Gus Atkinson – from medium pace to 90mph and seven on debut

Gus Atkinson in action vs West Indies
Gus Atkinson in action vs West Indies (PC: Surrey Cricket/X)

Bilateral T20Is played without any context attached to them are generally forgotten by fans within a few days of the completion of such series. But when New Zealand took on England last year, in a T20I at Old Trafford in Manchester, a 25-year-old debutant’s deceptive pace caught the eye. In his opening over itself, Gus Atkinson, the Surrey pace bowler, hurried up Devon Conway with a quick delivery.

When Atkinson approached the crease, it didn’t seem as if he would hurl a delivery at over 90mph. It didn’t feel that way as he loaded up and zipped through the crease either. After all, he didn’t lift the front knee or foot around stump high. But the speed-gun measured the delivery at 92mph. That uncanny ability to surprise the batter with deceptive pace was the reason behind his successful international debut, where he bagged a four-for. And it once more proved to be the decisive factor in his memorable Test debut against West Indies, where he scalped seven victims.

For a second or two, zoom in on a couple of the dismissals during his sensational spell, where he bagged four wickets in a single over. Jason Holder, the experienced all-rounder, couldn’t gauge the length early enough and was caught in the slip cordon. Joshua da Silva also was perhaps a tad late in picking it from the release point. Probably, that extra bit of zip comes from his flick of the wrist.

Atkinson isn’t just deceptively fast, but also moves the ball just enough off the seam. Just pore through a few videos of his two grips, and it is clearly visible that he employs the 3/4 seam ball. He also tries to hit the seam with a straighter grip. With Atkinson bowling from the Pavilion End, the 3/4 seam ball was the perfect recipe for success – most of his offerings would nip back into the right-hander, with the occasional delivery straightening off the deck.

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Gus Atkinson after taking a wicket vs West Indies
Gus Atkinson after taking a wicket vs West Indies (PC: Surrey Cricket/X)

That is a summary of Atkinson’s Test-match skill set. But what about his back story? Why did it take long for a 90mph bowler to make his Test debut? While excavating more details of Atkinson’s formative years, you might find a video of him bowling a picture-perfect yorker against Hampshire Hawks. Just replay that video a couple of times, and it is evident that those days he wasn’t in the quick bracket. There wasn’t much intent in his run-up either. But destiny had better things in store for him.

Around two to three years ago, he was having a net at the London School of Economics. Vikram Solanki, then head coach of Surrey Second XI, basically told his ward to bowl as fast as possible. And just like that, Atkinson was suddenly bowling with better rhythm. Atkinson also lengthened his run-up a bit, along with improving his fitness. The resultant outcome was extra pace.

A couple of fine domestic seasons followed, and by the autumn of 2023, he was a part of England’s white-ball set-ups. Although England flopped miserably in the 50-over World Cup held in India, Atkinson did hold his own in some harsh conditions at the Wankhede Stadium by returning figures of 2 for 60 from nine overs. Those figures have to be seen in the context of South Africa finishing up with a monstrous total.

Atkinson has come a long way from his junior days, when the likes of Sam Curran, Will Jacks and Ollie Pope seemed to have left him behind in the pecking order. So much so that in James Anderson’s farewell Test, it was the other ‘son who stole the show, as he rightly led his illustrious teammate back to the pavilion after dismantling West Indies. Maybe he will follow in Anderson’s footsteps and successfully lead the Test side’s pace attack in the near future.

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