England must call on Plunkett for pure pace

Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett.
Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett.
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YORKSHIRE’S first-team coach Jason Gillespie believes Liam Plunkett can be England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson.

Gillespie feels Plunkett can play the “enforcer” role in the same way Johnson does for Australia.

His comments come as the player prepares to return to international cricket against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on Thursday – seven years after his last Test appearance.

“England could use Liam in the same way that Australia have used Johnson in short bursts,” said Gillespie, who has overseen Plunkett’s renaissance at Yorkshire.

“He could definitely do that (the enforcer role) and some days it will work, others it won’t.

“Australia found that out pretty quick with Mitch, to be honest.

“Sometimes, Mitch went the journey and bowled four overs for 30, but the way Michael Clarke used him during the Ashes series was some of the best captaincy I’ve seen.”

Johnson was the key difference in the Ashes as Australia thrashed England 5-0.

The 32-year-old left-armer took 37 wickets at 13.97, but it was not a case of wall-to-wall success.

“In the five Ashes Tests, Mitch took close on 40 wickets, but there were times when he bowled two overs for 20 and Clarke would just take him off,” said Gillespie.

“People forget that.

“Similarly, at Northampton last week, Liam bowled eight overs for 55 runs and there will be times when it won’t go his way.

“But the key for me is how he’s used; if he’s used as a line and length bowler, England are not going to get the best out of him, but if they tell him to run in, bowl fast and back him 100 per cent, it’s a different matter.”

This, in a nutshell, is what Gillespie and Yorkshire have done since Plunkett joined the club in 2012.

His career had stalled at previous county Durham, while one or two off-field problems – most notably a second drink-driving conviction – prompted Plunkett to get his act together in every sense.

“Liam just looked in the mirror and said that he had to change to give himself the very best chance,” said Gillespie.

“He’d lost his way a bit on and off the field but that can happen sometimes and, for us, it was just a total clean slate.

“Liam spoke very honestly, acknowledged that he’d stuffed up a bit and was very clear in what his goal was, which was to play Test cricket again for England.

“People said it was a risk when we signed him, but I don’t see any risks with a bloke who can bowl 90mph and hit the ball out of the ground.”

Gillespie modestly refuses to take credit for Plunkett’s revival, which he attributes “99 per cent to the player and one per cent to the club”.

He believes Plunkett is the fastest man in England at present – and the fittest cricketer he has ever seen.

“Liam is the fittest cricketer I’ve ever come across, no question,” said Gillespie.

“He’s a genuine athlete and the fastest bowler in England right now, someone who is consistently bowling 90mph-plus.

“It’s not uncommon for Liam, if he’s bored, to go to the gym and do a 10k run on a treadmill and then do an hour of weights.

“He’ll punch out that 10k in about 35 minutes and he looks after himself incredibly well.”

Gillespie believes Plunkett would thrive for England as part of a four-man rather than three-man seam attack.

He feels he would complement the different blend of bowlers.

“It looks like the way England are going to go is to play four seamers and have spin with Moeen Ali,” said Gillespie.

“For Liam, I think that’s absolutely perfect.

“I’m not sure it would be ideal for him if he was in a three-man seam attack because at times he can go the journey a bit, much like Mitch Johnson.

“But you would have a good mix then as you have Jimmy Anderson, who can pitch the ball up and swing it both ways; Stuart Broad, who can hit the track; Chris Jordan, who bowls good pace, and then Liam who’s got that blistering pace.”

Only 9.3 overs were possible on day two of Yorkshire’s County Championship match against Nottinghamshire.

Yorkshire advanced from 52-2 in their first innings to 76-2, with Jack Leaning unbeaten on 35 and Andrew Gale undefeated on 23.

Rain began falling at 11.35am, with play finally called off at 3.30pm.

Yorkshire are 129 runs behind after Nottinghamshire scored 205 on the opening day.

Yorkshire and England Under-19 captain Will Rhodes has been named England Development Programme Cricketer of the Year.

Rhodes, who led England to third place in the Under-19 World Cup, was honoured at a special dinner at Lord’s last night.

Ian Bell and Charlotte Edwards were named England Men’s and England Women’s Cricketer of the Year respectively, while Stephen George, from the England Deaf Squad, was named England Disability Cricketer of the Year.

“It’s a great achievement by Will,” commented Gillespie.

“We’ve got some wonderful young players at the club and it’s a proud honour for Will and for Yorkshire too.”