Liam Plunkett is the fast bowler that you don't want to be

You need me, you just don't know it Getty Images

You're still not done swooning over Jofra and may not be done anytime soon. Completely understandable. There's Woakesy, who is so inoffensive as to be unremarkable, but he's also really good; a cricketer's cricketer who does everything well without too much excitement. If communism ever begat a cricketer, Woakesy would be it, good at everything and yet, somehow, firmly, an anonymous unit in a wider, imposing collective.

Can't take your eyes off Woodsy for even a second, meanwhile. His ankle, heel, (insert body part of choice) could go at any point, he could change his run-up, or he could bowl the spell of your life. And Rash - England have a legspinner who is not Chris Schofield or Ian Salisbury, and it almost doesn't matter whether he wins them games, which, handily, he does. Even Mo, who if he's anything right now in this ODI side, is a bowler (and Rashid whisperer).

And though Stokesy isn't really much of an ODI bowler at the moment - he has bowled more than seven overs in an innings just four times in nearly two years - you're always watching him whenever he's near a ball, because you can't not.

ALSO READ: 'If I don't know what speed it's going to come out, the batters won't either' - Liam Plunkett

Then, of course, there's all that batting.

Except, wait, because there's one more guy. In that tiny space beyond which there is no more bandwidth left for love and appreciation, he exists. Where the ball's gone soft. Where, if there was any swing, it's long gone. Where fielders are not attackers, they are now safety nets. Where batsmen have either blazed through the start or negotiated a way past it, but either way are set. Where batsmen are now getting ready to plunder. Where grunt work is needed, the ugly overs, comes… Plunketty?

Liam Plunkett doesn't have the usual nickname (Pudsey apparently, as in the bear) but then Liam Plunkett is not your usual fast bowler.


Plunkett is right now one of the most fascinating exhibits of modern fast bowling. If that sounds equivocal, let's get some facts straight. Since the last World Cup, no fast bowler has taken more wickets in the middle overs of ODIs than Plunkett. There are only eight bowlers of any kind who have taken more wickets than him in that period. You've been marvelling at the resurgence of legspin (seven of the eight bowlers ahead of Plunkett are leggies), and at the likes of Hasan Ali, Mitchell Starc and Lockie Ferguson at various points over the last four years - how they have brought bowling back into the middle overs of ODIs. All this while Plunkett has been bossing it but nobody's hair has stood up on their arms.

That's because of the way he has done it - as the Anti-Fast Bowler. All you need to validate this is to look through his wickets at this World Cup. A slower bouncer down the leg side to strangle Tom Latham, innocent-looking length balls that somehow end up caught at backward point (Virat Kohli and Mushfiqur Rahim), nothing deliveries slogged to deep square-leg (Rishabh Pant and Quinton de Kock), mistimed pulls to the same (Chris Gayle), slogs to long-on, and so on and so forth.

You see the problem? These are filthy wickets, wickets that fast bowlers might consider unflattering, even insulting perhaps. They come off cutters, short-ball cutters that sometimes look like long hops, length-ball cutters that also look like long hops, length balls at sixth stump, leg-side strangles. In those four years since the last World Cup, according to ESPNcricinfo's records, 78% of the balls Plunkett has bowled have been length, short of a length, or just short.

These are not balls that will hit stumps or pads; accordingly he has zero bowleds and leg-befores in the tournament, and over these four years, only 12 of his 93 wickets have been from those two modes. This World Cup has been about yorkers and quick bouncers, and those are not Plunkett at all.

Round about two-fifths of his wickets have come from catches in the arc between fine leg and midwicket for right-handers (third man to extra cover for left-handers) and without even looking through them all, you can draw in the mind's eye the standard Plunkett dismissal: shortish, outside off stump to the right-hander, cutter, the batsman cross-batting it but to a man in the deep. There are fast bowlers out there who would rather be called batsmen than exist like this.

So more than stamina, strength, pace or dexterous wrists and fingers, Plunkett's bowling requires total subjugation of the ego. Which goes right to the heart of everything that fast bowling isn't.

And given how pragmatically England view him, that's no bad thing. Often he seems like the first person they drop from an XI when looking for the right combination. He has only played five out of nine games this World Cup, and they don't really like playing him away. He has played 42 of England's 56 home ODIs in the four-year period since the last World Cup, but only 16 of 41 away. And his away record is as good as his home record by most metrics. They also don't like playing him on grounds where the square boundaries are small, although he played and took three wickets against India at Edgbaston with its 59m boundary on one side.

It doesn't half seem sometimes that the only conditions England will play him on are - their second-highest wicket-taker since the last World Cup, with the best strike rate among those with 30 or more wickets - if there's a gun pointed at their head.

Because this is the other thing you may have noted, namely, the identity of his victims in this tournament: Kohli, Latham (New Zealand's highest scorer in that game), Pant and Hardik Pandya. He gets big names and he gets them at big moments. Not just at this tournament either - nearly 70% of his wickets in this four-year period are top-six batsmen.

Yet you'd be hard-pressed to remember any of them. In England's opening game against South Africa, the ball to Hashim Amla that people will remember for years is Archer's bouncer that retired him. That was the ball, 90mph at his eyes, life-threatening. The ball to Amla that nobody will remember is the one that got him, also a bouncer, but 79mph, and aimed two stumps outside off. It may have harmed a fly, that one, by our bear Pudsey.


The Plunkett ball you might be reasonably expected to remember is one he bowled over 12 years ago, at the SCG. Yorker-full, quick, swinging late and gone, timber knocked over - Adam Gilchrist's, no less.

That was the kind of ball Plunkett was meant to bowl a lot more of; the kind of ball England hoped would see him take over the mantle from their Fab Four Ashes quartet; the kind of ball that embodied everything Duncan Fletcher obsessed about in his fast bowlers - high pace, late swing; the search for that kind of ball has ruined any number of careers.

Indeed, it is a minor miracle and no little triumph that Plunkett is here right now, as close as any England cricketer since 1992 to becoming a 50-over world champion, and not on that scrapheap where lie the countless fast bowlers England burned through.

We talk about how much England's ODI game has changed in the last four years but it's worth recalling that Plunkett was part of their 2007 World Cup squad. England have written up and scrapped entire playbooks several times since then, as has Plunkett, and yet he is the only one who has been part of both campaigns.

It's a miracle that he has survived the overprotected, over-coached mollycoddling of those early years. Brought in too soon, bubbled up too soon, not enough time to exhale in county cricket, too much nannying, too much tinkering, too much thinking, too much advice. It's an indictment of a certain kind of modern English cricket that Plunkett's various rehabilitations have been marked by him needing to go back to not thinking - about bowling generally, about pace, or about swing. It's a wonder he didn't end up like, say, Steven Finn, and instead has found a version of himself that he can make peace with.

It's a version cricket occasionally will have to make peace with as well, because Plunkett is the bowling flip side of this era of batsmanship. He is the interruption - not obstacle - to the new batting mono-rhythm of attack, attack, attack; a monster that only this swamp could have produced.

With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman