Salt relishes rivalry as 24 bid for England one-day international spot
England Cricket's one-day side are ready to return - and as 24 players chase 11 starting spots, Sussex batsman Phil Salt does not want to be on the wrong side of that equation.
The 24 are taking part in a training camp at Hampshire's Ageas Bowl ahead of a three-match one-day series versus Ireland.
One of nine uncapped players called up to the group is Salt who will be hoping to make his first England appearance and go one step further than his T20 squad call-up in 2019.
Salt is joined by Sussex teammate Laurie Evans in the 24-man squad, and both are dreaming of receiving their first cap for their country among competition from the likes of Warwickshire batsman Sam Hain and Lancashire's Liam Livingstone.
The rivalry for a spot is something that Salt is sure will be fierce. “By no means is it friendly,” said the Welsh-born batsman.
“Obviously you’re playing with lads you know; you’re playing with lads you played against in county cricket and hopefully you get to pull on an England shirt and play alongside those lads. Everyone is going to train at a really high intensity."
Salt came extremely close to making an appearance for England in 2019 when he was called up to the T20 International squad versus Pakistan after an injury to Dawid Malan. That was following a T20 Blast campaign that saw Salt finish in the top 10 English run-scorers, with 406 runs at an average of 36.9. Despite not playing, Salt was happy to know he was in the selectors' plans.
“It was good to know, it was a shame I didn’t play but it was a good experience being around the lads, more than anything it is nice to know but you just want to play,” said Salt.
“I was gutted when I missed out on the last (England ODI) tour, I know they’re the best team in the world and being the World Cup winners last year, it’s a hard squad to get into.
“Hopefully I can show them what I’ve got about me and keep my game progressing.”
If Salt is to go one better and make an appearance for England, it will be his first official game in 138 days, something that has been unavoidable due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced the explosive opener to adapt his profession to the confines of his home. However, despite the global pandemic interrupting his regular schedule, Salt indicates that the break was timely.
“The break from cricket came at quite a good time, I was quite ill in Pakistan, I had a really bad stomach and was out for about two and a half weeks,” said Salt.
“I’ve been working on my fitness more than anything. When you’re told you can’t hit balls or whenever you don’t have the opportunity to train, you need to find ways to keep yourself moving in the right direction, in my case I spent loads of time running.
“Then when I got bored of running, I got a road bike, I think six or seven of us in the Sussex side got one and we spent a fair bit of time cycling together.”
With a return to somewhat normality for professional and club cricketers alike on the cards in the upcoming weeks, it will be a vast difference from what players like Salt are used to, with no crowds, strict enforcement of bio-secure areas and the consistent need for social distancing. But despite these changes to the cricketing equilibrium, Salt feels it won’t take much to get used to.
“Apart from the warm-up and the first couple balls of the game, you didn’t really notice it,” said Salt.
“I played in Karachi when it was all kicking off when fans weren’t allowed into the ground and we played behind closed doors then. The warm-up was odd because there was no atmosphere and Pakistan fans are crazy and it's a great place to play.”
“You went from playing in front of a wall of noise to nothing and being able to hear everything clear as day out in the middle which is something that doesn’t happen often in the big competitions.
“Once you’re past that, you didn’t really notice and it just went to back to playing cricket, plain and simple.”
If Salt doesn't make his England debut just yet, at the age of just 23, there should be plenty more opportunities to come.