Tymal Mills: “One option was to retire, which wasn’t nice at the age of 22”

Being told that his chronic back problems will end the dream of playing Test Match cricket for England, pace bowler Tymal Mills has exploded onto the Twenty20 scene and is now in high demand all over the world! Read our Cross The Line exclusive. . .

Tymal firstly, was pro cricket always the dream for you?

“I never really had one, I didn’t play cricket until I was 14, in my area it was only really private schools that played. I played my first game by mistake when one of my pals who played for a village team, asked if I could help him out because they were one short. I enjoyed it and things have gone alright since then.”

You are renowned for your pace and consistently breaking that 90mph barrier, what’s the key to it?

“I could always bowl fast, the blend of flexibility and power that I have has allowed me to, when I was younger I had no idea where I was putting it or what I was doing with it so it’s taken a long time to get better. Naturally I was lucky that I could bowl fast and it was just a case of trying to hone that skill and bring everything else together.”

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Despite that quality, you’ve not had it easy. You’ve got a back condition which has meant that your body can’t cope with the longer formats of the game. How hard was that to take?

“It wasn’t great, I progressed through and played England U19s, Lions tours and went out with England for the last away ashes tour, as a net bowler. It was going well and then I went back to Essex and almost out of nowhere had these problems with my spine and my legs, which was all quite complicated stuff. Once I’d then moved to Sussex I had a great winter and pre-season but then it happened again. I had to have lots of tests, after which I sat down in the board room with the chief exec, the coaches and Essex staff to go through my options.

One option was to retire which wasn’t nice to hear at the age of 22, the other option was to try and stop bowing as much, which rules out four-day cricket and to give Twenty20 a go. I had a think and it was really tough to hear at the time but I went home and decided to give T20s a go and it’s gone alright since then.”

Do you enjoy being one of these ‘specialist Twenty20 players’, now that you’ve had to re-evaluate what you want to get out of cricket?

“It was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me, in that my career has gone upwards since then and faster than if I was still playing four-day cricket. Obviously I will never play Test Match cricket for England which is a shame, it was something that I was wanting but at the time my game was naturally suited to white ball cricket, rather than red. I’ve found that my skill set is better suited to those games, in T20 I find it easier to bowl fast and get the ball to reverse swing. That changed my whole mindset, everything I do now is geared towards T20 cricket and that’s accelerated my development.”

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For one, it’s taken you around the world, you’ve played in the Big Bash, Pakistan Super League and now the IPL, those are some major life experiences?

“Definitely. Last winter was my first step out into the T20 circuit really and my agent and I just tried to get as many deals as possible, just to back myself to do well over a five-month stint. I went to Bangladesh, New Zealand and then a few games in the Big Bash. Then I went to India to play for England in some T20s, from there it was the Pakistan Super League and I just played as much cricket as I could. I hoped good things would come, and they did with the IPL auction last year, that happened much quicker than I thought it would.”

We have to talk about the IPL, you were auctioned to Royal Challengers Bangalore for crazy money, £1.4 million! How’d it feel being the second highest paid foreign player?

“It was crazy, I knew I’d done well leading up to the auction and I was playing in Dubai at the time. My agent gave me a full run-down of the teams and who he reckoned was interested in me. We knew that there was quite a lot of interest but nothing was guaranteed. A big thing that played into my hands was my availability for the tournament, I was around for the whole of the IPL, whereas because of the Champions Trophy a lot of the foreign players were going to be withdrawn after the group stages. I remember waking up and watching the auction live on TV, I did not expect what happened. I didn’t feel under any pressure and I really enjoyed it.”

Which batsman in the IPL gave you the most nightmares?

“I did pretty well actually and didn’t have any really bad games. The first game we played was at Hyderabad and you’re bowling at David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan, I remember bowling what I thought was a pretty good ball and Warner just leant on it without trying and it’s gone for four. You are under the pump straight away. Every team is so good.”

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With you only playing T20 cricket, you’ve got so many options, so many offers, does the nomadic lifestyle of travelling around get lonely? Does the stardom wear off?

“It is different, I am in a different position to a lot of guys in that I haven’t got a family, I’m not married or have kids, so I’m not spending lots of time away from them. Teams often accommodate for you and they will fly out your loved ones, but you do spend a lot of time in your hotel, in your room alone, it’s what you make of it. You’ve got to be proactive and get yourself out there and socialise with people otherwise you do spend a lot of time in your room. We are extremely lucky but there are some pitfalls to it, it can be a lonely place to be.”

Potentially, a lot of fellow players could be quite jealous of your position, have you had any flack?

“Yeah a lot, especially down here at Sussex, I really try and stay involved with the club, they’ve stood by me and given me all the support I need to get fit. Even when the boys are playing four-day games I will go into the gym and have a chat. The boys always let me know how lucky I am, especially when they are 140 overs deep in the field or have had a long, bad day. They certainly pipe up to me then, but it’s all good fun and I try to stick around as much as I can.”

Needless to say, your stock has risen massively and with that your platform. How have you handled the pressure and spotlight that’s now on you?

“In the UK I am not a huge name and I still don’t see myself as a big name. I’m just some 25-year-old lad who has stumbled into it really, I’ve only played four international games, I’m not a hardened veteran of international cricket and so I don’t see myself as a big signing. So it’s not been too bad, it’s a nice balance for me, inside cricketing circles my stock has risen and people know more about me but outside of that I live a pretty normal life.”

Close to home, you’ve been a part of the England T20 set up, where does that rank in your achievements?

“I’m always available for England, we don’t play a lot of international T20 cricket but I’ve had a taste and it’s where I want to be. I’m really keen to get fit and be selected, I’ve loved the four games that I have played and hopefully add as many more caps as possible.”

You’re a real key for the future of that England side, what are your ambitions as you look forward?

“The T20 World Cup is my big thing, it comes around every few years and I would love to win it. It’s the only form of cricket I will get to play in and I want to be a part of a winning side. To be world champions is something that you can be massively proud of and that would top it all.”

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Away from cricket, do you follow other sports, have any teams that you follow?

“I’m a big sports fan, I grew up close to Norwich so am a Norwich City football fan. I get down to Brighton and have some contacts down there but unfortunately, I went to see Norwich Brighton last year and we got beaten 5-0. I’ve not been this year since they’ve got into the Premier League but hopefully I will be able to catch a game or two. I also like my American sports and follow the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.”

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