There was a time when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood. Then there was another time when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood. It seems safe to assume that it won’t happen a third time – other than in this article.
This article looks back on the first two occasions when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood.
This is Sajid Mahmood.
To many of you, Sajid Mahmood’s face will be a very familiar face, but it occurs to us that some of you may never have even seen him.
Saj hasn’t played international cricket since 2009, which is one thing – but he hasn’t even played first-class cricket since 2014.
Four years is quite a difficult time gap to appreciate. Four years ago feels roughly the same as the present day, but at the same time it also seems poised to stroll through to an era where you can legitimately reminisce.
Four years ago, the most recent Star Wars film was shit. Four years ago, you hadn’t heard Uptown Funk even once.
Point is, Saj’s cricket career isn’t currently at its zenith.
In 2004, England picked Sajid Mahmood for their one-day international (ODI) side. In 2005, they picked Liam Plunkett for the Test team and then almost immediately for ODIs as well. Early in 2006, Sajid Mahmood made his Test debut.
These were exciting times and these were exciting bowlers. They bowled quickly and they were both in their early 20s. As it became increasingly apparent that Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones maybe weren’t the kinds of bowlers who would venture far into their thirties, Liam and Saj were (briefly) viewed as The Future.
By the end of 2007, Liam Plunkett had 23 Test wickets at 39.82 and Sajid Mahmood had 20 wickets at 38.10. Both were run-conceding machines. Plunkett was going at 3.57 runs an over and Mahmood was going at 4.04.
They played two Tests together and while the second one went quite well, both their reputations were bound to the Idol of Many Hands and thrown off the dock into the sea by the first one. It was the one where Sri Lanka made 537-9 following on and Andrew Flintoff tried to bowl himself into a debilitating bout of rigor mortis.
Their one-day records at this point also encouraged the notion that the two of them were basically the same shit player. Plunkett had taken 37 ODI wickets at 34.05 with an economy rate of 5.85. Mahmood had 29 at 38.89 and was conceding runs at the exact same rate.
That rate seems unspectacular nowadays, but let us tell you this was still a time when commentators would spend 10 overs talking portentously about the moment when the required run-rate would finally exceed a run a ball.
Whenever anyone said something about Liam Plunkett or Sajid Mahmood in 2007, they said it in a sort of groaning sigh and what they said, every single time, was: “Why do they keep picking him?”
In The Secret of Monkey Island, the character you play, Guybrush Threepwood, can hold his breath for ten minutes. When he is thrown off the dock tethered to the weighty-looking fabulous idol, you have these ten minutes to escape.
All Sajid Mahmood managed to do was slowly turn green, but Liam Plunkett at some point hit upon the solution. The solution is that you pick up the idol, pocket it, and climb out of the sea. (This analogy doesn’t actually extend to the solution – we only mention it because the solution is a very wonderful and funny thing.)
Plunkett is the elder statesman of England’s one-day bowling attack these days and he has become the quick bowler they absolutely rely upon for wickets when the opposing batsmen start to take flight.
Plunkett bangs in the short one; he bobbles in the short one; and he sometimes spears it or bobbles it at the stumps. He bowls all of these things reliably and he cycles through them until one works – and generally one does.
Liam Plunkett now has over a hundred ODI wickets at under 30. And let us tell you about his economy rate, because this is so marvellous and we are so happy with these numbers.
We took the end of 2007 as being the end of Act I of Liam Plunkett’s career because while he played the odd international after that point, they were very occasional and he’d definitely fallen into the “only if we’ve suffered plenty of injuries” category.
As we said before, at the end of 2007, Liam Plunkett’s ODI economy rate was an eye-watering 5.85. As the world has reshaped itself around him, his economy rate has dropped from to a more-than-handy 5.84. (Isn’t that great?)
So, okay, not all of the numbers properly tell the story of how Plunkett has gone from “why do they keep picking him?” to World Cup linchpin. You can comprehend it better by looking back on matches like the one on Saturday when he beasted four wickets and secured an England win.
(Quick late digression: One of the umpires for that match was Alex Wharf, who was England’s very next ODI debutant after Sajid Mahmood. Alex Wharf’s debut went well. He was man of the match.)
