Josh Tongue would have spent the 2023 summer coaching but for a specialist diagnosing a nerve problem in his shoulder last year. Instead, he has made his England debut, played an Ashes Test and been sent memes depicting Steven Smith as his bunny.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in at the minute,” Tongue said. “Being out for so long with my shoulder, having two operations on it, not knowing what I was going to be doing and maybe retiring, then getting that call-up for the Ireland Test, words can’t really describe how I felt. Now, being in the Ashes squad, it just feels so surreal.”
Tongue qualified as a Level 2 coach early in his career and, if the shoulder issue which kept him out of the game for 14 months between June 2021 and August 2022 had not been resolved, he would have quit the professional game and followed a different career path.
“I would have gone into coaching,” he said. “I’d have kept doing my badges.” He suggested he would have tapped into “a few contacts” at his old school, King’s Worcester, or worked with the former Worcestershire batter Gavin Haynes, whose son Jack has played alongside Tongue at the county and for England Lions.
“It’s a bit different: doing a bit of coaching or playing for England in an Ashes series. It’s very weird. I don’t think it’s really sunk in at the minute. It’s just crazy: where I was two years ago to now. Obviously as a young kid, I dreamed of being in an Ashes series. Now I’m in one, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Tongue grew up watching James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowling; now, he is in contention to replace one of them in the fifth Test at The Kia Oval, starting on Thursday. “It’s just amazing to be in the training, training with them and learning from them,” he said, speaking before the fourth Test at a #Funds4Runs session organised by LV= Insurance at Stockport Georgians Cricket Club.
“The first couple of weeks in the squad, I was trying to find my feet, not asking too many questions as the new kid on the block. I feel like now I’m getting to know everyone, getting a bit more confidence with everyone in the squad, I can ask those questions.
“It’s different when you’re in competition. There’s not much training between each Test match, so I try and take as much out of it as I can. Being on the pitch with Jimmy and Broady at Lord’s, them being at mid-on and mid-off, [I tried to] just tap into anything they can offer.”
Tongue finished the Lord’s Test with figures of 5 for 151 in the match, bowling a prolonged spell of bouncers on the fourth day and dismissing David Warner and Steven Smith in both innings. “I didn’t think I’d play at Lord’s and that first day, coming through the Long Room and hearing the national anthem, I thought, ‘Wow! I’m actually playing in the Ashes.'”
Having earlier trapped him lbw in a County Championship game, Tongue has dismissed Smith in three innings out of three this summer. “I did see a little picture of him in the corner, me, and then a rabbit – something like that,” he said, laughing. “I have seen some funny stuff on Twitter.
“The one at Worcester, I did a bit of analyst work against him and tried to mix up the angles. He does draw you in and goes off his stumps. I tried not to play to his strengths which is obviously when you try to bowl straight, he’ll clip you through the leg side.
“I feel like bowling that fourth or fifth stump and trying to bore him and force him to do something wrong [is the way to go] and obviously that happened in the first innings. Then, in the second, he was bumped out. It’s just so good to bowl against him, really.”
Tongue generally bowls in the mid-80s mph but has touched 90mph/145kph at times this summer, and has enjoyed the novelty of looking up at his speeds on big screens. “I was trying not to look too much but you naturally look sometimes and it was great to get up to that sort of speed,” he said.
“It’s a nice feeling. Growing up as a kid, you want to bowl as fast as you can so getting up to 90mph is a nice little achievement. I’m a big rhythm bowler: when I’m bowling at my best, I don’t try too hard. My skills, my height, my bounce, my pace… when I don’t try to bowl too quick, and my attributes kind of sink in.”
He has only played at The Oval once before, in a high-scoring draw in 2018, but fresh from a five-wicket haul in Worcestershire’s win against Leicestershire, Tongue is confident that he can make an impact there if selected this week. “From Lord’s, knowing I bowled nicely there, I’ll take confidence for maybe playing at The Oval.”
Josh Tongue was speaking on behalf of LV= Insurance, title sponsors of this summer’s LV= Insurance Ashes Series. Head to https://www.lv.com/gi/cricket to find out more
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