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The steady upward curve of Lewis Gregory

Lewis Gregory’s two-month spell in Australia playing for Brisbane Heat started with 14 days of confinement in a hotel room in quarantine, an experience he describes as “horrible”. But once allowed out, life was far more normal than it has been back home. Gregory was able to go out and grab a coffee and eat at a restaurant. He even snuck in a few rounds of golf which made some of his mates in the UK particularly jealous. “You can kill quite a bit of time if you’re out on the golf course,” he says. “It was nice to get out and play in some warm weather, not being wrapped up in 5000 layers to try and stay warm.”

Gregory’s stint in Australia was further evidence of the all-rounder’s burgeoning reputation on the T20 franchise circuit. Somerset’s captain first experienced it last winter, when he played for Rangpur Rangers in the Bangladesh Premier League shortly after making his England T20I debut in New Zealand. He did so well in the BPL that he was picked up by Peshawar Zalmi for the Pakistan Super League a month or so later. After a decent T20 Blast for Somerset last summer, a contract with the Heat was secured, Gregory’s first experience of the Big Bash, and now, after a few days at home, he is back on the T20 grind, preparing to play in the PSL again, this time for Islamabad United. It has been quite an 18 months.

He admits that his time in the Big Bash was up and down but an average of 19.22 with the bat and seven wickets from 27 overs certainly doesn’t tell the full story. The 28 year-old produced a number of important contributions to Heat victories – he was player of the match for his three wickets against the Hobart Hurricanes and then scored 36 off 23 balls against the Perth Scorchers – which showcased the all-round impact he can offer. But there were also some frustrating periods when he didn’t get a bat or make as much of a difference with the ball as he would have liked.

“I was a little bit frustrated,” Gregory says. “I felt as though I was getting into a little bit of a good place and then had a couple of games where I wasn’t needed with the bat and suddenly I hadn’t had a hit in a game for a couple of weeks. I didn’t influence the game as much as I would have liked with the ball. I bowled a lot through the middle and obviously there was a different element to that with the Power Surge. But overall, I did ok, I think.”

Gregory has developed a reputation as one of the very best lower middle order hitters in the English game, with the ability to consistently clear the rope at the death. But he admits the role can be tricky. As was the case during the Big Bash, there are games when he might not get a bat. In others, he is expected to find the boundary from ball one while occasionally his role is to stabilise things after a top order collapse. Finding a rhythm to his batting can sometimes be difficult. “It’s one of those roles that is very hard to be consistent,” Gregory says.

“You look at someone like Dan Christian who’s done that role brilliantly the last 12 to 18 months. He had a couple of games in the Big Bash where he came in slightly earlier and it gave him that little bit of time to have a rhythm. Then you get a couple of scores, the confidence is there and you can kind of go from game to game and have that sort of intent that you need to go ballistic from ball one. But yeah, it is a tough role to be consistent in.

“You’re sometimes thrust into lots of different situations; if you’ve lost early wicket and you’ve got to rebuild or you’re going and in you’ve got three overs and trying to maximise the back end of an innings. You’re not going to be the pretty innings that’s getting 70 or 80. But those sort of 25 off eight or nine balls can sometimes be the difference and the game changer. I look at in terms of how can I affect the game as best as possible?

“There are times where you feel like you can go out there from ball one and you’re hitting the ball cleanly. Then there are times where you feel like you need a little bit of time in the middle, particularly when you’re coming off not huge amount of cricket leading into the competition. But it is what it is and that’s the role that I’ve done reasonably well over the last few years. Hopefully I did okay. I won a couple of games at the back end and got us over the line. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t do a little bit more.”

In those sort of situations players need to show composure and Gregory says that is a “massive” lesson he has picked up from his T20 experiences. “The more and more you get into positions to win games or influence games and do it well, you kind of gain confidence and you learn how to do that that little bit more,” he says. “The one thing with franchise cricket is doing it against some of the best players in the world and being able to take confidence from that.

“Wherever you go and whoever you’re with, it’s trying to take little snippets about how you can do things better. For example, using [batting] grips. You look at someone like Glenn Maxwell where he’s got this really open stance at the moment and a really open face with the bat. Likewise with the ball, it’s how different guys go about things in terms of plans and fields. It helps to look at why they’re doing those sorts of things and whether they have any relevance to your game.”

Gregory has played eight T20Is for England to date but has, by his own admission, yet to really show his true worth. He had discussions with the selectors ahead of the series in India and rather than be considered as a non-playing reserve, it was deemed best for him to play in the PSL. “For me, it is a time where I want to be and need to be playing cricket,” he says. “Obviously I would have loved to have been in the squad, but ultimately I want to be playing cricket. The PSL brings another opportunity to play in a franchise competition to go and try and perform and push my case to get in that squad.”

He last played for England’s T20 side against Pakistan at the end of last summer. He was selected in the ODI squad for the tour to South Africa before Christmas as well – he may have played in that series had it not been postponed – but was left out of the T20 party. Gregory remains very much in England’s thoughts across all three formats but when everyone is available, he is not yet assured of a place in the squad, let alone the team. “I think I’ve got a lot to prove,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve done myself any justice when I have played for England.

“There have been a few games where I’ve not batted and a few games where I’ve not bowled so it’s hard to get a rhythm with playing international cricket. Obviously with the English team at the moment in white ball cricket, it’s an incredibly difficult team and squad to break into. The talent that’s there and the firepower that they’ve got is unmatched around the world. It was great to be involved with and it’s my ultimate ambition to get back into that squad and go out there and show what I can do, perform and win games for England.

“I feel like I was getting to the stage where I felt like I belonged. When you get to that stage, that’s the time that it’s the easiest to go out and put in performances that you’re expected to put out. I felt like I was getting to that and if the opportunity comes up again to play for England I’ll be in a better place to go and do that. There have been snippets of me doing well and now if I get that opportunity again, the challenge is to do that more consistently.”

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