While he might be knocking on a little, Liam Plunkett’s cricket career is pretty much at its peak.
In contrast, Sajid Mahmood was last seen literally pretending to be a bowler in a TV advert for a betting company.
Not a raw deal, like Chris Read got, but pretty rare – bloodier than he asked for in the middle.
Plunkett was picked to go on the tour to the UAE and then somehow found himself three places down the pecking order for the South Africa tour despite not having played. From the outside, this seems bizarre. From the inside, it presumably makes more sense.
The captain and coach see plenty of the players in the nets. We all know the meaninglessness of them ‘coming out well’ or ‘being hit well’ in a net scenario, but that isn’t to say that spraying it around like an unmanned fire hose should also be ignored. We’re not saying that’s what Plunkett’s been doing necessarily. Maybe he simply hasn’t impressed. Trevor Bayliss is still fairly new as England coach and perhaps he’s still making up his mind about a few players.
None of which is the point we were going to make. Our point is that in recent years, while he’s been on the fringes of the England team, Plunkett has generally been considered only in unfriendly environments.
Green seamer – stick to the usual guys.
Flat pitch, unhelpful conditions – we need something ‘extra’.
In a sense, Plunkett’s benefited from filling that niche, but it’s also indicative of how perceptions can be skewed when you live your international life on the periphery. We don’t have separate stats for the infamous chief exectutives’ pitches. No-one adds an asterisk and gives you extra points for effort.
Within weeks and months, all that remains are the numbers. Whether or not they’re coming out well in the nets is the only other thing people have to go off.
There was a period, just after tea, when England started looking decidedly fast-medium. Fortunately for Alastair Cook, it was a day when persisting with right-arm fast-medium wasn’t actually the worst ploy imaginable and Kumar Sangakkara’s wicket precipitated a sudden flow of wickets that gushed so strongly that most people didn’t even notice Stuart Broad’s hat-trick.
The hat-trick was spread over two overs with a Liam Plunkett wicket tucked away inside it – but you should always notice three in three. A hat trick ball is one of the great panto moments in cricket and it only really works with the proper comedy build-up. Sadly, Broad’s third will look like just another wicket on the highlights.
Plunkett bowled well. It seems he had been given the famously unproductive ‘enforcer’ role at Lord’s simply because he is the fastest of the four right-arm fast-medium bowlers England have fielded in these two Tests. He probably would have bowled more like he did today if left to his own devices. This raises the possibility that England’s bowlers will all be striving to become second-fastest so that they get to bowl how they want to and aren’t just a forlorn stab at ‘variety’.
We all knew that Sam Robson was going to get picked. He’ll play sensibly and probably quite well. If so, we’ll be quite happy about that while simultaneously wishing that we didn’t have to endure hilarious Australian ‘banter’ about his place of birth every time he gets a half-decent score.
We all knew that Moeen Ali was going to get a game. No-one’s blown away by that, but we also know there’s little point arguing about it because there ain’t really owt else on offer. To rail against his selection would be as futile as wailing at the empty shelves in a derelict bakery. Throw as big a tantrum as you like – loaves of sourdough will not materialise. You’re going to have to make do with the day-old half a baguette in your hand.
We also suspected that Matt Prior was going to come back. He’s scored some runs and he’s Matt Prior. By the flaxen locks of Gower, it’ll be a relief if he’s back to something approaching normal.
Steady batting, cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it’ll-be-at-least-semi-competent spin bowling and the same wicketkeeper as before all the good stuff completely evaporated leaving only a sticky, unsavoury residue. What’s far more interesting is the fairly fast bowling.
Chris Jordan’s selection was as predictable as those above, while about a month ago we said that Liam Plunkett was hovering near the door, unable to find a doorbell, trying to muster the courage to knock. His selection was forseeable, but is still quite intriguing. Could he unsame the bowling attack a touch?
James Anderson is so fit that he can effortlessly bowl at 84mph all day long. If he really puts the effort in, he gets up to about 87mph. This isn’t really worth the extra energy expenditure, so he generally doesn’t bother.
