SEVEN years ago, the Yorkshire and England pace bowler Liam Plunkett did one of the most extraordinary things that any son could do for his father.
He offered him one of his kidneys.
Alan Plunkett, stricken by a potentially life-threatening condition called polycystic kidney disease, did one of the most extraordinary things that any parent could do in return.
He turned the offer down.
“As soon as Liam found out about my illness, he offered me one of his kidneys straight away without any consideration whatsoever about his career,” Plunkett senior said at the time.
“All he was worried about was me and my health. You could not do anything more for a parent, but I said, ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
“It was an amazing thing to do, but I could not accept because I’d be worried it would affect his cricket career.”
Tomorrow, Alan Plunkett – who subsequently underwent a successful transplant – will be at Headingley to watch his son play for England in the second Investec Test against Sri Lanka.
He will make the short journey down from his home in Middlesbrough, having missed Plunkett junior’s return to international cricket last week – following a seven-year absence – in the first Test at Lord’s due to a holiday in Cyprus.
It is a heartwarming story, and there will be no more proud parent in cricket or Christendom these next few days.
And as Plunkett junior revealed yesterday, it was an international comeback that his father feared would never happen.
“Dad said to me, the other day on the telephone, ‘I honestly thought that you wouldn’t play for England again’,” said Plunkett junior. “He said, ‘you’ve proved me wrong, and I’m over the moon for you.’ I had a few doubts myself, if I’m perfectly honest. It’s just great that he’s coming down to Headingley.”
Match figures of 2-155 scarcely did Plunkett justice at Lord’s, where he worried the Sri Lankans with his pace and bounce.
Now he hopes to build on that at Leeds, where it will mean the world to him to have his father present.
“It was my dad, when I came to Yorkshire, who gave me the great advice to treat it as though I had just signed my first county contract,” said Plunkett, who spent 12 years with previous club Durham.
“Everything seemed to take off from there. Dad’s healthy now, which is the main thing, and I offered him a kidney when he was ill because you do that at the drop of a hat for your old man.
“He was on dialysis for quite a few years and it was hard for him, but he never grumbled, never complained.”
Plunkett junior is a far better bowler now than during his first incarnation as an international cricketer.
He played nine Tests between 2005 and 2007 and lost his way – not helped by over-coaching and excessive self-analysis. That is why Yorkshire and, in particular, first team coach Jason Gillespie have been so good for him. Gillespie told him to focus on bowling fast and not worry about conceding runs, giving him a clarity of role.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really know what kind of bowler I was,” said Plunkett, 29. “I used to think about things too much, even to the point – when I was trying to go to sleep at night – of worrying about bowling four wides with my first ball and things like that.
“I used to have lots of negative thoughts running through my head.
“Now, if I do have a negative thought, I try to throw a positive one in there as well.”
Different coaches told Plunkett different things. At times it became overwhelming.
“When you’re a youngster, you’re a bit like a sponge and take it all in,” he reflected. “But, when you’re older, you learn to filter things out and to back yourself.”
Perhaps the best advice came from Geoffrey Boycott, Yorkshire president when Plunkett signed in October 2012.
“I remember meeting Boycott when I joined Yorkshire and he said, ‘don’t think, just bowl’, and walked off,” said Plunkett. “That’s all he said to me!
“I don’t think I’ve spoken to him since, but it was great advice.”
Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England. Visit investec.co.uk/cricket or follow us @InvestecCricket