Tymal Mills speaks to Taha Hashim about a winter spent in a back brace, the reward of a World Cup call-up and his success at the death.
After England eased to a 3-0 T20I series win over Sri Lanka in late June, Eoin Morgan, when asked about the potential make-up of his squad for this year’s World Cup, threw out a name which hadn’t been heard in international cricket for quite some time. “There are guys playing in The Hundred like Tymal Mills who could easily present a case,” said England’s white-ball captain. “[Mills] is an outstanding bowler and we’ve always been in communication with him, wanting him to get fit, play as much cricket as possible, leave him alone until a World Cup comes. Playing for Sussex, given the journey he’s been on… is way better for him than trying to get fit for sporadic T20 series throughout the year.”
For Mills, the rapid left-armer who hasn’t played a T20I for England since February 2017, Morgan’s comments “came out of the blue”. “I identified this summer as a real chance to get back into that England side for the World Cup, with the Blast and then The Hundred,” the 29-year-old tells Wisden.com. “To actually hear from Morgs that I was in that kind of conversation was nice ahead of the competition starting. I didn’t take it as pressure, I more took it as confirming that I was in consideration if I was able to have a good tournament.”
Well, let’s lay it down: Mills played in all 10 matches of Southern Brave’s title-winning campaign, took 3-8 against Trent Rockets to push his side into the final, and only Birmingham Phoenix’s Adam Milne finished with a better economy rate in the men’s tournament (among those to have bowled more than 35 deliveries). He didn’t bathe in wickets – there were eight in total – but he choked up batters at the death with his dangerous concoction of slower balls and high-pace fury. Last week there came the ultimate reward: his name in England’s preliminary 15-man squad for the World Cup.
“This day felt a million miles away over the course of last winter/spring,” Mills wrote on Twitter, attaching a picture of himself wearing a back brace. Injuries, as Morgan alluded to in that press conference, have been a constant source of frustration for Mills. His first-class career came to a close in 2015 at the age of 22 after he was diagnosed with a congenital back condition. Three T20Is against India in 2017 were followed by an IPL gig at Royal Challengers Bangalore, but that stint was affected by issues with his hamstring and the knocks kept on coming – last winter it was a stress fracture in the back.
This day felt a million miles away over the course of last winter/spring. Take things day by day and keep working hard – you just never know! Thank you for all of the messages, cannot wait! 🏴 🦁 pic.twitter.com/r2Fv7ExBeV
— Tymal Mills (@tmills15) September 9, 2021
“It was the second year I’ve had one – the same fracture had reopened and the specialist recommended that I wear a back brace for, initially, four weeks but it ended up being 12. I went up to London and got moulded for this back brace, had to wear it day and night apart from when I was sleeping and washing. That was December, January, February, all in a back brace. I wasn’t allowed to do anything but walk or cycle. In the mornings, a long walk with my daughter in the push chair, with the dog; in the evenings an hour, an hour-and-a-half most nights sat on the bike whilst watching TV. It was tough.”
Mills hit the gym in March, was running in April, back to bowling in May and has enjoyed an excellent few months with both Southern Brave and Sussex Sharks. His 22 wickets this summer have come at an average of 18.86 and with his county at T20 Blast Finals Day on Saturday, the opportunity is there to bag another winners’ medal. The back has held up well too: “Touch wood, my back’s felt really good all summer.”
At the World Cup, England can look forward to using a man with a unique set of skills at his disposal. Prior to the start of The Hundred, CricViz analyst Ben Jones outlined how “Mills is not your average death bowler, in any sense”. Resisting the allure of the toe-crushing yorker, Mills has built his reputation on bowling short. Throw in his ability to mix up his speed – he can bowl in both the 60s (mph) and 90s – and Mills has a clear gameplan when operating at the backend of an innings.
“It’s not as complicated as what you might think. I do what I’m good at. I don’t do what I’m not good at. If I’m not confident in bowling a yorker, I’m not going to bowl one because I probably won’t execute it and that ball will probably get hit for a four or a six. It’s that simple. For me, T20 cricket is purely about skill execution. It’s a one-on-one – does the bowler win or does the batter win? I just try and put as many chips on my side of the table as I can.
“The other thing I do is I set good fields. It’s something I think gets overcomplicated out in the middle by a lot of people. I don’t change my field an awful lot, to be completely honest. I have a field with a couple of tweaks here and there. I’m comfortable in bowling at least three different balls to that field so the batter can’t line me up and know exactly what I’m going to bowl. Of course, they can guess or they can pre-empt and try and get a good feel for it, but with the field I set I can bowl either pace on or pace off at a variety of lengths.”
The yorkers are in his armoury and being worked on, adding to his unpredictability, but they don’t dominate the agenda. “In The Hundred this year, I did bowl more yorkers. I’ve been practising them and I executed them. I’m never going to be this yorker bowler who tries to bowl six out of six, but if I can nail two yorkers in an over I feel it gives me a really good scope and a big margin for error.”
The T20 World Cup is now just weeks away – the highest level of competition available to a man who specialises in four-over gigs. And Mills can’t wait. “I always want to just play the highest level of cricket. I’m someone who enjoys the big stage, the full crowds, the big nights. It doesn’t get much bigger than the World Cup.
“You get to see exactly where you’re at in terms of the world stage, bowling at the best players. Our first game is against the West Indies. If I’m lucky enough to get picked for that first game, you’ll know exactly where you’re at with with the ball when you’re bowling against Pollard, Hetmyer, Pooran, Chris Gayle, those types of guys. I’ve wanted to get back into that England team for a long time. I’ve understood why I haven’t been there, mostly I haven’t been fit at the right times or bowling well enough. So fingers crossed, everything peaks at the right time and I can go out to the UAE next month and give it a good crack.”