England side, but without ever doing enough to hold down a regular place. His best period perhaps came in the one day side, in England's surprise win in the ODI triangular in 2007 after an Ashes whitewash where he was England's joint highest wicket taker in the series along with Flintoff - taking 12 wickets at 23.00 but playing four less matches. But overall in this first phase he just faded away. Like many players in the Fletcher era, Plunkett seemed to be put in the 'one for the future' box, picked young to be forgotten about later. His action too seemed a bit mechanical, constantly practicing it between deliveries. Over the next few years Plunkett slipped back into the pack as others emerged - young players such as Broad, Finn, and Bresnan as well as the re-emergence of the more experienced Sidebottom.

Something that was notable in Peter Moores' first stint as England coach was how he seemed willing to give second chances to players either forgotten about or who had burnt bridges under Fletcher - the most obvious examples being that of Sidebottom and Graeme Swann. Players who, like Plunkett, had probably been selected at first when too young and didn't know their own games or lacked the maturity for international cricket at the time. What can also be seen with these players is how a change of scene also helped to revitalise them - both Swann and Sidebottom finding new challenges and a new environment at Nottinghamshire - a fresh start also helping to give them the push they needed. The same thing happened with Plunkett. After slipping down the pecking order at Durham, hampered also by injuries and problems with his action while also picking up a couple of driving bans, a move away was also to be what he needed. Yorkshire took a risk in signing him but it paid off - under the coaching of Jason Gillespie he has returned to doing what he does best - bowling fast and taking wickets. There is competition for places at Yorkshire but Plunkett has managed to break through and this season 24 wickets at 24.83 has seen him make his way into an England side looking for fresh blood.

And so it has been a delight to see Plunkett back in the side; I do always appreciate it when a player is given another chance and starts to deliver. At Lord's, though he didn't necessarily pick up the wickets, he did a good job, bowling the fast and nasty into the ribs of the batsmen as England used the short ball to good effect. Sometimes I feel England overdo it with bouncers - sometimes getting distracted from the main way to take wickets - bowling at the stumps. But in general I think they did better at Lord's - doing enough to make batsmen hesitant about going forward and exploiting the often uncertain techniques against the short stuff. At Headingley so far Plunkett has found his rewards: his first five wicket haul in test matches, joining in as wickets clattered after tea to dismiss Sri Lanka for 257. Broad's hat-trick must also be mentioned - only the fourth man to take two in test cricket, and probably one of the only ones not to realise he had done so after it was split across two overs. But it was great to see Plunkett in the wickets - especially in front of his new home crowd - and hopefully more success can follow. He has the kit to succeed at international level and does offer that bit of extra pace to England's attack, and now with more experience and more knowledge of his own game - he can start to deliver on the potential England first found nearly ten years ago.

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