Second chances don’t quite come easy in life and sport. Call it the fickle nature of the game or the inevitability of life. In recent times, the likes of Tim Paine, Matthew Wade and George Dockrell know that feeling only too well.
After his Test snub in September 2017, Wade joked that the only way for him to make an International comeback was as a bowler. Instead, he scored a mountain of runs for Victoria and Australia A to force himself back in the reckoning albeit as a specialist batsman after ditching the gloves.
In a slightly similar context, Ireland’s George Dockrell has had a second advent after spending a decade as his side’s frontline spin bowler. Having lost his spot in the XI and a central contract in 2019, he has returned as a batting all-rounder at no. 5 for Ireland in their series against the Netherlands in Utrecht.
“I lost my contract at Christmas. There’s obviously a bit of a different role that I’m trying to take on,” Dockrell told Emerging Cricket on the eve of the first ODI.
“Graham Ford (Ireland’s head coach) was pretty clear with me. He felt like the batting had more to give and there was an opportunity for me there to keep working at that. There was enough flair for him to reward me with a retainer contract.”
And that flair translated into runs in the Inter-provincial one-day competition for Leinster Lightning. Since the tournament gained List A status in 2017, he has scored 709 runs in 17 innings while averaging 101.28.
Nearly half of those came this summer after scoring four consecutive fifties and a maiden hundred. His form coupled with his captaincy was instrumental in guiding Leinster Lightning to their eighth title in a row.
“We lost a number of players from last season who moved to other teams so there was a kind a challenge for us to put our hands up and take on more responsibility across the squad and I think we did that really well.”
“For me, it was a new challenge to focus my energy on. It’s been really enjoyable having those opportunities up the order with Leinster to be able to put my hand up for a spot in the Irish top order.”
In an attempt to share the talent pool more evenly, the revamped domestic structure and teams saw the likes of Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany and Tyrone Kane move to Munster Reds from Leinster. This prompted a batting order re-think for Dockrell who worked with Pete Johnston (Leinster’s head coach) sharpening his skills.
Having started out as an opener for the Irish Under-13s, his primary skill was always batting through the underage system before shooting to prominence in 2010 for his left-arm bowling skills and that sustained him for nearly a decade at the top-tier including County cricket stints with Somerset and Sussex.
However, his diminishing bowling returns and a dip in form coincided with Andy McBrine and Simi Singh cementing their spot as spin-bowling all-rounders in the Irish line-up. Dockrell’s last 43 overs in one-day internationals have been wicketless and his domestic record hasn’t been eye-catching either. Though he still remains third on Ireland’s all-time leading wicket-takers in ODIs.
Despite that, the batting transformation led to comparisons with Steve Smith by captain Balbirnie and while there maybe a potential to play a greater role with the bat in the future, Dockrell is unwilling to do away with his main suit that brought him success in the first place.
“Anyone getting compared with Steve Smith is a pretty good thing (laughs)! But my bowling is still a huge part of me. My bowling has been less impactful in the previous years but being a left-arm spinner you always offer something to the team so I’m gonna keep working hard on that and look to add value to the team.”
From being a bowler who could bat, he hopes to change the perception the other way around: a batter who can bowl.
“Yeah I do have a couple of ODI fifties to my name but they came when I batted 6, 7 or 8,” he said. “It is a bit different method-wise batting at no. 5 especially early season in Ireland but it is about having a solid game plan, trusting my defence and then be able to build from there.”
“Batting down the order sometimes is a little bit more about looking for boundaries and being a bit more inventive with your scoring. But I have quite enjoyed the new challenge of getting in quite early, facing the new ball, the opening bowlers and being able to build an innings from there. It’s a little bit of a measured approach but it is something I have enjoyed doing.”
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