Olly Stone ready to embrace Liam Plunkett role to make England’s World Cup squad after injury hell
It is fitting that as this series arrives in Kimberley, home to one of the world’s most historic diamond mines, England’s major find thus far has been the middle-over prowess of Olly Stone.
While Jofra Archer’s long-awaited comeback dominated the build-up to England’s tour of South Africa, it has been Stone’s performances in the first two one-day internationals that have quietly impressed since, the bowler making timely breakthroughs with a wicket in his first over in both matches and touching speeds of 90mph.
Like Archer, Stone has had injury hell to overcome, but nine months out from the World Cup now looks a live contender for the slot in England’s 50-over side that has been up for grabs since Liam Plunkett was shelved following the 2019 edition, the seamer having been a reliable source of wickets after the powerplay across the course of the four-year cycle.
More familiar with bowling with the new ball and at the death, Stone is ready to embrace the role to earn a spot on the flight to India.
“[Plunkett] obviously played a massive part in that World Cup-winning side,” he said. “Any way into the England team, I’ll snap someone’s hand off. I’m just loving being out there playing for England. If that’s my job going forward, I’ll keep running in and giving it my all.”
Despite England having already surrendered the series ahead of Wednesday’s third and final game at the Diamond Oval, it has been a good month for Stone, who excelled for MI Cape Town in the new SA20 franchise league prior to reporting for international duty.
“I’m feeling in a really good place,” he said. “In the past I’ve felt in a good place but sometimes my body’s let me down.
“It’s really pleasing for me that I’ve put a run of performances under my belt and I can show to people that I can do it. Hopefully now the cricketing performance takes most of the limelight, rather than the injuries.”
The injuries have been plentiful. Stone has suffered four stress fractures of the back throughout the course of his career and in 2021 underwent surgery to have two screws inserted in his spine in a bid to prolong his red-ball career, having considered retiring from the format. Stone admits he was frustrated at times by the gently, gently approach taken during his rehab, consigned to short spells when turning out for Warwickshire’s Second XI last year.
“With my [injury] history and the way I had been honest about the way it affected me mentally, if I had another reoccurrence it would have been hard to come back from,” he said. “It was weighing up the risk versus reward and being patient enough that my body gets used to being back bowling.”
Patience seems to have done the job: following this series, Stone is due to fly to New Zealand to join England’s Test squad, where he will hope to win his first cap in the format since June 2021.
“I try not to look too far ahead,” Stone said, when asked about the prospect of featuring in both the home Ashes later this summer and then World Cup defence in the autumn. “The last Ashes, Down Under [in 2021/22] I made a big drive on trying to get fit for it and unfortunately that didn’t happen. It was quite disappointing to miss out on it.”
The disappointment, though, provided fuel.
“Playing any game for England is a dream, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do,” Stone added. “It makes it harder when something goes wrong but it also gives you that hunger to get back out there and do one of the best jobs in the world. There’s nothing better than being out there, having fun with your mates and trying to win games with England.”