back icon


Earmarked for a great future, can Gus Atkinson live up to the billing?

Last updated on 04 Oct 2023 | 08:09 AM
Google News IconFollow Us
Earmarked for a great future, can Gus Atkinson live up to the billing?

A surprise pick for the World Cup, England would hope that the Surrey pacer is the side's X-factor at the marquee event

Ahead of the 2019 World Cup, England were desperate to get Jofra Archer into their team and the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) even tweaked their eligibility criteria for the Barbados-born pacer to feature in the showpiece event. The move paid off handsomely as Archer played a pivotal role, including bowling the Super Over in the final to help England win their first-ever World Cup.

England had perhaps reached their highest point in international cricket, and for Archer, it was set to be the start of something big. Make no mistake, he had already established himself as a fierce bowler in the T20 leagues across the globe, but international cricket is a different beast altogether, as Archer would find out as months and years trickled on. 

The amount of workload for Archer in his initial few months of international cricket clearly has taken a toll on him and it is now at a phase where any cricket England can get out of him is a bonus.

Not surprisingly, with Archer’s injury, England have had to look elsewhere. Someone who could match Archer’s skillset as a bowler, and maybe even better. Gus Atkinson is one such exciting bowler who gives England hope.

Given his tendency to bowl at over 90 MPH, the Surrey quick has gone through his share of injuries but has emerged out of it stronger. Surrey, too have clearly played a pivotal role in his injury management, not making him run through hoops in first-class cricket, but have encouraged him to give it all in white-ball cricket.

That has clearly worked as he went on to make his international debut for England in the first T20I against New Zealand at Old Trafford, where he picked up four wickets. His pace, accuracy, bowling those hard lengths, and more often than not, hurrying the batters - these are some of the things Atkinson brings to the table. Moreover, he does not shy away from bowling at the stumps, accounting for nearly 37% of such deliveries in the 50-over format for England so far. 

Not to forget, England have Mark Wood up their sleeves, who they can now use cleverly, provided both of them make it to the XI at the World Cup. Wood can potentially chip in more overs than usual in the middle phase with Atkinson, with a similar pace, can keep the batters on their toes (literally) at the death.

England valued the role Liam Plunkett played in their successful 2019 World Cup. He squeezed the opposition out in the middle-overs and, if needed, also struck a few mighty blows down the order. While Plunkett was by no means a fiery quick bowler, at least towards the end of his England career, he was a utility player. He was able to don different hats for his side, depending on the situation. Perhaps the only player who lives up to Plunkett’s skillsets is Brydon Carse

While Carse is not express, he can surprise you with his pace and also his short deliveries. Added to that, he has shown that he is no mug with the bat, averaging nearly 32 in first-class cricket and in his limited opportunities in ODIs, he has scored at an average of 25 and strike-rate of 89.

While Carse does not feature in the World Cup squad, England have gone in with Atkinson, who made his competitive debut for Surrey only three years ago. A stress fracture in the three years leading up to it kept the pacer from playing at the highest level, but when that happened, it became evidently clear that he could not be kept down for long. 

But can he slip into Plunkett’s role? While he has had very limited opportunities with the bat, he has proved his mantle on more than one occasion in the County Championship, having hit three fifties en route to a healthy average of 28 (average of 40 in 2023 & 50.25 in 2022). 

The competition in England’s squad is stiff, and for Atkinson to have a chance to stake claim to a place permanently could perhaps present himself as a batting option as well - not someone who can score those big fifties hundreds, but score those vital 20-25 runs down the order that could eventually prove to be the difference.

Also, with him clocking 90 MPH on a regular basis, his workload management comes into the picture. Intentionally or unintentionally, Surrey did a brilliant job in doing so this season, allowing him just five (out of 14) games in the Championship this season. The pacer managed to make an impact, claiming 20 wickets at 20.20.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Surrey and England go about managing the fast bowler’s workload. Is he going to play a limited role for Surrey in the Championship? Is the focus solely going to be on white-ball cricket? Will he compromise on his pace moving forward? Can his transition into a fast bowling all-rounder be feasible and a successful one?

Recurrence of the stress fractures he suffered in 2017, 2018, and 2019 could be severely damaging. While there might be comparisons to Archer, England could unearth a player who could be much more than that, provided they play their cards right.

The way they have handled Wood over the last year or two shows that it is possible to have your express bowlers fit and available for key fixtures. If they believe Atkinson is going to play a key role over the next 4-5 years, it would make sense for England to give the 25-year-old some breathing time. While England were overenthusiastic with the way they used Archer initially, one can only hope they’ve learnt their lesson.

Related Article