Dom Sibley: Warwickshire opener on the wait to build on his England breakthrough

At this very strange time when sport is at a standstill, players are eagerly waiting for the green light to get started again.

Few, however, are more frustrated than batsman Dom Sibley, sidelined like everyone else by the coronavirus lockdown just when he had got his England career off and running.

Sheer weight of runs for Warwickshire on the county circuit over an 18-month period earned him his place in the autumn tour party for the trip to New Zealand.

But it was not until he reached South Africa a month later that he really started to fire.

He admits the doubts raised after his first few innings as an England player – 22 and 12 in his first Test at Mount Maunganui, followed by just four in the second Test at Hamilton – did get to him a little.

“I’d only had three innings,” points out Sibley. “I actually thought I was prepared for the scrutiny. Yet there were still people ready to write me off after just three innings.

“I was a bit taken aback by that but it gave me an extra point to prove when we then went to South Africa.

“On the plane back from New Zealand, it was not ideal. I was a bit down but, after getting back to England to have conversations with people you confide in and trust, I used it as motivation to go back there and succeed.”

‘Amazing feeling’
In the first Test of the South Africa series, at Centurion, partnered once more by his old Surrey team-mate Rory Burns, Sibley clocked up another failure, again scoring only four.

But, although improving with 29 in the second innings as England headed for defeat, it was coincidentally the injured Burns’ absence for the second Test at Cape Town that heralded Sibley’s big breakthrough.

After again getting set, only to depart for 34 in the first innings, Sibley seized his chance second time round.

Ending day three on 85, he went on to complete his first Test century, and was undefeated on 133 just after lunch the next day when England declared to set up their 189-run series-turning win.

“It was amazing to have that feeling,” he told us. “To know that you can do it at that level, on such an amazing ground as Cape Town too.

“There was no rush to put you foot down. It was just a chance to set it up and allow others to be more aggressive around me. And, for it to lead to a Test win was extra special.”

Sibley followed up with 36 in the third Test and two knocks of 44 in the last, when he was joined in the side by Bears team-mate Chris Woakes, as well as his old Surrey pal Sam Curran, as Joe Root’s side went on to win twice more.

“My favourite thing about it, looking back at the highlights now, was to be able to see your friends enjoying your success,” he said.

“I saw Woakesie’s big fist pump and Sam Curran, one of my closest friends, jumping up and down.”

‘I just backed myself a bit more’
Sibley made headlines with a double century in only his third game for Surrey as an 18-year-old schoolboy, but it took a move away from The Oval to realise his true potential.

“It’s been a combination of a few things,” he said. “A few changes in my technique, maturing as a person and moving away from Surrey helped. But a lot of it is mental and I just backed myself a bit more.”

After hitting the highest first-class in English cricket last summer, a career-best 244 against Kent at Canterbury, it was another double hundred, rapidly followed by a quick match-winning second-innings century against season-long relegation rivals Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge that secured Sibley his seat on the plane with England.

“It was just days before the squad was to be announced,” he said, “I knew the selectors might be there, I was extra motivated and I got a few runs.

“It’s every young boy’s dream is to play for their country and it’s great now to have had a bit of success.”

After maintaining his form by joining up with England Lions in Australia in Fe bruary and scoring a century at Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sibley hoped that there would then be more to come in Sri Lanka.

But no sooner had England touched down than they were packing to come home again.

England worried over ‘quarantine’
“It was a strange couple of days,” said Sibley. “The lads were starting to get on edge, worrying whether they’d be able to get home, especially the ones with young families.

“There was the potential that somebody might get ill and we might then have to stay out there in quarantine.

“But now everyone else is in the same situation. I’m just using this time off to try and get fitter.

“I’m on rations at the moment trying to lose a bit of weight for when we get off and running again.”

And he has other targets too. Having reached three figures at Test level once, he knows he is capable of doing it again.

“I’d love to get one at Lord’s,” he said. “And Edgbaston too. I was talking about that with Jonathan Trott.

“We’ve now both got a ton at the MCG. But he got his in a Test with 100,000 people there. It was bit different for me, doing it in front of about 20 people.”

What next for England?
England are next scheduled to play Test cricket against the West Indies in June, to be followed by a limited-over series against Australia in July and three Tests against Pakistan in August.

But with doubts about whether there will be any County Championship action this summer, opportunities for match practice, should the West Indies Tests be given the go ahead, are likely to be limited.

For Sibley, the rest of the England squad. and so many other sportsmen and women around the world, the only game at the moment is a waiting game.