Tom Curran back from burnout to offer England a different World Cup dimension

Isabelle Westbury
Tom Curran is battling for a place in England's Cricket World Cup squad this summer - Action Images via Reuters

Tom Curran laughs when recalling the moment his younger brother, Sam, was picked in the most recent Indian Premier League auction. Sam, 20, was bought for £800,000, the highest salary for an overseas player, but it was Tom’s picture which popped up on screen as the bids started.

“When it was my picture I just joked to him. I said, ‘Cool mate you can send half my way’,” laughs Tom, three years Sam’s senior, brushing aside the notion of any brotherly tension. “I just called him and we were both just amazed – a great experience for him.”

What was more telling, misfiring graphics aside, was that Tom, who the previous year had played for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, did not even feature in the auction. He had decided, despite the high profile and high salaries, not to enter.

The first many saw of Tom Curran was the topknot, the designer jackets and the carefully calibrated Instagram pictures. The IPL and all that it brings seemed made for the likes of Curran; this, after all, was supposed to be what franchise cricket was doing to the game, luring this new generation of talent away from its more unwieldy, traditional moulds. But the eldest of the three Curran brothers had a plan, and he was sticking to it.

“I think I played that whole [2017] season after I had barely missed a game for Surrey over a couple of years,” explains Curran. “I then went straight to the Ashes, then we had the one-day internationals in Australia, then New Zealand, then I went straight to the IPL.

Brothers Sam and Tom Curran in Sri Lanka in 2018 Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“In the IPL, it just hit me a little bit as I probably was mentally not as fresh as I would have liked and I think it was just a long period of cricket where I needed a break after having played without one for so long.

“After that, I came back home and had the summer here, I picked up a little niggle and therefore missed a bit of cricket for the first time in my career really,” reflects Curran, who by then had represented England in all three forms of the game. “So, I sat down and thought, what is the best possible build-up to this World Cup for me in terms of getting my game back to where I needed it to be.”

Australia’s Big Bash League, the scheduling of which would give Curran time off before any World Cup preparations took hold, looked “the best option”. And it was a winter in Sydney, with the Sixers, which helped make that final leap from exciting young 20-something to dependable performer.

“I went there and played regular cricket as they only have two overseas players, so you are guaranteed to play, with a nice run of games,” he explains, highlighting the contrast with the IPL, where a plethora of overseas players in each team means regular playing time is hardly a guarantee. “It was a nice lifestyle and I was just able to concentrate fully on my game. I just dived straight into it, got in amongst it and went head first into my training.”

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In 14 games. Curran took 20 wickets and hit 185 runs, returns which earned him the Sixers’ Player of the Tournament award in his debut season, and a three-year contract extension, as well as the admiration of his new captain. “We weren’t expecting him to contribute with the bat like he did,” gushed Moises Henriques, on Curran’s departure.

“Obviously, looking back it was definitely the right decision,” reflects Curran. “So. I felt like I left then in a really good place into the build up for this summer. It was definitely a very enjoyable experience, the Big Bash.”

It was a bold move too as, even now, Curran’s place in England’s final World Cup squad is no guarantee. With Jofra Archer likely to be included in the final 15, to be announced on Tuesday, Curran is one of five seamers tussling for four spots. Four wickets in Saturday’s ODI against Pakistan, plus a steely knock of 31 in a 61-ball partnership with Ben Stokes to steer England to a narrow victory, was precisely the all-round performance Curran needed to separate his stock from the out-and-out bowlers. Curran, after all, has an ODI batting average which equals that of Stokes, considered England’s premier all-rounder, and a better strike rate.

Tom Curran is one of five seamers tussling for four spots in the World Cup squad Credit: POPPERFOTO

Even with the ball, Curran offers something different. Born in South Africa and growing up between England, where his father Kevin played professionally for Northamptonshire, and Zimbabwe, whom Kevin represented in 11 ODIs, provided an international upbringing. There was no burdening with the scars of a perennially underperforming England cricket side. Nor was there a parochial sense of trying to emulate only English heroes.

With his brothers, Sam and Ben, playing “constantly” in their back garden, the world was their cast and the Curran brothers plucked whatever cricketer suited them from it. “We used to imitate all the different cricketers in the garden,” Tom remembers. “In terms of fast bowling growing up, Brett Lee was bowling 160 [kph] so we imitated him in the garden a few times. Just the all-round legends of the game really, we used to just imitate anyone who had done well or who was doing well.”

There is a hint, too, as to why Curran’s variations with the white ball, a phenomenon which has only really taken hold in seam bowling across the game in the last five years or so, are now so meticulously executed. “Sometimes if we were bowling spin we would imitate [Murali] Muralitharan,” he explains, whose variations, as a finger spinner, were notoriously difficult to pick. “It did not really matter where they were from to be honest, we just had a love for the game and imitated our heroes.”

“Success,” Winston Churchill is supposed to have posited, “is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.” In an era of the game in which seam bowlers in white ball cricket are being hit for more runs than ever before, a Churchillian resolve is needed in abundance.

Archer's emergence has forced England's other seamers to raise their games Credit: GETTY IMAGES

This phenomenon is not lost on Curran, whose approach to bowling, and variations, is ruthlessly clinical.

“We are competing in a way,” Curran says of his England seam-bowling colleagues. “But at the same time we are all playing at the highest level.

I think as a professional sportsman you have to be open to learning, whoever that is. Whether it is the guy who has been in the side for a while or Jofra it does not really make any difference to me.

“You bounce ideas off each other, try and develop your skills and filter information. If things work for you, use it, if it doesn’t, park it and move onto the next thing.”

It’s a nervous time for Curran but it appears that his game, as well as his mind and body, are in the best place they could be. So, if he fails in making the World Cup squad this time? Simple, park it and move on to the next.