DEVONIAN Lewis Gregory believes a hectic schedule of international and franchise cricket last winter has made him better prepared to fight for an England Test place, writes Richard Latham
The 28-year-old Somerset all-rounder began training with a 30-man England squad at the Ageas Bowl yesterday (Thurs) in preparation for the first Test against West Indies, to be played behind closed doors, starting on July 8.
And, while Gregory knows he has to move up the pecking order to earn a debut in the three-match #raisethebat Test series, he feels better equipped than ever to impress the selectors.
That follows a winter that saw him make his England T20 debut in New Zealand, captain the Lions in Australia and make his first appearances in the Bangladesh Premier League, Abu Dhabi T10 tournament and Pakistan Super League.
“I learned so much from playing on different types of pitches, in new environments and from talking to top players from all over the world, who were involved in the various competitions,” said Gregory.
“After all that, I feel a much more rounded cricketer, with the knowledge to turn in more match-winning performances in all formats of the game.
“That is what I shall be trying to prove at the England training camp. I am going to put my all into every session and try to catch the eye sufficiently to stay with the squad when it is reduced ahead of the first game against West Indies.”
Gregory worked his way through the youth system at Plympton and was a first-team regular in the 2006 Premier Division side by age 14.
County recognition started with Devon U10s and by 16 he was playing in the under-21 side. Along the way there were two tours of South Africa – 2006 and 2007 – with the Devon Development squad.
Inevitably there were opportunities to play in Minor Counties competitions for Devon, although Somerset were already aware of Gregory’s potential.
A debut knock of 87 for Somerset 2ndXI against MCC Young Cricketers by a 16-year-old Gregory more than hinted at his future direction of travel, which included captaining England U19s in four-day and 20-over cricket.
Gregory could find himself up against an established world star in Ben Stokes in his efforts to gain the all-rounder role in England’s Test side. But he doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“I think Ben may be viewed as a batsman, who bowls, and can act as fourth seamer,” he said. “In red-ball cricket, I could be regarded more as a bowler, who can bat.
“That might mean an opportunity for us both to play. It is my ultimate ambition to play for England in the purest form of cricket and have a Test cap to show my grandchildren.
“I see this training camp as a wonderful chance to press my case. Pulling on the Three Lions shirt for the first time in New Zealand was a huge thrill, as was taking a wicket with my first ball in that series.
“Now I want to build on that. When the start of the county season was delayed, I was happy enough to have extra time to chill out and forget about cricket for a short while.
“But as time went on, I became increasingly eager to get back in harness. I feel fit, sharp and ready to do myself justice.”
Gregory arrived at Southampton on Tuesday afternoon, joining an England camp also including his Somerset team-mates Craig and Jamie Overton, Dom Bess and Jack Leach.
The following day was taken up with Covid-19 testing. The entire squad will eat, rest and sleep at the on-site hotel at the Ageas Bowl during the build-up to the first Test.
“It’s great to have the other Somerset lads here,” said Gregory. “There is a bit of friendly competition between us because we all have the same ambitions, but it is a clear sign of all the hard work put in by the players and coaches at the club over the last couple of years.
“Whatever happens with county cricket this summer, we should have a well-balanced red ball bowling attack in 2021, which will give us a major chance of winning that elusive first County Championship title.”