England news March 2, 2017

Borthwick eager to restate England credentials

He came close to an England call-up in 2016. Now, after a winter in New Zealand and with a new start looming with Surrey, he's ready to press his case again
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Scott Borthwick nearly earned England selection last year, but the runs dried up © Getty Images

England's Test batting line-up underwent considerable changes last year and it remains to be seen who takes the field in Joe Root's first outing as captain, against South Africa at Lord's in July. James Vince, Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings were handed debuts; Gary Balance was recalled and dropped again; Jos Buttler returned to the middle order and Moeen Ali was shunted up and down the order.

At the start of the Sri Lanka series last May, there was also the unfortunate need to fill James Taylor's position. The revolving door in the middle order since his untimely retirement suggests that it is something they haven't yet managed. Then, by the start of the Pakistan series, they needed to replace Nick Compton whose form and confidence had disintegrated.

That was the moment when Scott Borthwick's name came firmly into view. Selected as a legspinner against Australia at the tail-end of the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, following Graeme Swann's mid-series retirement, he had since transformed himself into a stellar No. 3 for Durham - not least at his home ground of Chester-le-Street, one of the tougher places to chisel out runs, where he scored back-to-back centuries against Lancashire last season.

Even in the 2013 season, before his England Test debut, Borthwick had passed 1000 runs, a feat he would repeat in each of the following three summers. By the time the selectors were looking for Compton's replacement, he had already scored three centuries in nine Championship innings, including an unbeaten 188 against a Nottinghamshire attack featuring Jake Ball, Harry Gurney and Jackson Bird. Comparisons with Steven Smith - leggie turned top-order batsman - were being made.

He was next in line. Or so it seemed. Then came the curveball from the selectors. Ballance was named in the squad to face Pakistan in the first Test, on the back of a productive two rounds of matches, which included a fine century against Middlesex at Scarborough, and with a hint of irony, 78 against Durham. At the same time, Borthwick's runs dried up (or his luck changed) with three single-figure scores in the same period.

"Looking back at the two games that were between the Test series - we played Yorkshire and I got run out in the first innings and Adam Lyth got me in the second with one which kept low," he tells ESPNcricinfo in Wellington during a spell as an overseas player with Firebirds. "I'm sitting there scratching my head, thinking I'm still in good form, I've just had two freakish dismissals.

"It's about keeping your emotions as level as you can. It is something I think I've done well in the last four years"

"Then we went to Hampshire and I left one which hit the bottom of the bat and goes onto the stumps. The game is like that. What I did learn is that, if you get ahead of yourself, it has a way of biting you back. That was maybe a learning curve and it's about keeping your emotions as level as you can. It is something I think I've done well in the last four years. Sometimes you get good balls, sometimes you make a mistake, sometimes it's just not your day."

Borthwick had tried not to let talk of a potential England recall bother him, and is reluctant to suggest it was the reason for the untimely run of low scores, but he admits he thought the call-up was close after conversations with his county captain - and England one-day coach - Paul Collingwood.

"I spoke quite closely to Colly and he thought I was going to get picked," Borthwick says. "So I believed him, he's in the know. The selectors came and watched, but no one actually spoke to me to say I was close or whatever. I don't know how close I really was. I just had to put that to the back of my mind."

After his unbeaten century against Nottinghamshire, Borthwick did not score another hundred in 19 first-class innings for the season. However, his summer was not a write-off. There was a top score of 92 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, and he passed 1000 runs for the fourth consecutive summer. "That was a big for me and a relief," he says.

Though the England call eluded him, the fact he got close purely as a batsman is something he takes great pride in. "For me, it was more the excitement of people talking about me as batsman, because it had never really happened before. The thought of playing Test cricket as a batsman was exciting, I was proud of the fact I was getting talked about and people were mentioning my name."