Stuart Broad definitely has it in him to bowl quickly. This is how he’s found his way into the England team in all three formats. Playing so much has worn him down to a good, solid 85mph bowler.
Chris Woakes is also in the squad. Not so long ago, he was a medium-pace all-rounder and it was thought he wasn’t quite quick enough to thrive in Test cricket. As a consequence, he’s worked really hard to increase his pace so that he’s now a good, solid 84mph English seamer, same as everyone else.
Chris Jordan’s a bit quicker. Liam Plunkett’s a bit quicker still.
Proper fast bowlers operate above 90mph all the time. These pair are more the kinds of bowlers who can deliver the ball quicker than that from time to time. However, this might, occasionally, allow England to attack a batsman in a slightly different way. Dull afternoon sessions just became fractionally less dull! For a bit! Until whoever plays (possibly both?) is worn down to generic English seamer pace by the relentless demands of international cricket!
If you read about county cricket much, you’ll be familiar with this kind of thing. A player you hadn’t thought about a right lot suddenly starts worming his way into every second article, even though he doesn’t seem to have done anything especially eyecatching. In May 2014, that person is Liam Plunkett.
His record this season is okay – good even – but it’s not spectacular. He has hit 172 runs at 43 and taken 15 wickets at 27.33. So why the big whoop?
It’s that age-old obsession – pace. Apparently he’s recovered the half a yard he lost and added an additional proportion of a yard which no-one’s yet measured. He also seems to be the anti-Shaun Tait in that he can maintain this pace for more than two overs.
We’ve heard enough positive things from enough different sources to be slightly surprised that Plunkett isn’t being given the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the High-Visibility Tabard of Squad Membership worn by one-day international superfluosities. He did get an entirely unnecessary mention when they announced the squad though. Could he be in line for a Test recall?
That’s our way of saying that Liam Plunkett’s flying from the Caribbean to Australia to maybe-or-maybe-not appear in a dead rubber for England before flying back again.
At least James Anderson had a new slavering bairn as a reason for racking up thousands of air miles. That’s a decent reason. ‘Maybe having to do some work but probably not having to do any work at all’ is not a good reason.
Liam Plunkett will have to wrestle with his conscience about eco-issues as well now.
Liam Plunkett’s a bit of a batsman as well, but his bowling is what matters.
Of Durham’s many fine bowlers, Onions, Harmison and Blackwell all averaged less than Plunkett last season, but only Harmison took more wickets. Plunkett’s average of 24.83 was hardly shameful either.
Although Plunkett’s age seems to increase by the year, he’s still only 25. He’s probably getting to the point where experience and youth are sitting hand-in-hand, perhaps watching an Adam Sandler film and wondering whether it’ll seem funnier if they drink more wine. Next season experience will have a lot more to do but youth won’t really feel like helping any more.
Liam Plunkett will probably be quite happy to spend less time watching England play while wearing the High-Visibility Tabard of Squad Membership that the national side uses to help onlookers identify who’s not been picked for this particular one-day international.
Liam Plunkett’s partly representing Sajid Mahmood here as well (if it’s possible for one person to represent an entirely different person). It’s that whole ‘actually, those bowlers aren’t shite’ sentiment that we expressed a month or so ago.
Both bowlers are synonymous with Duncan Fletcher prematurity, but that word ‘prematurity’ is the key there. These pair were selected on promise and just because they didn’t meet those expectations then and there doesn’t mean all promise has been washed out of them, like a beer stain out of your second favourite T-shirt.
Maybe that promising stain was greasier than that. Maybe it’s never going to wash out. Maybe it’ll expand and take over the whole T-shirt until you can’t even see the stain any more, because the whole T-shirt’s the same greasy colour; a better colour. Now it’s your favourite T-shirt and the one that was previously your favourite has to be thrown away or dumped in county cricket in order to get some overs under its belt.
Liam Plunkett is still only 23. He’s about a month older than Stuart Broad. Even we weren’t fully on the scrap heap at that age.
Liam Plunkett took 3-16 as Durham FINALLY made it into the Twenty20 Cup semi finals.
With three superlative overs behind him, Plunkett’s surely in line for a Test recall. That’s a whole opening spell for England these days.