Olly Stone tries to avoid dreaming big because of his turbulent injury history so even featuring in one Ashes Test would represent a major achievement and make up for large spells on the sidelines.
The fast bowler has played only 44 first-class matches in a decade and none since June 2021 – when he made his third and most recent Test appearance for England – as a fourth stress fracture in his back led to an operation where he had his lower spine reinforced by two metal screws.
Last summer’s comeback was halted by a broken finger but Stone caught the eye with England’s limited-overs sides over the winter and while he was an unused member of the Test squad in New Zealand in February, the experience has merely whetted his appetite for the summer ahead.
Competition for spots among England’s arsenal of quicks is as fierce as it has been in recent memory for the highly-anticipated visit of Australia so Stone admitted he would cheerily accept a bit-part role in the series.
Asked if even a single appearance would be a reward for all the toil he has endured in the last couple of years, he said: “One hundred per cent. It’s been encouraging with how much cricket I’ve had under my belt this winter and come through it. I’m feeling fit and strong and just raring to get stuck in now.
“I’ve looked at things in the past, injuries got in the way and I’ve been quite disappointed so I try not to look too far ahead. But everyone knows how big a summer it is and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on the radar.
“To break into that side is tough so if you get one Test, especially off the back of a few injuries, it would definitely be rewarding.
“I’d have liked that to have come in New Zealand but (not playing) has made me champing at the bit to get involved this summer.”
Five Tests in the space of six and a half weeks against Australia is likely to stretch England’s deep pool of fast bowling resources so even if Stone is down the pecking order at the outset, he could be in contention as the series progresses.
He was overlooked against the Kiwis as James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson were preferred but an ability to consistently generate speeds upwards of 90mph makes Stone an attractive option, alongside fellow express pacemen Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
And Stone has been heartened by the encouragement he has had from Test captain Ben Stokes.
Stone said: “He doesn’t want me to go away and try to be a swing bowler, it’s to go out there, be aggressive and do what I do best. For him, it’s a good headache to have, I know he wants as many fit bowlers to select from.
“If you’re not involved in the first one or two, however the squads are picked, then you can feature later on in the summer. If not, there’s the white-ball cricket at the end of the year that leads into a big winter with the (50-over) World Cup.”
Stone will be hoping for a first-class return later this week and make his competitive debut for Nottinghamshire, who are back in Division One of the County Championship and open their campaign at Hampshire on Thursday.
The 29-year-old, who moved to Trent Bridge after six seasons with Warwickshire, believes flexibility will be key as he remains wary about another injury setback in the next few weeks.
He added: “Initially it will be game-on, game-off but if it’s rain-affected or I don’t bowl as much as maybe expected, we can reassess and go from there.
“Although I’ve had a good and busy winter, we’d be silly to try and go every game. I guess it all depends on how, a, I’m feeling and, b, how much cricket I have during those games.”