Warwickshire v Yorkshire: Liam Plunkett is driving back into England Test frame

Liam Plunkett on his way to his first Championship century, which arrived from just 102 balls and contained two sixes and 18 fours, against Hampshire at Headingley. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Liam Plunkett on his way to his first Championship century, which arrived from just 102 balls and contained two sixes and 18 fours, against Hampshire at Headingley. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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LIAM PLUNKETT goes into tomorrow’s County Championship game with his personal wheel having come full circle.

Just under a year ago, Plunkett was dropped for the Championship match against Hampshire at Headingley after failing to attend the final training session before the game and the club’s annual photo-call.

Coach Jason Gillespie said Plunkett “crossed the line”, stressed that no-one is bigger than the team, and promptly sent the England pace bowler down to Kent to play for the second team.

Suitably embarrassed, Plunkett responded by scoring a century in the match at Polo Farm, Canterbury.

Wind back to last Monday and, on the second day of this year’s home game with Hampshire, Plunkett scored his first century for the Yorkshire first XI.

His 126 was his first Championship hundred full stop, beating the 94 not out he made for Durham against Sussex at Hove in 2009, and it had a nice symmetry about it considering what had happened almost 12 months earlier.

Fresh back from the World T20, where he helped England to a runners-up finish, Plunkett has hit the ground running this season. He also bowled some good stuff, taking 2-75 from 25 overs.

“To come back from the World Cup and do that first up was pleasing,” said Plunkett.

“From where I was last year, when I didn’t play because I didn’t turn up, I turned up late, to do that was good. In my first game last year, I got that hundred for the second team, so it’s nice to start this year with a hundred for the firsts.”

Plunkett does not want last week’s innings to be a one-off, and there is no reason why it should.

He has always been able to bat; he had two first-class hundreds prior to last week: 107 not out for Durham against Durham MCCU at The Racecourse in 2007, and 114 for England Lions against Sri Lanka Emerging Players at Colombo in 2014.

“I always consider I can get runs, even though I was No 11 in the T20 World Cup for a few games,” he said.

“You get so much practice these days, you get throws, and you’re facing net bowlers all the time.

“I actually feel in good nick with bat and ball. I certainly enjoy my batting, and with the way that we play at Yorkshire, I can just go out and play my natural game.”

Plunkett’s natural game is not to die wondering.

One of the fittest and strongest players on the circuit, he likes to give the ball a fair old whack.

Plunkett’s innings against Hampshire was brutal, his runs arriving from just 102 balls and including 18 fours and two sixes.

He quipped that his favourite shot was when he nearly cleaned up Jonny Bairstow with a straight drive, the pair adding 227 for the seventh wicket in just 28.1 overs, with Bairstow scoring a career-best 246.

“Jonny was obviously nailing it and I just went out there at the start of my innings trying to rotate the strike,” continued Plunkett.

“But I hit my first ball for four and, as soon as I’d hit a few out of the middle, I just tried to carry it on.

“I don’t think I’ve played better in terms of striking the ball, and I’d felt good in the nets prior to the game.

“I felt I had good balance and, being a tall lad, I sometimes fall over a bit, but I felt like I was hitting the ball straight.”

Plunkett’s striking was such that he almost scored a hundred before lunch, despite not coming in to bat until 11.52am.

At the break, he had 94 to his name, so nearly becoming the first Yorkshire batsman to score a first-class century before lunch since Ashley Metcalfe against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in 1990.

“I did try (to get a hundred before lunch),” laughed Plunkett.

“I ran down with two balls to go, swiped and missed it and looked stupid.

“But it was a great feeling when I did get to three figures.

“I’ve had a few first-class hundreds, but that was my first Champo and, hopefully, there’ll be a few more.”

It promises to be another important summer for the 31-year-old as he battles to regain his Test place.

He did not play in the Tests or one-dayers against Pakistan and South Africa last winter, although he did take three wickets in both of his T20 appearances against Pakistan.

“I got a chance in the T20s and bowled as well as anyone, I felt, with good pace,” said Plunkett, whose last Test was against India at Lord’s in 2014.

“I had a few injuries and didn’t go away to South Africa, and then I got in the T20 World Cup squad and felt really good.

“I played the last four or five games and felt strong, and although it was frustrating to me that I didn’t play more in the winter, I felt that when I got my chance, I did myself proud.

“I want to be aggressive and show good intent with bat and ball and, if I don’t get myself in the England Test squad, I just want to do as well as I possibly can for Yorkshire.”