Thirty-nine-year-old Surrey captain Gareth Batty is getting another go at international cricket in Bangladesh and India this winter. He tells AOC how he’s approaching it.
It might not have been a performance that demanded the world sit up and scream “WHERE HAS GARETH BATTY BEEEEN!?” but the 39-year-old’s international comeback at Chittagong was at least a qualified success. England won, for a start.
It was an appearance Batty had been working towards since June 2005 – the last of seven Tests he played either as a second spinner on the subcontinent or as an injury replacement for Ashley Giles – during his first stint in international cricket.
“I’ll be honest, I was really nervous,” he said of his return, speaking to Sky after play on day two. No wonder. He’d just taken the new ball in what was effectively a second debut.
Speaking to AOC just before departing on this late-career jaunt, Batty admits he was ill-prepared for his first go with England. “Did I fully know or understand my game? No. Do I now? Yes. Is that going to be a big difference? Who knows?”
The first Test at Chittagong was inconclusive. The Surrey captain looked unsuited to opening the bowling and in general had to increase his pace to make best use of a slow, turning pitch and prevent batsmen well-practised against spin simply sitting comfortably on the back foot. With scoring off the seamers seemingly more difficult for Bangladesh, it was Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes to whom Alastair Cook successfully turned on the crucial final morning.
But Batty adjusted reasonably quickly and over the course of the Test made a telling contribution – all three of his second-innings wickets came at crucial times when England were in need of breakthroughs. Though Alastair Cook hinted at changes to the bowling attack for the Dhaka Test, Batty looks the most accomplished of his spin options and is likely to have a significant role to play as the long Asian winter wears on.
And he’s loving it. There was no hesitation in accepting the call-up, despite the security concerns and the birth in September of a baby daughter, Isabella.
“Straussy called me – funnily enough it was a couple of days after Isabella was born, so I was at the hospital. I basically semi-stopped him in his tracks and just said, ‘If you’re telling me it’s fine, we don’t need to have this conversation.’ I’m not going to second-guess the security people – what do I know about it?
“Whilst I’m still playing, if I’m required to perform a role at that level, I’m there. I’m not pushing it – I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing, my focus has been Surrey. But it’s an amazing thing and I’m relishing it, someone’s given me an opportunity and hopefully I can take it.”
As a bowler he believes he’s never been better. While as a young man, he might have busied himself with the trend for developing a doosra, now the game is simple. He knows what his strengths are and sticks to them.
“Crucially, you’ve got a very strong base with your feet and you’re pulling down hard into your left hip, and you can adjust the axis with your upper body and try a few different seam positions once you’ve got that basis.
“Unfortunately for spinners that base and that feel seems to happen a lot later than with fast bowlers or batters, because you need to get that volume in your body and to have tried a lot of things. It’s down to a volume of bowling.
“It’s having the confidence, even when you’re having a bad day, to say ‘No, this is good, this works, this is what I go back to.’ You see it with the batsmen, Cooky’s a great example. Rather than changing every day or trying too many things, you just go back to what you do.”
So, as he waved goodbye to Isabella and hopped on a plane alongside Haseeb Hameed (who was born three months before Batty’s first-class debut) he did so with the quiet confidence that comes from knowing your own capabilities. And the excitement of someone with little to lose. He’s determined to soak up the experience and contribute to the cause alongside his younger teammates.
“I’ve always very much been a team man within a group I’m with and that will not change, whatever I’m asked to do. Whether that’s mixing – and I like to think I’m a pretty good Powerade and water mixer – I did it pretty well with Harmy and the boys over in the West Indies a few years ago. Ideally I’m not doing that but if I’m doing it I’ll be trying to do it the best I possibly can. I’ll just be me and try to help the group, hopefully that’s good enough.”
Whatever happens from hereon this winter, Batty for one will be enjoying his bonus international return.
“It’s the game I love. Some people will not always see that on the field because I want to win but fundamentally I am an absolute cricket badger. And that will never change. So if I’ve got an opportunity to get out there on the biggest stage against the best players of spin and hopefully get a go, it’s ridiculously exciting.
“You just go for it, don’t you?”