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Don't think we've had a better chance of winning World Cup: Plunkett

Cricket news - Don't think we've had a better chance of winning World Cup: Plunkett

England fast bowler Liam Plunkett is getting married in a few weeks' time, but as with so many weddings, it is the bride-to-be who is doing most of the arranging. "I just say yes or no and she just ploughs away," Plunkett says. "She is so organised."

Things had been running smoothly on the wedding front. Plunkett and his fiance, Emaleah, had arranged their wedding so it didn't clash with the white-ball portion of England's tour of Sri Lanka, 65 guests had booked flights over from America, where she is from, and everything was set. That was until the Sri Lankan board changed the tour dates and suddenly, the wedding was in the middle of the ODI series.

Too late to change plans, Plunkett will miss the first three matches but will head to Sri Lanka two days after the wedding to join up with the squad for the final two games in Kandy and Colombo. "It's one of the biggest days of my life and I'm so excited for that," Plunkett tells Cricbuzz. "But I am happy they want me to be part of the squad ahead of the World Cup." He and Emaleah will get a honeymoon, albeit slightly delayed, with ten days in the Maldives booked for early December.

Plunkett's inclusion in England's squad despite being unavailable for part of the series is a measure of how important he has become to the ODI side. Since the start of 2017, he has taken 54 wickets in 29 matches at 23.83 and is Eoin Morgan's Mr. Dependable in the middle-overs. With his hit the deck, back of a length style, Plunkett has been able to both contain and take wickets, assets so vital to fielding teams in these rarefied days of batsmen running amok. He is a certainty for next year's World Cup squad.

But things have not always been so good at the international level. Two years after making his First-Class bow for Durham, he was in England's Test team with a debut in Lahore at the end of 2005, the series after England had just famously won the Ashes at home for the first time in an age. But Plunkett was in and out of the team over the next two years, selected for the ill-fated Ashes trip of 2006/07, when England were whitewashed by a rampant Australia, but didn't play.

"You'd never take that back," he says now of the experience. "For someone to say you're going to be in an Ashes squad, you'd have snapped their hand off. It got me used to the pressure cooker of how cricket is, how you've got to perform and that helped me massively, but I didn't play too much, I was in and out."

Around that time, Plunkett was advised to change his action. Looking back, he says England's coaches including the bowling coach Troy Cooley, "tried to change something that didn't need to be changed". Battling with his bowling, Plunkett went back to Durham and found things far tougher than he had imagined. "Sometimes when you're young, you come back and you think 'Well, I've been playing for England' and I'm just going to perform for Durham and it didn't work like that."

It got to such a stage where he was relieved when games were finished so he wouldn't have to go through the mental battle anymore. "At that point, I wasn't sure what I was doing as a bowler," he says. "Was I a swing bowler, a seam bowler, a hit the deck bowler? I probably confused myself and the battle would be done before I actually released the ball. I just thought I was going to bowl a wide or it was going to be down the leg-side.

"When you're doing that, you're not going to be consistent and hit the pitch where you want to hit it. I did struggle. The night before, I would worry about the game, how I was going to bowl. I would sometimes be happy that the game was finished because I did panic a little bit." Work with Neil Killeen at Durham helped but it was only when Plunkett moved to Yorkshire in 2013 that things really started getting better.

"I was still struggling but Dizzy [Jason Gillespie, Head Coach] was like, no problem, just run up and hit the pitch, bowl quick." It was a simple message but an important one. It cleared Plunkett's mind and a trip to play grade cricket in Adelaide rekindled his love for the game, something that had waned during his latter years at Durham. "First game back for Yorkshire, I got six wickets against the University team, bowled quick and the confidence grew from there." Soon after, he was briefly back in England's Test team.

He played four Tests in 2014 - "I was so happy being in the Test team after what I went through," - but after solid showings, injury ruled him out of the final two matches of the summer against India and he hasn't played a Test since. It looked as if his England dream had died for good but his international story had another chapter and he got back into the white ball set-up after the disastrous 2015 World Cup. Now, he is a vital pillar of the best one-day team England have ever had.

How has that happened? Frankly, Plunkett is a bowler transformed. After a chat with Trevor Bayliss in 2015, he was told he needed to add more skills and so he's spent the last three years working ferociously on adding to his repertoire. He still has the pace, but he's so much more than a one trick pony now.

"If I am hitting that line and length at a heavy pace, I'm hard to hit, but batters can get used to that," he says. "I like to have a ball that goes away from the right-hander like a leg-cutter, a ball that goes away from the left-hander, which will be an off-cutter, and then something out of the front or the back of the hand so that it's harder to hit over your head.

"Then you've got your yorker and bouncer. When you say yorker, you've got a wide yorker, leg-stump yorker, round the wicket so there's loads of different variations. But it's just about making sure you can do that skill under pressure."

Could he have imagined when he first started out, in 2003 just as T20 was in its infancy, that he would need all these different deliveries? "When I first started out in the T20 stuff, you'd maybe bowl a decent yorker [and that was it]. Not many people were paddling it, not many people were reverse sweeping it out the ground so you had your general skills. It's like everyone after you play for a while, I wish I knew then what I know now."

Plunkett's rising stock was recognised earlier this year with an IPL deal with Delhi Daredevils. It caused friction with Yorkshire - more of that later - but Plunkett had a blast. "The cricket is so good, it's international level," he says. "I never thought that I could compete in the IPL. I've played in India a lot with England but it is a different atmosphere, the general buzz. It was carnage going to breakfast and dinner. The passion is crazy." He played seven games, did fine and hopes to go back next season.

For now, Plunkett's main focus is on England and next summer's World Cup and starting life at Surrey, the current County Champions, where he has signed a three-year deal beginning next season. He is good friends with Jason Roy and has played with coach Michael di Venuto at Durham. While living and playing in London have always appealed to him, at the start of the season, he wasn't thinking about leaving Yorkshire.

He says he was prepared to stay and accept less money but the club, frustrated after his late call-up to the IPL, were non-committal on a new deal. "I'm just trying to look ahead," he says. "I feel like Surrey is a miles better place right now. I feel like the development of the cricket is a lot better, they're thinking ahead whereas I felt we were struggling with Yorkshire, so it wasn't a bad time to leave.

"They wanted someone who is there 12 months of the year and obviously I was with England, so they didn't feel like they were getting their money's worth. I don't think that made sense because they get money back from IPL and ECB. But I can see if they have someone there for 12 months, they know he will be around. There are no hard feelings now. I'm just excited for the next chapter."

It is a chapter which will include more four-day cricket. "I'd love to win another Championship with Surrey. People thought I might go down the white ball route but playing four-day cricket is the ultimate. It's like a game of chess, you've been working people out, you've been turning up day after day when you're tired. They're the best games to win. When I started, with four-day cricket is how I want to go out, on the county grind."

He probably won't get too much red-ball cricket in before next year's home World Cup, however. "I'm 33, is this the last one? You want to put everything into it. I'm so excited. We fell short in the Champions Trophy last year but we've got better at playing around the world in different conditions and that will keep us in good stead for the World Cup. We feel like we have a great chance of winning it. I don't think we've had a better chance."

For now, though, Plunkett has more pressing matters to attend to. He still hasn't written his wedding speech yet.

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