Gus Atkinson taking strength from adversity ahead of England debut

By Sports Desk August 22, 2023

Gus Atkinson endured multiple false starts to his career but battling back on each occasion has given him extra satisfaction in the wake of his World Cup selection.

Atkinson was dealing with persistent injury setbacks when two members of his age-group at Surrey – Sam Curran and Ollie Pope – were appearing for England and others were making waves on the domestic scene.

Recurring stress fractures in his back in 2017, 2018 and 2019 would have tested the resolve of anyone but Atkinson was able to contextualise an injury that is an occupational hazard for fast bowlers.

He has hardly looked back since his first-team debut in 2020 and his 90mph-plus speeds for Surrey and Oval Invincibles in The Hundred have seen him fast-tracked into England’s preliminary World Cup squad.

The uncapped paceman told the PA news agency: “I never really felt like I was not going to make it.

“I know these things happen with young bowlers and there’s plenty of bowlers who have been through similar stuff so I just knew with my age, stress fractures happen. Each year I just came back stronger.

“I look back and it was a tough time but because I hadn’t experienced playing any professional cricket while I had those injuries, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

“It was just a delay to my career. Those were pretty important years for me, to be honest. It was tough but to be here now, looking forward to a World Cup, it makes it seem ages ago.”

Atkinson admitted the coronavirus pandemic three years ago which shut down most sports or, in cricket’s case, led to a drastically reduced summer schedule was beneficial for his recovery and development.

He said: “Covid, to be honest, actually helped with my back because we didn’t have a full summer of cricket, I had a bit of extra time just to relax. I could push through without the risk of injury.”

A slick, repeatable action is at odds with how fast Atkinson can bowl – he has clocked 95mph in The Hundred – but he is not just a one-trick pony as he possesses a devilish bouncer and several changes of pace.

He has inevitably been likened to Jofra Archer, whose ongoing elbow trouble has effectively hastened Atkinson’s promotion into the England set-up for a white-ball series against New Zealand, starting next week, and the defence of their 50-over World Cup crown in India in October and November.

Atkinson himself shied away from the parallels, saying: “I think that’s really the only comparison – we both have good pace and can make it look quite easy. But I don’t like to get too caught up with that.

“I think I’ve got quite a natural whippy action, a bit of hyper-extension and quite a strong wrist. I’ve improved the momentum in my run-up as well.

“There are a few different factors (in where his pace comes from) but I’d say it’s quite natural to me.”

Atkinson is the joint-leading wicket-taker this year for the Invincibles, with his 10 dismissals in five matches helping them top the men’s group stage, bypassing the eliminator to go directly into Sunday’s final at Lord’s.

The 25-year-old is then likely to make his T20 and ODI bows within the next month before heading to the pressure cooker of a World Cup, where England begin their campaign against the Black Caps on October 5.

It remains to be seen how England deploy their latest pace weapon but with nine group stage fixtures in 38 days in the subcontinent, they will be wary of overextending their other express quick Mark Wood.

Atkinson, who has never been to India before, insisted he has not allowed himself to get carried away, adding: “I’m just trying to focus on The Hundred.

“I’m trying not to look too far ahead. When this is over, I’ll start thinking about the T20s and ODIs. It’s come into my head but I’m not trying to think about it too much.”

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