It was his bowling that fetched Borthwick his Test cap, but that skill has taken a back seat now © Getty Images

After a somewhat disappointing second half to the season, Borthwick did not earn a place in the various England Lions squads. It could have been construed as him slipping down the pecking order, but as he points out, "I'm only 26", and he has endeavoured to turn the setback into a positive. Before the 2016 season was finished, it had been announced he was heading to Surrey, along with team-mate Mark Stoneman, in the biggest county moves of the year. It was time to take stock.

He had a pre-Christmas break - his first decent spell away from cricket in four or five years - before heading to Wellington at the start of 2017. He made a big impression in the preceding New Zealand summer with a century in his first appearance and 532 runs at 48.36 all told in the Plunket Shield. His current stint has been less successful but he hopes the time in the middle will help him kick-start his pre-season with Surrey, for which he is returning to England early.

Although plenty of English cricketers now travel the world for various T20 leagues, an overseas pro in first-class cricket remains uncommon and Borthwick has found it a fulfilling experience. "Last year was really good for me to have six or seven four-day games for Wellington, and it was nice of them to ask if I could come back.

"I think what helped is, I got a hundred in my first game and got a few wickets. You go into the dressing room with confidence. Despite the runs I'd scored in England, it was important to do it in front of them here. It showed the lads I could play.

"I spoke to Hamish Marshall [the former Gloucestershire batsman who plays for Wellington] and he said sometimes, as an overseas, you don't always have to win games so long as you are contributing even off the field. That's what I wanted to do. Of course I wanted to win games but I also wanted to help in other ways. And now I can go into the season with some cricket behind me."

"I haven't quite worked out one-day cricket as well as I have red-ball. I know my game much better as a four-day batter than a one-day batter"

His Surrey move came before confirmation of the sanctions against Durham, which resulted in them being relegated and docked points for an ECB financial bail-out, so it cannot be said he jumped ship to further his career. The chance to work alongside his former Durham team-mate Michael Di Venuto - "one of the best batting coaches in the world" - along with a desire to develop his legspin and improve his one-day game on better wickets were chief among his reasons.

The bowling, the skill that earned him a Test cap, has certainly taken a back seat over the last three years, although you could hardly find a more inhospitable climate for legspin than Chester-le-Street. In the 2013 season he claimed 34 wickets at a very respectable 33.52 (the three seasons from 2011-2013 brought 84 wickets at 31.48) but the following three summers tallied 56 wickets at 48.14. The 2016 season did, though, include the heaviest bowling workload of his career.

"Hopefully I can stay in the top three, and if I'm bowling well, I can get wickets down there as well. I want to keep learning. As a legspinner, you never stop learning," he says. "My white-ball batting is something I want to keep on improving. Hopefully on better wickets I can trust myself to try and hit the ball. I haven't quite worked out one-day cricket as well as I have red-ball. I know my game much better as a four-day batter than a one-day batter. But I've scored runs in one-day cricket, it's about kicking on, and I'm confident that I will work it out. I want to keep developing new skills."

With England currently on a six-month hiatus from Tests while the game switches to a one-day focus, a lot can change, and with a different balance of side likely than was used in Bangladesh and India, a middle-order slot could yet open up depending on whether Buttler is retained and how the plethora of allrounders are used. But Borthwick is not going to let the thought preoccupy him, nor will he start fretting about whether his opportunity is going to arise.

"Obviously I want to hit the ground running but there are plenty of players who have got back into the side in their late 20s. I certainly don't think if it doesn't happen this year that I'm a write-off, but hopefully I can get people talking about me again."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Lmaotsetung on March 4, 2017, 11:20 GMT

    @TALGERI - almost every single players in that England lineup were touted as the best of their class and destined to play test cricket at a very young age...Cook, Hameed, Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Butler, Woakes, Broad, Anderson, etc. All these players had secured their place in the side by the time they've reached their mid 20s. Borthwick on the other hand started as a leggie who could bat a bit. He is from the same age group as Root, Stokes, Bairstow, etc. Unfortunately his bowling never took off and instead he became a very good county #3 batsman. Like they say, class is permanent, form is temporary and I just don't think he has the class to succeed at the test level.

