@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
It’s no exaggeration to say that when the number 95 popped up in neon lights it was instantly a life-changing moment for Gus Atkinson.
When he repeated the trick in his next set (okay, it was only 94 mph this time) and showed that it was no fluke or technological malfunction, the spotlight that had already been honing in on Atkinson’s increased its intensity.
Atkinson, 25, started the 2023 season as a player of interest after impressing across a handful of Blast and County Championship appearances last summer. In his first outing of the season he snared Alastair Cook as part of a six-wicket haul and after match figures of 5-55 in his next fixture, a televised County Championship game against Middlesex, speculation arose around the possibility of a Test call-up as seamers around the country dropped like flies.
Atkinson was regarded as quick enough but not necessarily express pace. He had once been clocked at 90 miles per hour in the Blast but, at that point, that was his peak pace and not his average. After facing Atkinson in May, Cook thought there was more speed for Atkinson to find.
“What surprised me about him is that you look at him bowl and feel there is a lot more in the tank,” said Cook on Test Match Special. “He doesn’t look like he uses that much effort to get the ball down at a decent lick. Speaking to him, it looks easy but he is striving for as much pace as he can get. It looks like there is a bit more untapped pace.”
And Cook was right. Atkinson, over the course of this summer has found that extra speed that now elevates him to an elite bracket of genuine quicks. According to CricViz, Atkinson’s average speed of 143.68 kmph/89.38 mph in The Hundred is bettered only by Haris Rauf (144.13/89.56). Very few bowlers globally operate at that sort of speed. Among English quicks, it’s a level that only Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone can reach.
Almost out of nowhere Atkinson is England’s shiny new toy. But it’s not just pace that Atkinson has in common with the other members of the English 90mph club, it’s his injury record. Stress fractures in 2017, 2018 and 2019 mean that though he is 25, Atkinson still hasn’t played that much professional cricket and as a result was hesitant to push his body to its limit in the years that followed.
It is perhaps instructive to take note from Surrey’s management of Atkinson since he regained fitness. While he has been unleashed in the Blast and The Hundred, he has played in just five out of Surrey’s first 11 games in this season’s County Championship, despite a bowling average of 20.20 for the Division One table toppers. Surrey’s squad depth affords Atkinson the luxury of rest and given his latest strides, that careful deployment is bearing fruit.
He is still raw and inexperienced, certainly compared to when Archer, whose England availability was confirmed at a similar point in a World Cup cycle to Atkinson’s emergence, came onto the scene. But speeds of 95 miles per hour will immediately pique the interest not only of the England management but also leading franchises on the T20 circuit. Only Josh Tongue among English bowlers in their early or mid-twenties is capable of the speeds that Atkinson reaches; the temptation to promote him across formats will be hard to ignore.
When England were confronted by the emergence of a similarly exciting new quick in the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, they’d bowled him into the ground by the time the year was over. That’s not to say that Atkinson is at Archer’s level but he does offer a line of an attack that very few other English bowlers can. A first England call-up by the end of the year is now a near certainty and a World Cup berth – given the current injury concerns elsewhere – is not out of the question. Atkinson’s speed, both out of the hand and of his progression, is turning heads, it will be fascinating to see where he goes from here.
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