At the start of the 2019 county season, Tom Banton had yet to hit a half-century in any format in professional cricket. Now, barely 18 months later, he’s been capped by England, has earned lofty comparisons to Kevin Pietersen, and has played in high-profile T20 leagues around the world. He talks to Saj Sadiq about his rapid rise.
Tom Banton’s meteoric rise has made him one of England’s most talked about talents in white-ball cricket. It is an achievement that the 21-year-old says excites him, but also one that he is simply taking in his stride.
“My cricketing journey so far has undoubtedly been very exciting,” he tells Wisden.com. “I’m still very young and therefore the reality is that I expect to fail more times than I succeed, but on the back of that I’m always trying to learn from my mistakes and be better next time around. There are obviously times when I doubt myself, but I just try and enjoy my cricket as much as possible.”
Whilst he has so far represented England on 15 occasions, Banton feels that at this stage of his career he is just intent on enjoying the experience without putting too much pressure on himself.
“I’ve played a little bit for England now. I wouldn’t say I’ve settled into international cricket just yet, but I’ve had a couple of good knocks and feel like I can perform at that level which is good. International sport is obviously very hard, so I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to perform and the way I see it at the moment is that playing for your country is so much fun, so just enjoy the experience.”
Banton’s ability to regularly take apart bowling attacks in county cricket was what got him noticed by England’s selectors, but as he has soon realised, the gulf between domestic and international cricket isn’t an easy one to bridge.
“The jump from domestic cricket to international cricket has been massive. The first thing that you notice is that the bowling is a lot quicker and more accurate. At this level you have to make sure you keep on rotating the strike and put away the bad balls as you are not going to get too many freebies from the opposition. It’s all about making the most of those opportunities without putting yourself under too much pressure.”
After scoring an impressive 137 runs in three T20I innings against Pakistan, Banton was unable to repeat those exploits against Australia, but as he puts it, the experience of playing against Aaron Finch’s team will serve him well for the future.
“Everyone has bad series and I’ve accepted that’s going to happen whether that is at the domestic level or international level. That is just part and parcel of international sport. I didn’t do very well in the three T20Is against Australia, but they are one of the best teams in the world. The positive aspect of playing the three matches in Southampton was that it was good for my development and I was facing them so early in my career. I believe that despite the low scores I learnt a lot from playing against them and facing their bowlers.”
To many, Banton’s style of batting has more than a hint of the flamboyant aggression which used to be a trademark of Kevin Pietersen, but the Somerset batsman doesn’t want to be drawn into any comparisons yet.
“I’ve heard the Kevin Pietersen comparisons a few times now, but I don’t want to put any pressure on myself to even try to do the things he did. He is one of the greats and if I can achieve just some of what he did in his playing career, then I will be very satisfied. I am just trying to stay in the moment, keep my feet on the ground and not look too far ahead or for comparisons at this stage of my career.”
Whilst the financial rewards and chance to enhance one’s reputation are some of the attractions of playing in Twenty20 Leagues around the world, to Banton though, it’s important to balance his priorities and to prevent burnout.
“Last winter I probably did too much, and I was burnt out during the Pakistan Super League. Time at home and away from cricket is very important for me and having learnt some lessons from last year I need to make sure I plan my winters well from now on and not play too much cricket. Obviously international cricket is what I want to be playing and that’s the priority, but the England team is so strong at the moment so I’ll have to see which tours I am picked for and then balance that accordingly with Twenty20 leagues.”
A few eyebrows were raised when Banton opted to play in the Indian Premier League over playing for Somerset in the Bob Willis trophy final. As Banton explained, his decision to play in the IPL was based upon a unique opportunity to play in a world-class tournament which was too good to forego.
“Growing up as a kid, the Indian Premier League was something I always wanted to play in so I couldn’t turn it down when the offer came. I’m focusing a lot on white-ball cricket at the moment, so I feel like I’m learning a lot every day here at the IPL. It was an opportunity that was too good to turn down for my cricket development and it’s been an amazing experience.”
Being jetted in on a chartered plane to the lap of luxury in UAE and rubbing shoulders with some of the top names in world cricket is an experience that any player would be looking forward to. Add to that, the chance to work with Kolkata Knight Riders head coach Brendon McCullum and it’s pretty clear why Banton is happy with life at the IPL.
“We have world class players at Kolkata Knight Riders, so it’s great to mix with them, learn from them and spend time with them. Also, the wickets out here in UAE are very different to what I’ve played on, so that’s another area of development for me. Also, our head coach Brendon McCullum has been very good to me. I’m very shy around new people so it takes me some time to start asking questions on the cricket side of things, but he has been very approachable. He was someone I looked up to and admired as a batsman when I was younger, so having him here in UAE and being able to pick his brain is awesome.”
Sharing a dressing room with players who are normally foes is what many in Twenty20 leagues such as the IPL experience and it is something that Banton is enjoying with his team-mate at Kolkata, Pat Cummins.
“It’s strange that one day you can be squaring up to each other on opposite sides and a short while later you are on the same team, as Pat Cummins and I are at the moment. But that’s modern-day cricket for you, especially with all of the franchise leagues being played around the world. He’s such a quality bowler and he’s really shown that already at the IPL. It’s been good sharing a dressing room with Pat and getting to know him a bit better. Having said that, now I just need to get him playing Call of Duty with me.”
The pressure to perform in a tournament like the IPL is immense in itself but having to perform under the scrutiny of his international captain in the same side is a situation that doesn’t worry Banton.
“It’s very good having Eoin Morgan with me at the IPL. He’s a cricketer who I admire and look up to. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself to perform in front of him. I’m just trying to learn as much as possible whatever the format and whether that is international cricket, county cricket or in Twenty20 leagues and I don’t think I need to add to the pressure and worry about who I need to impress.”