Unbeaten Plunkett provides X factor for England
The Surrey man did not feature in the losses to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia.
Liam Plunkett has learned to take 12th man duty on the chin but, with a World Cup semi-final up for grabs against New Zealand, England might think twice before leaving out their lucky charm again.
Of the 13 players who have featured in the tournament to date, only Plunkett stands undefeated having been overlooked for the losses to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia.
The 34-year-old seamer was recalled in place of Moeen Ali for Sunday’s do-or-die game against India and took three wickets in the 31-run win, including the world’s number one batsman Virat Kohli.
He is not the first key man Plunkett has bested in the competition, having already seen off South Africa’s Hashim Amla in the opener and West Indies star Chris Gayle in Southampton, an eye-catching record for a player who has been in and out of the side.
Victory over the Black Caps at Chester-le-Street on Wednesday would guarantee England’s place in the knockout phase but Plunkett is not taking selection for granted despite his winning streak.
“You can feel p***** off, you can feel a bit frustrated, but it’s sport – you’d rather someone be like that on the sidelines, feeling that on the inside, than someone happy to be not playing,” he said.
“It’s nice to have that (unbeaten streak), but I think it’s just the way it has worked. If I do play hopefully I can make a difference.
“People know if you’re not playing you’re obviously frustrated, it’s about not showing it. How can you get back in the team? By bowling well in practice.
“Even though I’m 34 can I work on something else tomorrow that could help down the line.”
Of course you want to play every game but sometimes you don't get the nod. I don't go away crying about it. Liam Plunkett
There is a healthy pragmatism about Plunkett’s outlook that makes it easy to see why he is such a favourite of captain Eoin Morgan. Once a genuinely rapid fast bowler, among the quickest on the county circuit, he now relies on different skills.
He cannot challenge either Jofra Archer and Mark Wood on the speed gun, does not covet the new ball and tends not to reappear at the death, when wickets often tumble most frequently.
Instead he takes the less glamorous overs through the middle, using natural variations in pace and studied variations in delivery to draw mistakes. Without his box of tricks, England have struggled in these periods.
“I haven’t got the ability to just come in and bowl rockets all the time like Jofra or Woody. Some days I feel good with the pace and others less so, but I’m still skilful enough to pick up wickets,” he said.
“I know that I’m not going to consistently bowl 90 miles per hour, on my good days I will bowl the odd ball up there, but I feel I control my lines and lengths and assess batsmen a bit differently.
“I feel like I can perform on any pitch. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m not trying to get five for spit. I know my job is to smash out my length, mix my pace up and hopefully pick up crucial wickets.”
Finishing the group stage in Durham is a welcome trip north for Plunkett, who joined the county at 14 before stints at Yorkshire and now Surrey.
He recognises it is serious business now, though, with the win over India on Sunday representing the start of the run-in.
“Durham is where I first started and I owe a lot to that club. I bought my first house there,” he recalled.
“It’s an amazing journey I’ve been on and to think that if you win three games of cricket then you win the World Cup. This team is capable of doing just that.
“But nobody is celebrating like crazy, we know we need to go and win the next game and get the momentum going. It is good we’ve had our kick up the backside.”