LIAM PLUNKETT believes he is bowling as quickly as anyone in England at present and is ready to return to international cricket.
The Yorkshire fast bowler has not represented his country since 2011 after losing his way at previous club Durham.
But after joining Yorkshire at the end of 2012, Plunkett’s performances have gradually improved, culminating in his selection for the recent England Lions tour to Sri Lanka that showed he is firmly in the selectors’ thoughts.
England Test and one-day captain Alastair Cook has admitted that places are up for grabs following a woeful winter in which England lost 12-1 across all three formats in Australia, including a 5-0 Ashes whitewash.
Plunkett is determined to grab one of them as he looks to add to his total of nine Tests, 29 one-day internationals and one Twenty20 international.
“I feel ready for another crack at it (playing for England),” said Plunkett, who took 4-108 as Somerset scored 530-9 in reply to Yorkshire’s 450 on the third day of the County Championship match in Taunton.
“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could represent England again, and I’d absolutely love to do that.
“I feel like I’m as quick as anyone out there in England at the minute and really fit and strong.
“There’s a lot of people performing around the country – the likes of Chris Jordan and Steven Finn are taking wickets, for example – and I just have to see what happens.”
Plunkett, 29, said the key to his revival had been the support he has received from Yorkshire coaches Martyn Moxon and Jason Gillespie and their use of him as a strike bowler.
Plunkett had been employed in more of a containing role at Durham, where he lost form and confidence, only to rediscover it last summer as he took 36 Championship wickets for Yorkshire at 28.33.
“Dizzy (Gillespie) and Frog (Moxon) have really backed me and encouraged me to bowl aggressively,” said Plunkett, who is also a useful late-order batsman.
“Durham wanted me to go for two an over but that’s not my game. I might go for three or four an over but, as long as I’m picking up wickets, that’s the most important thing.
“That’s what I’ve tried to do down here in Taunton; there’s not a lot happening on this wicket so I’ve tried to make it happen with a few bouncers and stuff.”
To the naked eye, Plunkett seemed to be bowling 90mph-plus yesterday – very much Yorkshire’s answer to Australia’s Mitchell Johnson.
It followed on from his excellent displays on the England Lions tour, where he was a consistent wicket-taker and in which he scored a career-best 114 against Sri Lanka A Emerging Players.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I’m just enjoying my cricket,” he added. “I didn’t expect to go on the Lions tour this winter; to get that chance and to put myself back in the frame was a really good thing for me.
“I may be touching 90mph at the moment but it’s hard to know.
“The key is that I can keep it going throughout the day, spell after spell.”
Gillespie has no doubt that Plunkett has what it takes to play again for England.
The former Australia fast bowler, who has been able to pass on his pearls of wisdom to the player, acknowledged the England selectors are taking close notice of performances in county cricket.
“Liam could be a contender for England,” said Gillespie. “The selectors will be looking at bowlers who are performing in county cricket leading up to the first Test, which is still a while away, and Liam has bowled very well for Yorkshire.
“He is an impact bowler; we use him in short bursts and look to him to create indecision.
“He has hit two lads on the head in this match and ruffled a few feathers, and I don’t care what anyone says: no batsman likes 90mph-plus coming at them, and when Liam gets it right he’s as quick as anyone.”
England’s Ashes whitewash means few players can be certain of retaining their place for the forthcoming Tests against Sri Lanka and India.
The first Test against Sri Lanka starts on June 12, affording cricketers up and down the country ample time to make an impression on the selectors.
“It’s an exciting time in English cricket in that, for the first time in a long time, there’s quite a few places up for grabs,” said England captain Cook.
“That happens when you lose games of cricket, and we lost five (in Australia) pretty heavily.
“Good performances in the County Championship over the next few weeks will push people’s claims, and I don’t think you can rule anyone out,” he added.
It is further motivation, were any required, for the likes of Plunkett to put up his hand.
Match report and scorecards: Page 23.