LIAM PLUNKETT has revealed how a conversation with a coach at Durham who told him his best days were behind him spurred him on to resurrect his career at Yorkshire and gain an England recall after a seven-year absence.
Plunkett was yesterday named in a 12-man squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on Thursday after some outstanding performances for Yorkshire this season.
The 29-year-old pace bowler, who is joined in the squad by Yorkshire team-mates Joe Root and Gary Ballance after fellow county colleagues Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan were overlooked, said he was fired-up by comments made just before he left former club Durham.
“I didn’t play too much at Durham towards the end and I remember I sat down with one of the coaches – I’m not naming names – who said, when I was thinking of leaving, ‘I don’t think you’ll ever be as good as what you’ve been’,” said Plunkett.
“That stuck in my mind a lot.
“I don’t know if it was bitterness, or what, but I took it on board and when I signed for Yorkshire I tried to be the fittest guy, the most professional, the one who turned up earliest for training and who trained harder than anyone else.
“I started to get some focus back and started to find some consistency in my game.”
Plunkett, who believes he did not do himself justice when his nine Tests between 2005 and 2007 brought him 23 wickets at 39.82, feels he is a much better player now.
He attributes his revival – one of the most dramatic by an English cricketer in recent memory – not only to his own hard work but also to the positive effect Yorkshire have had on him and, in particular, the influence of director of cricket Martyn Moxon and first-team coach Jason Gillespie.
Moxon and Gillespie took a punt on Plunkett after his Durham career had hit the buffers, but by making him feel wanted and by giving him a specific role – to steam in and strive to take wickets in savage 90mph-plus spells – they not only helped him rekindle his England ambitions but also regain his love for the sport.
“Dizzy (Gillespie) and Frog (Moxon) have been amazing,” said Plunkett, who has taken 24 wickets in seven County Championship games this year at 24.83.
“They’ve backed and supported me from the word go – as have Andrew Gale, our captain, and also Paul Farbrace when he was here, too – and helped me to really enjoy my cricket again, which I probably hadn’t been before.
“They’re great man-managers and, if they think that you’re tired, for example, they’ll pull you out of a game and give you a few days off, while they’re always up-front, honest and good to talk to.
“The fact they were really keen to sign me in the first place gave me a lot of confidence and I owe them a lot.”
It was not only on the field but off it, too, that Plunkett found life difficult towards the end at Durham.
A second drink-driving charge prompted a long, hard look in the mirror and a fierce determination to get his act together in all respects.
“I had a few problems a while back and made mistakes but I’ve learned from them,” he said. “It made me appreciate things more and, hopefully, made me grow up a bit more as well.
“When I moved to Yorkshire, my dad told me to approach it like I’d just signed my first pro contract, and that’s what I’ve done.
“I felt I still had so much more to give to the game and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still good enough to play for England because cricket is my life and I don’t want to do anything else.”
National selector James Whitaker reserved special praise for Plunkett and Yorkshire yesterday when announcing the squad.
“Well done to Martyn Moxon and Jason Gillespie and all the guys at Yorkshire who have helped Liam to be successful,” said Whitaker. “They have asked him to run in and bowl quick and he’s done just that.
“Liam excelled on the Lions tour of Sri Lanka in the winter and he’s shown all the hallmarks of a spearhead fast bowler. He’s had some really quick spells and we wish him well; it’s a great achievement.”
Plunkett is joined in the squad by three uncapped players in Middlesex opening batsman Sam Robson, Sussex pace bowler Chris Jordan and Worcestershire all-rounder Moeen Ali.
Ben Stokes was omitted as England do not feel he has yet had enough cricket following his return from a wrist injury, although wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior replaces Bairstow despite having played even less cricket than Stokes after being sidelined by an Achilles problem.
England 1st Test squad: Cook (capt), Ali, Anderson, Ballance, Bell, Broad, Jordan, Plunkett, Prior, Robson, Root, Woakes.