  • cricfan11805190 on March 4, 2017, 6:33 GMT

    I think if Borthwick is in good form can be tried at no 5-6. With hameed and jennings top 3 is sorted. If butler is in good form then he can be selected as 7. For home season cook,jennings,hameed and root will form top 4 followed by stokes,jonny and butler/borthwick depending on the form, followed by ali,woakes,broard,anderson with ball,rashid. With wood not fit for 5 day cricket who will be backups in pace bowling?

  • Jonathan Evans on March 3, 2017, 21:26 GMT

    @whatsgoinoffoutthere the space, albeit not strictly in the top order, comes from Moeen Stokes 3 specialist seamers being enough bowling in English conditions. So, the likelihood is that Moeen will be back down at 8, with an extra batsman somewhere between 5-7, Buttler being the man in possession.

  • Whatsgoinoffoutthere on March 3, 2017, 13:35 GMT

    Do England have a space in the top order? I would have thought the top three was Hameed, Jennings and Cook. One of them will be able to cover number three even though all are better known as openers, with Root returning to four. My XI would be Cook, Hameed, Jennings, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Moeen, Woakes, Broad, Wood/Finn/Ball, Anderson. Pace bowlers can rotate.

  • talgeri on March 3, 2017, 3:04 GMT

    Every batsman or bowler has the right to feel he has a chance if he is performing.All may not have pedigree.Also how many of the current players in the England team can boast of pedigree. Maybe 3-4. I also feel it is correct to be in a fashionable county as stories of Chris and Stuart Broad, Swann and others have shown after changing their Counties. It is the belief of the seleectors. Now they are also reluctant to see players from the second div of County cricket.This is what i feel from reading reports. Selection should be made on performance and potential and in some cases patience has to be dahered to. We might have missed Steve Waugh if the Aussie selectors had not persevered with him.

  • Trevor on March 3, 2017, 1:37 GMT

    Borthwick has not been a stellar success for Wellington this season after promising much with a highly productive 2015-16. His conversion to batting a là Mark Richardson could be said to have met with very modest success thus far, and with the English top order looking to have only one vacancy, he will need to score a lorry load of runs for him to be considered the net cab off the rank.

  • cricfan44810102 on March 2, 2017, 21:38 GMT

    Whilst nobody can really be sure how a cricketer will adapt to the demands of test cricket. I would like to see Scott Borthwick succeed as he's a good guy and a decent cricketer.

  • Lmaotsetung on March 2, 2017, 19:17 GMT

    I personally do not think he has the pedigree to be a decent test quality batsman. Very few succeed internationally after taking up batting as a second thought.

  • Nutcutlet on March 2, 2017, 18:16 GMT

    As a life-long Surrey supporter (although county cricket itself is dearer to me than county allegiance - please read on!), I look forward to seeing how Scott Borthwick fits in and advances his career at the Oval. In the light of the knee-capping of his county of origin by the ECB, I shall be wearing a Durham supporters' sun hat as a season-long reminder of what I perceive to be a monstrous injustice to a wonderful county that has given so many high quality players to England in its short history. Whoever wins the Div. 1 County Championship should play an-end-of season fixture against Durham, at the Riverside - with the purpose of raising funds for that mistreated county. That would show a solidarity with one of our own. Good luck, Scott! May you have a season to remember for all the right reasons.

  • Cricinfouser on March 2, 2017, 15:00 GMT

    For a fringe player Surrey is definitely a help in making the England side, any vaguely decent player at Surrey will get noticed much more with the London media bias and the sheer number people that live there. The fairly flat Oval pitch and Surrey's ordinary seam bowling attack is also a better fit for someone like Borthwick to not just get overs but be a factor with the ball - taking wickets at 30odd when 450 plays 500 is pretty good, whereas when 250 plays 200 it isn't. The fact that the ECB completely stitched up Durham just makes it even more of a better move for someone with England aspirations.

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