England's Olly Stone: 'Slowing down hasn’t gone through my mind'

It is cold outside, but over the past few days, in a heated marquee at Loughborough’s National Cricket Performance Centre, a gaggle of England players have been tuning up for their upcoming white-ball tour to South Africa. The facility offers grass pitches and temperatures that mean those entering the tent in beanie hats and fleeces soon get a sweat on. They include Olly Stone, the Warwickshire quick whose last appearance for England was his Test debut against Ireland in 2019.

Injuries have blighted the 27-year-old bowler’s career but, fit again and in the squad for the 50-over leg of the trip thanks to Jofra Archer’s slated rest, he appears keen for his 90mph-plus speeds to be paired with those of Mark Wood. “The call-up comes at a good time for me. I feel confident,” says Stone, following a session bowling off his full run-up to Joe Root.

“My body is in a good place and to be coming off the back of a decent end to the summer in the T20 Blast is exciting. I will always try to bowl fast and if I get to play alongside Woody in South Africa, hopefully we can cause some carnage.”

There is little question Stone has the attributes to do just this. His first international scalp in late 2018 was a brutish bouncer to Sri Lanka’s Niroshan Dickwella, while his first in Test cricket flattened Andy Balbirne’s middle stump. But, like Wood, this pursuit of pace has a price.

After a freak knee ligament tear in 2016 when jumping to celebrate a wicket, Stone suffer two stress fractures of the lower back last year, the second of which, having impressed against Ireland, ended any hopes of him being unleashed against Australia.

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Olly Stone of Warwickshire in his delivery stride during the Bob Willis Trophy match against Northamptonshire at Edgbaston in August 2020

‘My body is in a good place and to be coming off the back of a decent end to the summer in the T20 Blast is exciting,’ says Warwickshire’s Olly Stone. Photograph: Andy Kearns/Getty Images

A side strain followed his one first-class outing during the recent summer but 14 wickets in eight Blast matches helped Stone back into the England fold; it is for the ODIs, but there is little doubt the selectors have next year’s Ashes tour on their minds.

“That’s my long-term goal,” he says. “Playing a Test at a packed Lord’s last year and experiencing the roar when you take a wicket – those are the memories that spur me on. But short-term I have to get games under my belt. In the next 12 months I need a big chunk of cricket to prove I can get through without breaking down.”

As well as becoming more robust, Stone needs this game time to deepen his experience given a stop-start career of 38 first-class games. Previously disposed to striving for top speed at all times, he is starting to learn how to go through the gears; when to sit in a touch and when to fully let rip.

Not that Stone is throttling back his ambitions. Like Wood, who recently outlined the mental battle of injury setbacks and nagging thoughts about whether to specialise in the shorter-formats, his sights remained trained on playing Test cricket. “Woody was spot on,” Stone says. “We have chatted about our experiences and I’m the same as him. There are moments when you question whether you can keep putting your body through it.

“But during those dark times you’re not thinking rationally. I know deep down that the ultimate answer is still ‘yes’ because there’s nothing better than putting your country’s shirt on. And I just love trying to bowl as quick as I can.

“I love trying to, not quite hit people in the head, but bring that extra bit of something. Coming around the wicket to bowl short on a flat pitch and prising out a wicket that breaks open a game – that’s the sort of thing that really excites me.

“I love Test cricket – it is the pinnacle. There’s surely nothing better than coming off the field with a win after five days of slog. So unless my body tells me I can’t do it, I’ll strive to play every format.

“Slowing down hasn’t gone through my mind. If I can’t continue to bowl fast and do what I do, that might be the time to think about a different career.”

Stone already has a couple of irons in the fire here, having spent last winter doing work experience with BBC Radio Norfolk’s coverage of non-league football, as well as starting a cricket-related business in his native county. “The radio work has been great, getting an understanding of what it entails and seeing if I enjoy it. Which I do. I like the idea of staying involved in sport.

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“I’ve also set up a business with a friend, buying and selling wood for batmakers. I know people who look after land in Norfolk. We buy willow trees off the farms and estates and replant new ones. It’s then a case of splitting them into clefts, drying them out and selling them on.

“We’re called Stoney Willow and the aim is to get the better wood to the smaller batmakers and hopefully help their businesses grow, too.”

Such outside interests have been a welcome distraction during his spells on the sidelines. But in the coming weeks the focus will be on turning up the heat in South Africa and, who knows, perhaps splitting some timber along the way, too.


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