During an interview last year, Paul Farbrace argued that English players could prosper and succeed in white ball cricket without Test cricket ever coming into the equation. Of course, every player wants to play at the highest level possible to them. But England’s assistant head coach argued in the modern age it is OK to be considered a ‘white-ball cricketer’ and not constantly strive to play the longest format. Eoin Morgan immediately sprang to mind; Adil Rashid, too. Perhaps we’ll be saying the same of Alex Hales and Jason Roy in a few years’ time.
Liam Plunkett has added his name to this list given his efforts over the past two years. The paceman has had a stagnated Test career, making just 13 appearances over a ten-year span. But white-ball cricket has given Plunkett a way back into the international game. More so, he is arguably England’s most threatening wicket-taker in ODI cricket. At 32-years-old, Plunkett has taken 28 of his 88 ODI wickets this year alone and is currently the leading wicket-taker in the Champions Trophy after two matches, with eight wickets. Furthermore, all three of Plunkett’s five-wicket hauls have come this year.
England’s batting has dominated their rise in white-ball cricket, but the need for wicket-takers is crucial to winning global tournaments. More specifically, the need to take wickets in the middle overs. In the recent tour of India, after making 350-7 in the first ODI, England reduced India to 63-4 with some excellent new ball bowling. Nevertheless, the lack of a world-class spinner and inconsistent seam bowling – and a Virat Kohli masterclass, it must be said – allowed India to chase it down relatively comfortably. Now, Liam Plunkett is providing the answer to England’s call. By not taking the new ball or bowling at the death, Plunkett ‘plays a similar role’ to that of Imran Tahir or Ravi Ashwin for his side by bowling economically, building pressure and breaking partnerships.
Players like Liam Plunkett often do not get the credit they deserve; especially when they are playing alongside superstars like Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. And if England do win the Champions Trophy, Plunkett will no doubt be an unsung hero, a player whose value is not truly known until they are gone. Similarities can be drawn from Simon Jones and the 2005 Ashes series or Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan in the 2010/11 Ashes. Speaking of the Ashes, even though Plunkett will be more than happy with the role he plays in England’s white-ball sides, the dreamer in him might not rule out the possibility of landing himself a seat on the plane when England head down under in a few months time.