Josh Tongue targeting England breakthrough in all three formats after injury frustration

Back at it: Tongue is looking to kick on for England (Action Images via Reuters)
Back at it: Tongue is looking to kick on for England (Action Images via Reuters)

A summer that began with the novelty of Steve Smith’s first county wicket and brought surprise Test and Ashes debuts ended in frustrating fashion for Josh Tongue.

“I had a tear in my pectoral [muscle] towards the back end of the Hundred,” he explains. “It was the last group game and it was a bit too sore to carry on. I was looking towards the winter and I didn’t want to make it worse.”

The issue cost Tongue an England white-ball debut after he had been picked to face New Zealand in the T20 series that followed the Hundred, tough luck for a bowler who was pushed the brink of retirement during more than a year out of the game with shoulder trouble not so long ago. Happily on this occasion, though, even before his return to competitive action, the 26-year-old has kicked on, handed a central contract for the first time and a place on next month’s tour to the West Indies, where England’s 50-over revamp will begin.

“I’ve obviously played a lot more red-ball than white-ball but I do see myself as an all three format bowler,” Tongue says. “I want to get better at my white-ball cricket so hopefully I can showcase that in the West Indies. I bowled quite well in the Hundred so I know I have the skills.”

His death bowling, in particular, is in need of some work: “Yorkers, slower balls towards the back end. I bowl in the powerplay and in the middle so I am used to that, so one of my main areas of getting better is the back end of the innings.”

The ambition, though, will be music to the ears of Rob Key, who last week name-checked Tongue when talking up the importance of developing versatile young quicks after England’s pace-bowling underwhelmed during their abysmal World Cup defence.

“Look at the best bowlers in [the World Cup], they are multi-format bowlers who bowl at 85mph-plus and bowl in almost every phase,” Key, England’s managing director of men’s cricket, said. “That’s what we need the next generation to do.”

Tongue’s domestic 50-over record is unflashy - 16 wickets at an average of 45.5 in 15 List A games, the most recent of which came 15 months ago - but the same was said of his county numbers before he was parachuted into the Test side back in June, his pace and hostility on the Lions tour to Sri Lanka last winter and then in nets at Lord’s enough to earn a crack ahead of Chris Woakes in the one-off game against Ireland.

That call came as “a bit of a surprise”, Tongue admits, but after claiming a second innings five-for he was retained in the Ashes squad and made a fair impression with the wickets of Smith and David Warner in each innings of the Second Test. In the end, the seamer was unlucky not to feature again in the series, but looks back fondly on one of the more eventful Ashes contests.

“A lot did happen that match,” he laughs. “For me, personally, just walking through the Long Room about to do the national anthem - I’ve said to all my family and friends that I am never going to forget that moment.

Tongue made a fair impression after his Ashes call this summer (AFP via Getty Images)
Tongue made a fair impression after his Ashes call this summer (AFP via Getty Images)

“It didn’t help then that the Just Stop Oil protestors came on straight away. I was just like: ‘Urgh, I want to get playing now’.

“My first spell didn’t go as planned but getting that first wicket [of Usman Khawaja] settled down the nerves. Obviously, there was a lot more going on in that game as well with the Jonny [Bairstow] incident…”

Tongue, like an unlikely number of his teammates, claims to have missed the infamous lunch room scene that followed Bairstow’s controversial stumping by Alex Carey, but did bat in the midst of Lord’s' uncharacteristic fervour as England’s chase petered out later that afternoon.

The experience will no doubt come in handy in the New Year, when England are sure to encounter a string of feverish atmospheres during the five-Test series in India. Tongue is currently with the Lions at a training camp in the UAE that is geared towards preparation for both the senior and ‘A’ tours and looks likely to add to his two Test caps.

“I think my pace will help in sub-continental conditions,” he adds. “I can get the ball to reverse as well and my bouncer tactic, which Stokesy obviously likes, will benefit the team.

“I know being in that Test squad the pressure is really taken off you. Stokesy and Baz were so good in terms of telling me how to play my cricket: ‘You are here for a reason, you are good enough to be here, have fun, chill out, don’t put too much pressure on yourself’.

“Obviously, it is going to be a lot different over in India – I have never been before, so it will be very exciting if I am selected.”