@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read
Jake Lintott was one of the stars of the 2020 T20 Blast but in the early weeks of the new year, he finds himself without a contract for 2021. He speaks to Yas Rana about his determined journey to the professional game and he frustrations that come with it.
It’s early December in Taunton and two spinners who came through the Somerset youth system are back working together ahead of an uncertain 2021. One of them is Jack Leach. Since his last Test appearance at Mount Maunganui in 2019, Leach has endured a torrid time. The left-arm spinner feared for his life after contracting sepsis in New Zealand. Upon recovery, he picked up a bug on the tour of South Africa that followed and his England place was taken by his then Somerset understudy Dom Bess. Leach played just two first-class games in 2020, both in September and has started 2021 hoping to regain that first-choice spinner’s berth for his country.
The other is Jake Lintott. Lintott came through the Somerset youth system at a similar time to Leach and worked closely with him and the county’s other young spinners through his teenage years. At 27, after years of plying his trade in the Minor Counties system with the odd top-level opportunity chucked in, Lintott made the most of an extended opportunity with Warwickshire, making a name for himself as one of the breakout stars of the T20 Blast in 2020. A left-arm wrist-spinner who rags it both ways – a rare breed in county cricket – only Gloucestershire’s Tom Smith took more wickets at a better economy rate than Lintott in the competition. According to CricViz data, of bowlers to deliver more than 100 balls in last year’s tournament, only Callum Parkinson had a lower economy rate against right-handed batsmen. Despite all of the above, Lintott goes into 2021 without a county gig.
“It’s been quite a frustrating time,” Lintott tells Wisden.com. “I feel like I’ve deserved a bit more security within the county game based on my performances but we’re in a pretty strange time and I’m fully aware of that.”
Lintott was awarded a short-term contract with Warwickshire in 2020, an arrangement that didn’t significantly affect his full-time job as head of cricket at Queen’s College, Taunton. It’s a job that Lintott enjoys, so much so that it would make accepting a similar contract in 2021 difficult.
“It would be tricky to balance both, realistically. It’s worked quite well in the past. The T20 Blast used to run in July and August and whenever I’ve picked something up with Hampshire or Gloucestershire [for whom he played a combined four T20s], it’s been in that period.
“The Blast has now moved to May, June which is peak school time so that’s tricky. Those short-term deals aren’t as appealing as for someone who has a full-time job that they like doing.”
He has his sights firmly set on a multi-year contract as well as overseas franchise opportunities and, if possible, The Hundred. And while that elusive full-time deal hasn’t yet presented itself, after a breakout year Lintott is optimistic but also understanding of the financial predicament that counties find themselves in. Warwickshire, the county that have invested the most time in him as a professional, have spent most of the winter thus far searching for a new head coach, though that search has now come to an end.
Mark Robinson, head coach of the England Women's side that won the World Cup in 2017, has been named as Warwickshire's men's first-team coach. pic.twitter.com/v4ZPljlBLR
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 22, 2021
But there is a frustration at the lack of opportunities afforded to late bloomers, players who aren’t oven ready for the professional game at 18 but do have the talent to make it.
“It’s a big frustration of mine the way the county game is set up. It’s very difficult for players [to break through after being let go] once they reach 20, 21 which is absolute madness really when you think about it. It’s so hard to get in and play county cricket. There aren’t players who come onto the scene after the age of 25. It’s a difficult system to break into. I think that’s a problem that needs addressing because players develop at different ages.”
It’s an assertion that Lintott is well qualified to make. Recently, he has been working with spinners at Somerset’s academy – including England U19 star Lewis Goldsworthy – and has seen first hand the different speeds at which young cricketers, especially tweakers, develop.
“You see players developing at different ages when they’re that young. You see these kids at 18 get told they’re not good enough and they’ve got to go away and work on their game which is all well and good but if you’re telling a wrist-spinner that they’re not good enough at 18, I’d argue you can’t tell them that.
“If they’ve got the ability to be in an academy at 18, then they’ve shown you glimpses and they’re probably going to be good enough at 21, 22 if you invest in them. It’s a tricky one, but something that definitely needs looking at. The Australia-India series is a great example of players coming on the scene slightly later. There’s plenty of ability out there and it doesn’t really matter what age you are.”
By his own admission, Lintott wasn’t ready for the professional game at 18. Years of graft on the Minor Counties circuit helped him get to where he is today. For Lintott, there are other examples of the benefits of being patient with cricketers closer to home.
“Dom Bess is a good example. At 18, he didn’t get signed. He went abroad, came back and played a little bit of second team cricket, still wasn’t at a level where you imagine him playing Test cricket in two years time. And suddenly he’s developed and he’s playing in Sri Lanka and he’s England’s No. 1 spinner. It can happen quite quickly.”
Leach, a relatively late bloomer who had only played sporadically for Somerset before his breakthrough County Championship campaign at the age of 24 in 2016, is another Lintott takes inspiration from.
“He is exactly the type I’m talking about, too. Guys who go away, they’re not good enough, they go to university, they get better, and suddenly you see this cricketer that you didn’t see when they were younger. And I think, the question I had around counties investing in those players, isn’t around not telling them they’re not good enough, it’s the counties letting them come back into the game when they reach a level that’s good enough.
“Not saying, ‘Oh he’s 24, we’d rather invest in an 18-year-old.’ Can we invest in players who’ve gone away and worked really hard on their games? Him and Bess are examples of players who worked hard on their game and are now reaping their rewards.”
It’s hard enough being a spinner inside the professional game in England, let alone on the periphery of it. Before Christmas, Lintott was working with Leach prior to the latter’s trip to Sri Lanka for England’s World Test Championship series, acting as a sounding board over a few sessions as he prepared for his return to Test cricket. For someone still relatively young for a spinner, Lintott has lived a full cricketing life. From rejection as a teenager, to coaching future pros and juggling a full time job with starring in the Blast, you’d think that if that coveted contract does land, he’ll make the most of it.