Saturday, June 15, 2024

Exclusive Phil Salt interview: I love playing red-ball cricket, it suits me

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The IPL gig prevented Salt playing championship cricket for Lancashire and in other eras would certainly have cost him a chance to push for selection as England’s Test wicketkeeper in July. But Rob Key was recently at pains to say “no one will be ruled out” and the “decision on who keeps in the Test team won’t be on if someone has played Championship cricket or not”. It was a comment made with Salt in mind because he is a realistic option to bat seven and keep in the Test side.

Brendon McCullum likes his aggressive batting and if the decision is made to pick a player who is a better batsman than he is a keeper (rather than Ben Foakes who is the other way around) then Salt, who averaged 43 in his last two seasons of championship cricket, could really push his case in the West Indies. Not because the format relates to Test cricket necessarily (even with the Bazballers) but performing under pressure in a World Cup would show he has the character to cope on high profile occasions.

Surrey’s Jamie Smith says he is ready to take the job on, Ollie Robinson at Durham scored a big hundred in front of Ben Stokes last week and Jonny Bairstow goes to the West Indies too with a chance to prove he is not finished yet.

But Salt is the closest like-for-like to Bairstow – a powerful hitter and good enough gloveman (at least before Bairstow’s injuries). Smith’s longer term future may be batting at No 3 in place of Ollie Pope.

For Salt there is no doubt, in his mind, he can do it. “I love playing red-ball cricket. I feel it is something I am good at. I opened the batting for a long time, and it was tricky. It suits me a lot more batting middle order for Lancs and I’ve had a couple of good years.”

Next is the line that will have McCullum nodding his head, thinking perhaps he has found his man. “I enjoy that role coming in and taking on the second new ball, batting with the tail. It is almost a game within a game.”

He feels his glovework is in good order after keeping at the IPL to spinners Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy so the fact Buttler is keeping in this series against Pakistan, which resumes at Cardiff tomorrow, and will continue to do so in the West Indies is not such a problem. That scenario could change too if Buttler feels it is too much opening, keeping and captaining the side.

“I love keeping in four-day cricket. Chris Read was talking the other day about the 10 past 6 nick. You have been out there all day, had nothing then all of a sudden there is a nick. I enjoy the challenge of that, just the whole idea of being able to bat all day as well in four-day cricket. We play so much white-ball cricket that it becomes ingrained in the way to bat but I love the change in mindset of playing red ball when you have as much time as you want.

“Every opportunity I get I work on keeping. It was brilliant keeping to Sunny and Varun on spinning wickets. That was great fun. Sometimes I feel it is a good marker of where your game is at if you are tested at that level.”

How about Bazball? “I have always played that way,” Salt insists. “Ask a few bowlers in the championship. I like it. It is not all crash, bang wallop. It is about being smart, soak it up and then put the foot on the accelerator, all the bits of four-day cricket that I love. That is what they are doing at the moment.”

Methodical approach

Salt thinks deeply about his batting and is known to train hard. He says he has learned to trust coaches more. “It is about being willing to be vulnerable and ask.” The result this year is he has expanded his off side game according to Buttler. He works with a sport psychologist and relishes the mental challenge of cricket, developing a deep rooted routine between balls that helps him relax in the whirlwind of a T20.

“There are certain places I can only touch the crease. The way I pick my bat up when It is resting on my pad is the same every time, I do everything three times. I take three steps into the box (crease). I tap my bat three times, I look up three times, I tap it again three times and if I have time I will tap it again three times but every time in a different rhythm. It sounds like a lot but it is over in seconds. I have no idea what it looks like when I’m out there. It is deeply ingrained now but was hard graft to achieve. It helps with my reading of the game.

Salt, like all players, has grown in confidence because he has a settled role opening the batting in T20 with Buttler knowing he is backed to perform. It might be that in a few weeks’ time he has another new job, one that brings a lot of scrutiny but could lead him to an Ashes in Australia next year and a chance to thank Michael Clarke in person for that shirt.

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