One of five men to debut in nine-wicket win over Pakistan hopes opportunity could lead to World Cup selection
And Gregory, one of five men to make his ODI debut as England cruised to a nine-wicket victory, hopes the unexpected opportunity for county players to show what they can do on the international stage could lead to some of them breaking into the T20 or 50-over World Cup squads.
There is a danger that the quality of England’s performances of late could be minimised by concerns over the strength of their opposition. And it’s true that Sri Lanka, who were well beaten in both limited-overs formats in recent days, are a shadow of the team that routinely used to thrash England out of sight.
But this Pakistan team actually have an impressive record. Before arriving in Cardiff, they had lost just one of their 12 previous completed ODIs and, if they win at Lord’s, they could still rise to second in the World Cup Super League. They didn’t enjoy perfect preparation, it is true, but England’s success against them is no mean achievement in any circumstances. Coming, as it did, with a hastily-assembled squad lacking around 20 of the best white-ball cricketers in the land, it was even more impressive.
Gregory, at least, feels that is, in part, due to the quality of domestic cricket in recent seasons and the improvement in wickets used in limited-overs cricket.
“I think Thursday’s result shows the strength in depth that there is in white-ball cricket in this country,” Gregory said. “There are a lot of guys who have been brought up with T20 cricket and you see that in the way people go about their white-ball cricket.
“It was a fantastic result and it shows the calibre that is in county cricket. There are a lot of guys who are thankful for what county cricket has given them. This is an opportunity for them to showcase what they can do on the big stage.
“I think the standard in English cricket is very, very good. I think you see that across the T20 Blast and the Royal London One-Day Cup. The standard is phenomenal.
“The wickets you play on tend to be pretty flat and some of the grounds are pretty small, which I think naturally raises the standard. Bowlers have to be spot on or you do disappear.
“The call-up was obviously pretty unexpected. It’s an opportunity to show what I can do and put your hand up for selection for the T20 World Cup and the 50-over World Cup that follows. There’s a lot of excited people around.”
All this sounds terrific, doesn’t it? But there should be a note of warning. The county game is currently undergoing huge changes – not least the introduction of The Hundred, which threatens to marginalise The Blast and reduce the One-Day Cup to something approaching a second XI competition – which could undermine the foundations of such performances. In performance terms, at least, English limited-overs cricket seems to be faring pretty well without a new competition.
It would probably be unfair to ask Gregory, who is hardly in a position of great authority within the England set-up at this stage, to comment on such matters. But, as a player with experience of the BBL, the PSL and the BPL, he is well-placed to comment on the quality of the respective competitions.
“Yes, the standard [of county competitions] compares to these other competitions definitely,” he said. “The only thing with these other competitions is the majority of them their national players are playing in them, which obviously we don’t see a huge amount of with the schedule that the England lads normally have. But yeah, the standard across the UK is phenomenal. Thursday showed the depth of white-ball cricket in England.”
While Gregory felt England’s players may well have benefited in coming straight out of a busy domestic schedule, he did admit to feeling “a little bit lonely” as Covid protocols are prohibiting social contact among the squad.
“A lot of guys have been playing a huge amount of cricket, which helps,” Gregory said. “They are match sharp and match ready.
“But yes, things have tightened up a little bit more. We’ve pretty much been stuffed in our hotel rooms because guys have come together at pretty short notice. It’s a little bit lonely but these are the times we’re in at the moment. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to watch the football together on Sunday. We had to watch the last game in our rooms on our lonesome.”
It’s not ideal. But Gregory knows he’s lucky to have this opportunity and he knows if he can back up his positive start in Cardiff over the next few days, he has a chance to win more opportunities in an England shirt.
“I hadn’t given up on breaking into the England ODI side,” he said. “But I realised it was going to be pretty difficult to break into that squad. I’d not written it off but I knew it was going to be hard to break into the first 16 or 17 they will take to the World Cup.
“But you never know in this current climate. Injuries can happen and then there’s what’s going on with Covid. There are always going to be things that are sprung upon us. I’m thankful to be here and it is an opportunity to showcase what I can do.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo