Cricket

Sam Curran a ‘real competitor’ who thrives under pressure, says Graham Thorpe

Graham Thorpe says that Sam Curran’s composure in pressurised situations is the trait that has propelled him to the heart of England’s white-ball plans, following his series-sealing five-wicket haul in the second ODI against Sri Lanka at The Kia Oval.

Curran, who has played ten ODIs in his young career compared to 21 Tests since his debut in 2018, claimed three wickets in his first nine balls, en route to figures of 5 for 48, his best in List A cricket. England eased to an eight-wicket victory with 42 balls to spare, and head to Bristol for Sunday’s third match with options aplenty given the dominance they’ve shown against a sub-par opposition.

Curran’s display, however, will have confirmed to England’s management that they have a rising star in their ranks. At the age of 23, he is already a pivotal figure with bat and ball for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, as they seek to rebuild their team around a younger core of players, and with the next T20 World Cup due to follow on from the IPL’s resumption in the UAE this winter, Thorpe recognises that his experience at that tournament could be invaluable.

“I think it’s helped him enormously,” Thorpe said of the IPL. “Every environment Sam has gone into, he’s shown that ability to compete and an ability to find a way of putting performances in. From that perspective, playing in the IPL has put him in high-pressured situations and pushed him.

His hitting ability with the bat was always there. I think that’s progressed to a really good level. He’s bowling at important times in the IPL, so he’s put under pressure and challenged. At 23, he’s getting some really good experiences.”

Curran has had to bide his time in England’s ranks, with just three appearances across all formats in the 2020 home summer – a Test apiece against West Indies and Pakistan, and a solitary ODI against Australia. However, he has not looked back since his maiden campaign for CSK in November, and has been a first-choice pick in each of England’s subsequent white-ball fixtures in South Africa, India and now on home soil.

“When he comes back and plays with England, he’s having to challenge for a place so he’s being put under pressure there too,” Thorpe said. “That’s not a bad thing. One of his great personality traits is that he’s a real competitor. We have seen that ever since he was a young lad, and his skill level is going up. For a 23-year-old it’s a good place to be. We want him to keep getting better and better.”

Curran’s first England five-for came only two matches after he capped their ODI tour of India with a remarkable unbeaten 95 from No. 8 in Pune, but Thorpe – who is standing in for Chris Silverwood as England’s head coach for the Sri Lanka series – warned against expecting too much, too soon from a player whose stamina, as well as his skills, are bound to be tested by the intensity of England’s workload.

“Given where he’s at, the amount of experience he’s got as a 23-year-old in terms of international cricket and franchise cricket as well, makes us believe he’s just starting out,” Thorpe said.

“Of course, he’s still got to work really hard. His T20 cricket has progressed really well, but I think establishing himself as a 50-over player as well is a really important part of it. He’s got to try and be in the mix as well for Test cricket.

“It sounds like quite a lot of cricket. As you know, with someone like Ben Stokes, the amount of work and fitness levels that are required for that is huge. So the challenge for Sam to be a multi-format cricketer is delivering that consistency as well for England time and time again.

“That’ll be one of the bigger challenges for Sam going forward. But that very much lies on his shoulders to do that. We know we’ve got a very exciting cricketer with us, and we just have to keep encouraging him to improve and keep getting better as a player all the time.

With a 2-0 lead in the ODI series, and having eased to a 3-0 clean sweep in the recent T20Is, Thorpe hinted that England would take the opportunity to test some new faces in Sunday’s match – with Sussex’s left-arm quick George Garton potentially in line for a debut.

“We know he’s got a bit of pace on him,” Thorpe said of Garton, a player who has been on England’s radar since he was called up as cover during the Ashes tour in 2017-18. “But he’s also got some good tricks up his sleeve. It’s one thing seeing it at a county level, but it’s another thing stepping up and doing it in international matches as well. There’ll be interesting discussions about whether we can get him into the side down at Bristol.”

However, Curran’s recent performances have also reiterated the importance of seizing those chances when they arise, given the competition for places that is hotting up in England’s white-ball ranks.

I think the players know that as well,” Thorpe said. “Having good healthy competition keeps players on the edge. All the players are aware that every time they put a shirt on in the white-ball format, and in our red-ball team, that it’s an opportunity for them to establish their place and be in a position where they’re picked for squads, and to perform at a high level in tournaments for us.”

Asked if England had been disappointed by the quality of Sri Lanka’s cricket during the white-ball series, Thorpe admitted that the Pakistan series, which gets underway later this month, was likely to prove more challenging.

“Potentially the Pakistan series could push us further,” he said. “The Sri Lankan bowling attack has been decent, but they’ve been weakened more on their batting side. I think Pakistan will be a team that’s further ahead in terms of experience and how they’ll be able to challenge as well. It’ll probably be a tougher contest.”

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