Tymal Mills enjoying life as a white ball specialist after injury nightmare

Last year, the fast bowler had to contemplate injury-enforced retirement at the age of 22, and even found himself wondering at one stage if he had an illness which might kill him as doctors struggled to diagnose the cause of his back pain.

But a congenital condition was eventually identified, and managed.

As a new year approaches, Mills has redefined ambitions - in which first-class cricket remains off limits but instead he can focus exclusively on white-ball success.

At a time when England's administrators and coaches are embracing the concept of emerging players doing exactly that - with an ICC World Twenty20 less than four months away and two 50-over global tournaments scheduled on home soil in the coming years - Mills is a unique test case.

It was in his final year at Essex, before his switch to Sussex, that his back first began troubling him.

As he worried, medics were scratching their heads.

They were the worst weeks of Mills' life, and then early last summer the pain stopped him playing first-class cricket altogether.

It was only after many tests - including lumbar punctures, some of which he later discovered were to detect the possibility of tumours - that his mind was put at rest, and there was a way forward after all.

"I had tests for multiple sclerosis, and to see if any tumours were growing in my spine, but luckily, they all came back negative," he said.

"The doctor didn't really tell me what was going on, and it was only after I'd got the all-clear for everything that he told me what his concerns were and what everything was for.

"Luckily, I was a bit blind to it at the time.

"After it was done, I googled a few things and I thought 'Oh God, I'm going to die' - but it all came back okay."

The stakes had been starkly raised nonetheless.

"It's been pretty horrible," Mills added.

"At one point last year I sat down with everybody, and retirement was spoken about.

"I had medical grounds for retiring, but I was never going to take that option.

"Just having those words spoken wasn't the best time of my life. At 22 years old, going well one week and then not so the next.

"It took me a while to get my head around that and bounce back."

He speaks with eloquence and honesty about his frightening recent past, but optimistically about his future.

"If I wasn't a professional cricketer it wouldn't be a problem, and if I was a batter or a spinner it would be fine," he said.

"It's just what I do. That's the problem."

During an injury-ravaged season in which Mills bowled only 100.3 overs in 16 matches across the formats for his new club, he still pushed 90mph.

Two years previously, the left-armer had bowled quickly enough for Essex to put Graeme Swann's 2013 Ashes summer briefly in doubt when he struck him on the forearm with a short ball.

He knows there will very likely be no more red-ball deeds for him, because 10 overs in 50 - or perhaps just four in 20 - will be the limit for his body.

He said: "A third of my career is potentially not open to me.

"I want to be the best white-ball bowler I can be, and one of the best white-ball bowlers in the world."

He is counting his blessings too.

"I'm definitely lucky in that I'm a better white-ball cricketer," he said.

"My career is going to go down a different path potentially, but I hope it will benefit me and one day it will benefit England.

"It's opened my eyes to the fact the game can go away as quickly as it came.

"I know that more than anything now."

  Tymal Mills is concentrating on limited-overs cricket
Tymal Mills is concentrating on limited-overs cricket