A cynical English view of the Indian Premier League has been that it simply serves to boost bank balances, but Sam Curran has no doubt his recent outing in the tournament helped him become a better white-ball cricketer.
The younger of the two Curran brothers heads into theSunday’s second Twenty20 against South Africa in Paarl fresh from a career-best three for 28 in Friday’s five-wicket victory at Newlands. It was a chance very much taken, too, after he was preferred in the lineup to Moeen Ali on a pitch offering turn.
There was a time when, despite a point of difference through his left-arm angle, Curran’s speeds around the 80mph mark might be viewed as cannon fodder. However, this would be to underestimate the all-rounder’s street smarts and a feisty streak that belies his mere 22 years.
Surrey’s production line of talent deserves a nod here but, more recently, so does his time with Chennai Super Kings. The three-times champions tanked horribly in the group stage yet Curran, asked to perform a variety of roles with both bat and ball, refused to wave the white flag at any stage.
“I really enjoyed the IPL and feel I have taken my game to a different standard in terms of my learning,” said Curran. “I took a lot away from that group and coaching staff at Chennai. Now I just want to just keep trying to take my opportunities and contribute to England.
“You saw from our [intra-squad] warmup games, any of the players could have gone out and it would have been a good England team. It’s a great environment for a younger player like myself, picking the brains of the senior players.”
A hallmark of England’s rise to 50-over world champions was a preference to not tinker with their side until a series was won. They must cram more into their bilateral series before next year’s T20 equivalent in India, however, and in Paarl there may yet be a temptation to bring Mark Wood’s pace into the equation or, if they think it will spin, restore Moeen in a bid to revive his ailing form.
Tom Curran was preferred first up and returned his most expensive figures thanks to a manhandling by Faf du Plessis, to the extent that yorking George Linde with his final ball to finish with one for 55 mustered no celebration. His little brother knows from countless games growing up, however, that he is unlikely to fester.
“I think T20 is a very strange game,” said the younger Curran. “You can bowl well and still get hit for a lot of runs, or bowl badly and take loads of wickets. You just have to ride the ups and downs. Tom is a very competitive and relaxed guy who will move on really quickly, and the fact we won makes it a nicer feeling for the bowling group as well. I’m sure we’ll all be fine come Sunday to go again.”
The more troubling Surrey player at present is Jason Roy, who has one half-century in 12 white-ball internationals since his critical role in the World Cup triumph. On Friday, his second-ball duck was met with the resigned look of a player who, like many, wishes 2020 would simply get lost.
England have moved Jonny Bairstow down from his preferred spot at opener in order to pair Roy and Jos Buttler at the top – the Yorkshireman responding with an eye-popping uneaten 86 – and as Sam Curran noted, Eoin Morgan is a captain who backs his men. Restoring Bairstow so soon would be out of character.
South Africa, meanwhile, must be pondering a run-out for Anrich Nortje, the fast bowler who lit up the IPL, after Friday’s game tipped in England’s favour when the left-armer Bueren Hendricks suffered a 28-run meltdown in the 17th over. A sixth bowling option for the captain, Quinton de Kock, would be handy, too. With delicate transformation targets to consider and the regular all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo believed to be among the two positive Covid-19 results in the camp, it is not straightforward for the head coach, Mark Boucher. Both sides have selection headaches, they just couldn’t be more different.