He’s hit T20 tons in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but Laurie Evans still can’t get a game for his country. The Surrey batsman speaks to Taha Hashim about coming so close to the dream last year.
Laurie Evans feels like he has a pretty good chance.
At 32, he’s the oldest uncapped player in England’s 55-man training group for the bio-bubble summer, but that’s no disadvantage; he’s well-versed in his own game after averaging 57 across the previous two T20 Blast campaigns, thriving at first drop for Sussex after making his name as a finisher at Warwickshire.
There have been overseas stints in the Caribbean, UAE and Bangladesh – where he hit his first T20 ton – and his numbers in List-A cricket do the job too. He’s contributed a couple of cameos in the intra-squad matches, and while he falls for just 18 in the Lions’ game against Ireland in July, ahead of a three-match ODI series against the same opposition, there seems a chance that this could be the real thing: an England call-up. International cricket.
But Evans doesn’t get a go. Nor does Phil Salt, who hits a 58-ball ton in the Lions’ crushing win. Nor does Sam Hain, who has the highest List-A average among batsmen to have played a minimum of 50 innings. All this while the triumvirate of Buttler, Stokes and Root are away with the Test side. Breaking into England’s white-ball batting set-up is one of the toughest gigs going.
“It was obviously gutting to miss out at the last minute,” Evans says. “English cricket’s so strong; you could probably fill two or three sides with guys who are good enough to play international cricket.
“I had a good camp, I scored some runs in the first couple of games and I didn’t perform particularly well against Ireland, but I don’t think they were picking the side based on one game.
“Arguably, the games we were playing before that, between our squad, probably had slightly stronger competition – you had the best cricketers in England playing. It was a pretty high standard so it was good to get runs in those games, and I’d scored runs around the world over the last few years against some of the best T20 players in the world, in some tough conditions. I’m at the age where I know my game inside and out. I felt I would’ve been a good fit in the middle order with some experience behind me.”
It had been an eventful journey for Evans in getting so close to international cricket. He came up through the ranks at Surrey but was released by the club at the age of 22, which hit him hard: “My dream was to play for Surrey and spend my whole life there. I was inconsolable when I got released.”
From there he rebuilt his career at Warwickshire, demonstrating his prowess against the white ball most memorably in the 2014 T20 Blast final: his 30-ball 53 was a match-winning knock that landed him the Player of the Match award.
In a bid to land more opportunities in red-ball cricket, Evans moved to Sussex ahead of the 2017 season, but it was in coloured clothing that he broke through. In 2018, he was moved up the order in the Blast and finished as the tournament’s leading run-scorer, helping Sussex to a runners-up finish.
“I used to be a No.5-6 batter, and I would come in towards the 10-over mark and finish the innings off, try and hit the ball over the boundary. That was what I was known for. Luke Wright was captain at the time, and he felt like I needed to face more deliveries. I was keen to get up the order and produce more match-winning innings and score more heavily. He said I was going to bat three and in the first year I led the run-scoring in the Blast, and things have snowballed from there.”
Freelance gigs subsequently rolled in and last month Evans ticked off another overseas stint, enjoying a fruitful few weeks with Colombo Kings in the inaugural Lanka Premier League. Opening the batting, he hit the only ton in the tournament and finished as its second-highest run-scorer. “The field is up and you don’t have to do too much to hit a boundary. I think it certainly is more of a skill to be able to do the middle role. You have to be able to face all types of bowling and clear the ropes pretty much within your first 5-10 balls.”
Evans typifies a ‘problem’ that England’s T20I side have grappled with in recent times, with a whole host of opening options making their set-up more top-heavy than The Killers’ Hot Fuss. Even in the ODIs against Ireland, Tom Banton – known for his pyrotechnics as an opener – was forced to take on a less familiar role in the middle order, enjoying mixed success.
A potential opening down the order was something that Evans – who has primarily batted in the middle in 50-over cricket – picked up on in the England bubble. After his omission from the squad for the Ireland series he asked the hierarchy if a return to a T20 middle-order berth at county level would help his international chances.
“I did actually ask that question because I think there are a lot of guys who can bat at the top. There aren’t a lot of guys who can bat in the middle order and clear the ropes at the end, and play spin well in this country. And when you go and play franchise cricket, you don’t always bat in the spot you’re used to batting. You bat where the team needs you. Take Sri Lanka for example: they [Colombo Kings] asked me to open the batting which I’d not done a lot of but I felt like it would be a great opportunity. It’s not completely different to batting at three, so you just do what’s best for the team. You go to Bangladesh and they say they want you to bat five and you’re coming in the middle against spinners you’ve never faced before. I think that’s where my playing of spin has just improved beyond measure.
“I spoke to the management and, looking ahead, I was looking at the squad and how many openers there were and I felt like there was a lack of middle-order players, and if there was a spot available to fill, then should I look to do that at county level? They felt that I was doing a good job where I was batting and there wasn’t necessarily much need for a change.”
So Evans returned to county cricket to do what he does: crack out consistent runs in the Blast at three. Only this time it was back at Surrey, with an initial loan from Sussex – where he’d fallen off the red-ball radar – eventually translating into a two-year deal. He was influential in taking The Oval side to Finals Day, finishing as their top-scorer with 363 runs at an average of 45.37 and strike rate of 153.16. In the LPL, those figures went to 57.80 and 170 respectively. There was a text from ECB performance director Mo Bobat congratulating him on his performances in Sri Lanka, though he’s not expecting much more communication on where he sits in England’s plans going forward.
“Myself and Dawid Malan were probably in a similar boat a year or two ago, both performing around the world,” Evans adds. “And what’s he’s doing now… It’s a tough team to break into first and foremost, and because he feels his place is under scrutiny a lot of the time, that’s probably giving him the drive to perform so well. There are just so many good players in England at the minute, in white-ball cricket particularly, and it’s difficult for me to sit here and say I know where I would fit in. There are only five or six batting slots, and there are probably 20 guys who could fill them.”
For now Evans will just have to make do with packing his bags for the next short-form job that pops up. In a crowded field, there’s not much else he can do.