PCA PRESS RELEASE
A player for all seasons, England’s World Cup winner Liam Plunkett is the cover star of issue 26 of Beyond the Boundaries.
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“Did I see myself as a three-club man? Never in a million years is the answer to that. Never. In a million. Years.” So speaks the aforementioned three-club man and recent World Cup winner in the latest issue of the PCA membership magazine, Beyond the Boundaries. Of Durham, Yorkshire, and in most recent times, Surrey county cricket clubs.
He’s sat in the Committee Room of his London team in early March, overlooking a Kia Oval already teeming with early season life. A brew is being consumed. Enjoyed after a net session and then attendance at one of the PCA’s pre-season roadshows. He clearly hasn’t – to his mind – quite finished with the point he’s making. “But, as they say,” adds the 34-year-old somewhat philosophically, “Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you think they might, right?”
With truer words rarely spoken, especially in this instance delivered in what is now the Middlesbrough-born all-rounder’s mix of north-east meets Mid-Atlantic accent (the Stateside infusion courtesy of a move-by-marriage to America’s city of brotherly love), things are rendered even more curious. “I’ve become pretty used to the idea of travelling for work. Living in Philadelphia now seems as normal to us as it did when we were in our place in Harrogate. Or now, in an Airbnb round the corner from here. The reality is that it’s only a seven-hour flight from Manchester (to Philly). And it’s all part of the job, right?”
It certainly appears so. And for reference ‘the job’ Plunkett speaks of, started way back in 2003. Then, as a teenage fast bowler, his elevation to the professional ranks timing with the first incarnation of the domestic 20-over game. He is a player to have played from the short-form’s outset, to the upcoming The Hundred, as a member of the Welsh Fire playing roster. Something that will result in a fourth set of sweaters.
On those early days, Plunkett’s rise looked unstoppable as a youngster. A five-fer on debut for Durham proving the precursor for a Test debut in 2005, when picked to play against Pakistan in Lahore. “I bowled away-swingers then,” says the veteran of 13 Test appearances, “But I’ve always felt like a player that has had to adapt.
“I also had a period where I was seen as a bit of an enforcer with the ball. Then a white-ball cricketer that could hit sixes and bowl cross-seam deliveries in the middle overs. This season I’m back bowling with a red ball, as someone who wants to play four-day cricket and believes he can contribute.”
After signing a deal with Surrey in the middle of the 2018 season, Plunkett now feels in the process of further reinvention, “I’ve only played a handful of Championship matches in the past two seasons,” says the man with 89 ODIs and 22 T20Is on his CV. “And as a bowler the game has seen me evolve from outswing, to someone smashing in bumpers, to bowling short-of-a-length and running the ball back in to the righthander. To now be someone looking to go back to how it all started. Bowling in four-day cricket remains an exciting prospect and another challenge.”
“More than anything it has just been about finding a way to keep playing, improving and proving effective.”
Reflecting on his early career, Plunkett mentions that his first professional contract amounted to £18,000. Which was, back then, not an insignificant amount of investment in a rookie, he also concurs. With seemingly every permutation of deal negotiated in his past, he is someone who has picked up playing gigs with England as well as franchises all around the world. He may, at this stage of his career, be able to call three UK clubs his home at one stage or another, but with stints with Chattogram Challengers, Delhi Daredevils, Dolphins, Karachi Kings, Melbourne Stars and Sylhet Sixers, Plunkett’s cricketing passport has its fair share of international stamps too. “It only seems unusual now I think about it,” he states, smiling broadly. “More than anything it has just been about finding a way to keep playing, improving and proving effective.”
And those golden periods of effectiveness have been punctuated by ups and downs; professionally and personally. Testament to his wholehearted approach, Plunkett has found himself variously out of favour and then a go-to selection, in pretty-much equal measure. When ‘in fashion’ seeing him a staple in ODIs, as someone able to clear the ropes from the lower middle-order with few sighters. As well taking mid-overs wickets. But more than anything his trick being an ability to very often account for the opposition’s best player. A case in point being that although Ben Stokes rightly drew most of the plaudits in England’s 50-over World Cup win over New Zealand last summer, Plunkett almost unnoticed, collected figures of 3-42, including the wicket of Blackcaps talisman and skipper, Kane Williamson.
With his England contract recently allowed to run its course, bowing out when on the game’s biggest stage – a World Cup final at the Home of Cricket – seems to be most fitting. If not a final chapter in a career.
“Dad worked for ICI in Middlesbrough. We lived in Marton, which is a nice part of the town. I enjoy getting back there,” he says reflecting on his time playing for the two northern-most counties. “Playing for Yorkshire was huge for me after my time with Durham. I wanted to stay, but as a professional cricketer contract negotiations is all part and parcel of what goes on. They saw me in a reduced roll and in this instance, I didn’t see things the same way. I have to say that the PCA – to me – has always been class. On a personal level, I feel I’ve had a lot of support and also believe that the role they’ve played in every stage of contract negotiations generally – from agreeing the value of England contracts to the new CPA – they’ve remained focused on seeing the players get paid the money they should. As things should be.”
And as an undisputed expert in white-ball cricket, what does he feel the public should expect from the upcoming newest form? “I think the new competition will be even more tactical than what’s gone before. The skills are undoubtedly there, it will be how the players apply the skills when faced with the potential of extended blocks of deliveries to make the most of – batting and bowling.” With ‘finding a way’ being very much the Plunkett mode of operation, he should once again fit right in.
Words: Andy Afford
Photoshoot: Sam Bowles