Meet George Garton, the future of English fast bowling: ‘People would describe me as... not very pleasant’

At this crossroads for English fast bowling, with crushing away defeats exposing the limitations of endless 85mph right-arm seam-up, Garton offers something different

Jonathan Liew
Chief Sports Writer
Wednesday 11 April 2018 20:17
Garton may be pretty hostile on the field, but in person he is a quite different prospect
Garton may be pretty hostile on the field, but in person he is a quite different prospect

The batsman wears a quizzical, almost perplexed look, as if he has just had his pockets picked.

Behind him the middle stump, uprooted at its highest point, is cartwheeling in the general direction of the sightscreen. In front of him, the triumphant bowler punches the air with a wild and terrifying violence: once, twice, three times, like a man who has just made a human sacrifice. Which, in a way, he has.

The departing batsman is Cameron Bancroft. The bowler is George Garton, the great young hope of English cricket.

Alas, the stage was not the Gabbatoir or the G, but the rather more prosaic setting of Hove, and a T20 Blast game between Sussex and Gloucestershire some months earlier. But Bancroft’s current indispositions notwithstanding, you would not bet against the pair doing battle again on the international stage at some point in the future.

George Garton of Sussex in action

After all, when Steven Finn and Jake Ball pulled up injured on the recent Ashes tour, it was to the highly-rated Garton that the England selectors turned as a temporary replacement: the nearest thing county cricket has to Mitchell Starc, in style if not quite yet in substance.

If that strikes you as somewhat premature for a 20-year-old bowler who has played just nine first-class matches and is not even assured of his place in the Sussex team, then the statistics are on your side. There are plenty of fine county bowlers who would be justifiably peeved if an occasionally wayward left-armer with a red-ball average of 36 and an economy rate of 4.1 managed to queue-jump his way into the England team.

And yet, in order to gauge Garton’s true potential, you need to look beyond numbers. Or at least, different numbers. Such as 93mph - his highest clocked speed. Or 43 per cent - the unusually high percentage of his wickets that have been bowled or LBW. Or the uncountable number of stumps he has shattered, the number of tail-enders he has made fear for their short-term safety.

At this crossroads for English fast bowling, with crushing away defeats exposing the limitations of endless 85mph right-arm seam-up, Garton offers something different: full length, raw pace and that most indefinable of qualities: pure, naked aggression.

“People would describe me as... not very pleasant,” he admits as he looks out over the sodden outfield at Hove, impatient for the new season to start. “People say I’ve got white-line fever. I cross the line and suddenly become an aggressive, nasty fast bowler. I think that helps.

“It’s a professional game. No-one goes out there to make friends. You go out there to win.”

In action with the England Lions in Perth last December

Garton may be pretty hostile on the field, but in person he is a quite different prospect. He was planning on doing a degree in business and finance until cricket took a grip of his future. He’s polite, thoughtful, resilient without being grating, ambitious without shouting about it. That’s perhaps the first surprising thing about him.

The second is that until very recently, he didn’t bowl the ball very quickly at all. “It’s an interesting one,” he says. “People expect that I’ve always been able to bowl quick. But when I was 16, I had the keeper standing up. It was about swing and accuracy. Even at the beginning of the season when I was 17 - four seasons ago - I had the keeper standing up. It’s only over the last two or three years that I’ve grown, and matured, and been in the gym a bit.”

Several factors worked in his favour. The first was sporting genes: his father played cricket for Sussex seconds and England under-20s, his mother was an amateur hockey player and gymnast. The second was his mother’s decision to take him to gymnastics club at the weekends, which has contributed to his slingy, elastic technique.

“It definitely gave me a foundation of flexibility and strength,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons why I get quite a big range in my action. I’m quite flexible, and can get into positions that maybe other people can’t.”

Garton is polite, thoughtful and resilient

The third has been coaching, or rather the absence of it. A couple of minor minor technical tweaks aside - the tempo of his run-up, his foot alignment at address - Garton’s coaches at school, club, county and international level have left his action largely untouched. It is why Garton has managed to retain his natural gifts - a wrist position conducive to swing, and good fortune with injuries - even as his pace has grown exponentially.

Garton pays particular credit to Kevin Shine, the ECB’s bowling coach at Loughborough, and the regard is mutual. Under Shine’s tutelage, he has been fast-tracked through the international ranks: a double-wicket maiden in his first over at under-19 World Cup in 2016, a fiery spell to Dean Elgar for the Lions at Worcester last summer (“really dangerous” is how development coach Andy Flower describes him), and most recently that senior call-up in Townsville, where he quietly impressed with his enthusiasm and aggression. If he continues on his current trajectory, an international cap is a matter of when rather than if.

“It was a really good experience,” he remembers. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised to get the phone call, but I definitely didn’t do my case any harm. If I got the opportunity, I’d grab it with both hands. I’d love to go out there and show people what I’ve got. Confidence isn’t too much of an issue.”

Before that happens, of course, there are a few obstacles to get round. Nailing down a place in the Sussex team is one: their County Championship campaign begins at Edgbaston on Friday, and the early games will take place in what promises to be a damp and unusually cold April. Garton will need to show the sort of craft and consistency that his career economy rate suggests has so far been lacking.

Is Garton the future of English cricket?

The second is to plot his path through the game and decide what sort of bowler he wants to be. Garton is an exceptional white-ball prospect as well, with a well-disguised array of bouncers and slower balls, and working with Jason Gillespie, his new coach at Sussex, will help him crystallise his game and hone his skills. Encouragingly, for a player who remembers nothing of the pre-Twenty20 era, it is still the longest format where he wants to be judged.

“For me, the pinnacle of cricket, and the pinnacle of your skill, is Test cricket,” he says. “I think for my age group, it still is. There is that allure now, with the IPL and Big Bash, and you can’t deny that it is quite an incentive to work on your white-ball skills. But my biggest dream is still to play Test cricket for England.”

And then, of course, he will need a little luck: with weather and pitches, with injuries and scheduling. He will need a little trust, a little time, and a little faith. The annals of cricket are littered with fast bowlers who showed potential at 20 that - for one reason or another - they were still trying to fulfil at 30. The faster the bowler, the more hazardous the journey. But as James Anderson and Stuart Broad move into the home straight, as the role of the county game as a breeding ground for elite Test bowlers comes under ever greater scrutiny, you suspect that Garton’s progress will tell us as much about English cricket as it does about the man himself.

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