Precocious Plunkett charges in to the manner born
Sunday 11 December 2005
Searching for consolation in the rubble of England's first defeat in seven Test series, Michael Vaughan had no need to look far. "In Liam Plunkett we look as though we've found a decent bowler," he said.
It might have been an understatement. The England captain was careful to avoid making it the opposite after Pakistan had completed their 2-0 victory with a resounding win by an innings and 100 runs.
At 20, Plunkett had been invited to bowl 28.2 overs in his first Test on a pitch slightly flatter than the feeling of returning to work after the Christmas holidays. A nervous start, in which he still man- aged to take a wicket with his 11th ball as an international cricketer, was followed by several intelligent, accurate spells. Plunkett will have to return better figures than 2 for 125, but he looked an authentic fast bowler with a future.
He confirmed the supposition yesterday on his one-day debut, only the disbelieving twinkle in his eyes contradicting the feeling that his figures of 3 for 51 on another unhelpful pitch could have belonged to a seasoned pro.
"Six months ago, my aim was take 50 wickets in a season for Durham and stay on the park," he said. "If I had a good year, I wanted to get on the Academy. It was a shock to get on this tour."
It is safe to presume that he was not alone in his state. It is also reasonable to assert that Plunkett is not ready yet for international cricket and that England are playing with fire - not to mention his career - by selecting him prematurely.
For all the team's triumphs, they have not had a particularly successful time in assimilating new young bowlers at the first attempt. Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison, Ashes heroes both, suffered setbacks that might have been terminal.
If anybody's career is designed to make Plunkett ponder more than his initial performances might merit, it is that of the player to whom he was preferred in Lahore last week. Jimmy Anderson burst into the side three winters ago. He now finds himself on the fringes, always there but always the nearly man. He too was 20 when he was picked.
However, there is an innocent self-possession about Plunkett which is impossible to ignore. "I sort of felt I'd always be a cricketer, but at junior level I just went with the flow. I pissed around a bit too much at school up to the third year. I took it a bit more seriously after that and did the first year of a sports science course at college.
"Then I had the chance of going to Australia with the England Under-19s and the college wouldn't let me have some time off. I thought I'd have a go at cricket because I liked doing it. When I came back, Durham offered me a contract."
He made his Championship debut at 18, taking five wickets against Yorkshire, and has never appeared to struggle. A word of caution: like Anderson, he had to remodel his action. His chest pointed one way, his legs another, and England's seam bowling guru, Troy Cooley, advised him to change or risk long-term injury.
But the amended action did not work and reduced his pace substantially (shades of Anderson there). Last summer he, Cooley and the county coaches came up with a hybrid action. "It's more getting my height back. I had just been pushing it out and wasn't getting the bounce."
As the son of a highly successful league bowler, Alan Plunkett, who opened the bowling for Marske in the North Yorkshire and South Durham League, Liam is probably as natural as bowlers can come. He is a better bowler when he is playing constantly, talks easily about bowling at 90mph, away and reverse swing, and bounce.
"I don't really consider myself a kid because I've been around the lads. It's amazing to be part of the team that won the Ashes." Whisper it, but England might have found a decent bowler.
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