It is widely acknowledged that left-arm pace bowlers are one of Twenty20’s most valuable commodities and so it should be noted that Sussex head into finals day with an embarrassment of riches.
In Tymal Mills and George Garton they possess not one, but two southpaw speed machines whose individual career resurgences have run parallel during a 2021 season that has seen them earn England recalls after four-year absences and become inaugural Hundred champions with Southern Brave.
They are both in heavy demand on the global scene, too. Garton — who has been on the radar of the Indian Premier League for a while, having been invited to a Rajasthan Royals trial in 2019 — will hook up with Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) for the resumption of this year’s IPL on Sunday.
Sussex’s George Garton has shone in 2021 and is closing in on a well-deserved England debut
Team-mate Tymal Mills has been called up to the T20 World Cup squad after a strong summer
FINALS DAY STATS
3 Hampshire are attempting to equal Leicestershire’s record of three Twenty20 titles — but have lost their last four semi-finals in the competition.
2 Only two of the previous 10 winners of the Blast — Hampshire in 2012 and Essex two years ago — have been from the south. The northern domination is guaranteed to be diluted this year, however, with Hampshire, Kent, Somerset and Sussex making it to Edgbaston.
11 Daniel Bell-Drummond of Kent is the top scorer in the Blast of those in action on finals day — down in 11th. Equally oddly, only one player from the four competing teams is in the top 10 leading bowlers — Bell-Drummond’s team-mate Matt Milnes.
25 Sussex have lost just a quarter of their completed matches with Rashid Khan in the side. Their Afghanistan star is missing, however, due to IPL commitments. They reached this year’s latter stages following five no-results.
189.6 Despite a modest season, Somerset’s Tom Banton has the best strike rate of any batsman to have scored at least 60 runs this summer.
Mills was not short of offers either but a return to a competition that made him an overnight millionaire in 2017 was scuppered on a technicality: only players that entered the original auction could be selected.
For Garton, 24, these are exciting times, and have offset the disappointment of missing out on an international debut earlier this summer.
Named in England’s original one-day squads, he was overlooked when Eoin Morgan eschewed the experimental route in the series finale versus Sri Lanka, and then ruled out of selection when a Covid outbreak in the camp forced the entire group into isolation for the three matches with Pakistan that followed.
‘It was a tad frustrating but it was all out of my control,’ said Garton. ‘Having been in the England system for a number of years, it was lovely to just get the call up and be in and around the squad. It was a nice reminder for me that it’s where I want to be and that my performances over the last season and a half had paid off.’
Playing under Morgan remains on the bucket list then but he will get experience of Kohli’s leadership immediately after trying to navigate Sussex to a second domestic T20 title at Edgbaston.
‘He’s one of the icons of the game worldwide, isn’t he? It will be brilliant to share a dressing room with him,’ he added. ‘I’m a very competitive person myself. I like being upfront and honest and that seems to be exactly how he is, so it will be exciting to meet him.’
Garton, whose ability to unleash 90mph thunderbolts first gained national recognition as a net bowler ahead of the 2017-18 Ashes, is a cannier bowler these days. And an all-round package to boot — he can hit the ball miles and is electric in the field. These are qualities which encouraged RCB’s director of cricket Mike Hesson to negotiate his temporary release from Sussex last month.
‘One amazing thing that the Hundred did was put the English domestic game on a platform for the international market,’ he said. ‘There were lots of eyes on it because every game was televised and it gave me the chance to showcase what I can do.
Garton will benefit from Virat Kohli’s considerable experience at Royal Challengers Bangalore
The 90mph bowler is grateful for The Hundred for giving him exposure on a global scale
‘I’m not just an angry fast bowler that tries to get the ball down the other end as quick as I can anymore. There’s a few more strings to my bow and my batting has come on a lot. But the knowledge of my bowling — when to turn it on, and when not to — is the biggest development in the cricketer I was three years ago.
‘As with all cricket, the faster you bowl, the faster it goes to the boundary and so I have learned more about other skills and been more accurate. Just look at someone like Jimmy Anderson, who at the age of 39 is as skilful as ever. That’s probably why he’s taking as many wickets as he ever has at a better average. It’s not just about your pace — although it’s nice to be able to fall back on that, for sure.’
Garton tends to set the tone of an innings while Mills, another who has gone through a catalogue of stress fractures in his back, provides the expertise at the end.
The 29-year-old’s latest comeback has been phenomenal. Twelve months ago, a bespoke back brace was being moulded around his frame, to be worn for the majority of his waking hours. He did so for three months and therefore, thoughts of that winter’s IPL auction never entered his head.
Mills’ resurgence is all the more remarkable as he was wearing a back brace 12 months ago
Mills’ horizons have broadened greatly with Eoin Morgan trusting him as a death specialist
‘I didn’t play any franchise cricket as a result, choosing to have a bit of a rest instead, to make sure I got everything sorted,’ Mills reflected. ‘That time out was important to get everything ready for this summer, which I saw as a really big one for me personally.
‘Throughout, my aim was just to stay fit, play for Sussex and not to try to look too far ahead.’
But he was asked to alter his gaze in June when Morgan tipped the death specialist as England’s potential World Cup bolter.
Sussex face Kent on finals day for the right to face Hampshire or Somerset in the final
With county colleague Jofra Archer ruled out for the rest of the year, he ultimately took his chance to show he could be fast, mean and miserly — opponents managed just 21 runs off the 36 balls he dispatched in the eliminator and final of the Hundred, at a cost of four wickets.
What is arguably most promising for Sussex and England, though, is that Mills’ performances have gone to another level in the big, pressure games.
‘I’ve got a good record now — over a period of time — in terms of keeping runs tight at the end of an innings,’ he added. ‘I like putting myself in challenging situations.
‘I know that if you are going to stand out and make a difference, it is going to be in the important times of the game.’