Plunkett can be England’s Johnson, insists Gillespie

ASHES MASTER BLASTER: Mitchell Johnson

ENGLAND DUTY: Liam Plunkett, the Yorkshire fast bowler, is in contention for an England Test appearance this week

First published in Sport

LIAM PLUNKETT has been backed to become England’s version of Mitchell Johnson if he makes his return for England in the opening Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s this week.

The 29-year-old Yorkshire seamer has been recalled to England’s squad, seven years after his last Test appearance, having benefitted from making the short move from Durham to Headingley before the start of last season.

But having worked with Plunkett for the last two seasons, Yorkshire first team coach Jason Gillespie – a former Australian Test bowler himself – has no doubt that he can perform the same role as Johnson does to such devastating effect.

Johnson took 37 wickets in Australia’s 5-0 Ashes whitewash during the winter, bowling mainly in short bursts before captain Michael Clarke replaced him, and Gillespie believes England should use Plunkett in a similar manner if they want to get the best out of him.

“He can bowl long spells because he’s so fit and strong and if he is bowling well keep him going and some days it will work and other days it won’t and Australia found that out pretty quickly with Mitch,” said Gillespie.

“Sometimes he went for 30 runs in four overs but the way Clarke used him is some of the best captaincy you’ll see. That is a team with plans who know how they want to go about it and all the players on the field know exactly what they are doing.

“Every player in that team knew exactly what Johnson was trying to do – it was either nose or toes. He is going to go for runs and we know that about Liam here at Yorkshire but we know what he’s trying to do. He bowls 90mph and if you’ve got an asset like that why wouldn’t you bowl him in short bursts?”

Plunkett’s recall comes after he has taken 24 wickets, the fourth highest tally in division one, at just 24 runs apiece and follows a difficult period in his life when he was banned twice for drink driving.

He has since turned his life around and Gillespie has nothing but praise for his attitude and commitment since he made the switch to Yorkshire.

“He had already acknowledged all that and was working his butt off and he was fit and strong,” stressed Gillespie. “He’d made the decision long before he signed for Yorkshire. He just wanted an opportunity.

“I’d seen him bowl and always thought he was a really good cricketer and then I met the guy and I liked him. He spoke honestly, he acknowledged he’d stuffed up and he just wanted an opportunity.

“I didn’t see any risks with a bloke that bowls 90mph and can hit the ball out of the ground. He’s a good lad, who made a couple of errors of judgement, but people do that and that’s what happens.

“He spoke about his passion for wanting to play for England. He just hadn’t quite got it right and just needed a fresh start on the field. He loves Durham and still holds Durham close to his heart but he knew for him to play cricket and give himself the best chance of playing for England he needed to go elsewhere.”

Gillespie was speaking after the second day of Yorkshire’s championship match against Nottinghamshire was virtually washed out at Headingley, where only 9.3 overs were possible.

Yorkshire progressed to 76 for two, still trailing Nottinghamshire by 129 runs, but 20-year-old Jack Leaning continued to impress and reached an unbeaten 35 in only his third championship appearance while captain Andrew Gale finished unbeaten on 23.

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