Taha Hashim meets Tom Banton, the golden boy of 2019 who’s not had it easy since.
While India are taking on Afghanistan at the T20 World Cup in Abu Dhabi, Tom Banton is speaking over the phone from Taunton. He’s got it playing in the background, but he’s far away from the cut and thrust of a major international tournament. Having not played a T20I for England since September 2020, there was little surprise when he didn’t make it into Eoin Morgan’s squad. “I didn’t have a good summer at all, so I knew it was coming,” he tells Wisden.com. For now, Banton sits quietly in the middle of a long queue of English white-ball batting talent.
Not so long ago he was right at the front, megaphone in hand, making some noise. In the summer of 2019, the Somerset white-ball opener emerged as The Next Big Thing; the title was merited through his swagger and strokes. Just 20 years old, he’d nicked Kevin Pietersen’s homework to earn some good grades: 549 runs in the Blast were delivered at an average of 42.23 and a strike rate beyond 160. An England debut followed in New Zealand and the T20/10 merry-go-round grabbed hold of him for the rest of the winter. He was on his way.
Then came the summer of bio-secure bubbles, and while Banton reeled off a 42-ball 71 against Pakistan, he also began to feel the toll of spending so much time in a shut-off environment. After an IPL debut and time as a reserve on an England tour of South Africa, he opted out of a stint in the BBL with Brisbane Heat – bubble life had done its thing. “I wasn’t in a bad way last year, I just felt like I was going from country to country and there wasn’t much purpose. I wasn’t really enjoying it at all.”
That signalled the end of Banton’s 2020, and 2021 has been marked by a scarcity of runs. He averaged less than 20 with the bat in both the County Championship and The Hundred, and while a 47-ball hundred in the T20 Blast against Kent was a high point, poor fortune followed: called into England’s ODI squad, Banton was part of the playing group forced into isolation ahead of the 50-over series against Pakistan in July. When he returned to action with Welsh Fire, the low scores built up and then came the crescendo: the wrath of Pietersen who, after witnessing Banton hit a 20-ball 36, wasn’t satisfied with where the prodigy was going.
“He has all the talent, but at the moment he’s wasting it,” Pietersen said while on punditry duties for Sky. “You have to look at the best players around the world. How often do the best players in the world think, ‘Let me just hit it in the air, let me hit sixes, my release shot is a six’?… Banton needs to learn from the others and needs to keep the ball on the ground and know that there are gaps in-between fielders. Those [pointing upwards] aren’t the gaps he needs to go at.”
“To begin with, I was quite taken aback by it,” Banton says of Pietersen’s animated critique. “I remember being sat there eating, and I was like, ‘This is not very nice to hear’. And then he actually messaged me. I called him the next day, and he kind of explained everything. And from someone who’s played the game at such a high level so well, it was nice to hear his thoughts on it, and to take a step back and actually think about why he’s saying it. I think it’s only for the best of me.”
Banton appears to have taken Pietersen’s comments on board. “I think there’s a fine balance of things. I did so well in 2019 always being aggressive. I think there are times where you want to be more consistent as a batter. I’m watching the two Indian openers knocking it about and they’re so consistent.
“You don’t need to try and hit every ball for six or four. It’s like what Jos [Buttler] did so well the other night. He caught up so quickly at the end of the innings, which I back myself to do if I’m in.” A 37-ball 77 against Hampshire earlier this year is mentioned as an example. “I was about 10 off like 14  balls, and then suddenly you go bang, bang, bang, and you’ve hit three sixes in four [five] balls and you’re fine.”
So the boy who teed off in 2019 has learned a thing or two. “Back then, you weren’t afraid of failure,” he says. “Maybe I am a little bit more now, which I’m not sure why.” It’s something close to an admission: that the freshness of youth has given way to the next stage, the need to rebuild. “Maybe I need to go back to the basics, really, of going back into the indoor school and training hard. I think when you’re going away a lot and doing franchise stuff, the chance to train and work on your game is not that possible.”
Beyond getting his white-ball mojo back, Banton wants red-ball success too. The summer just gone saw him struggle as an opening batter in the County Championship, with his only half-century in eight matches coming when he was shifted down the order. When it comes to wearing whites, he doesn’t want to be up top. “I batted at four, five in 2019 and I did well there. And this year came back at the beginning of the year and I was opening. I think that was really the only spot for me to come in and play. I want to be in the middle order. I don’t see myself as an opener, to be honest.”
Despite all the allure of the franchise life – go hard in the powerplay around the globe and you’ll rake in the big bucks – Banton still holds old-school values. “I still want to play red-ball cricket. There’s no doubt about that. I love playing it and when the team win or you do well, there’s no better feeling than that because the game is so hard. I love it just as much as white-ball [cricket], I just haven’t done that well in it.”
He knows very well that the scores haven’t been there for quite some time now but he also knows, from experience, that this is the way the game works. “It’s not always going to go well for you. And I think I’ve learned this from when I went over to Pakistan [to play in the PSL], that I’m still very young and still playing against some of the best players in the world. There are going to be times where they probably get the better of you, and it’s kind of understanding and learning that it’s fine. You’ve just got to try and learn from it.
“At the end of the day I’m still 22 [he’s since celebrated his 23rd] and there’s so much cricket to be played and there are so many opportunities to go and play in all these various leagues. It takes one good month of cricket and then you’re being talked about again.”