“I’ve had taps on the shoulder before and haven’t really done anything about it. I think it was overdue having that wake-up call and a good lesson for me, regardless of whether it leads to runs”
By Sam Drury
Last Updated: 06/07/20 7:05pm
There are not many opening batsmen who would choose to reinvent themselves just six matches into their Test career, fewer still when they were averaging over 40 at the time.
And yet that is exactly what Dom Sibley has done. Despite hitting a memorable maiden Test century at Cape Town just a couple of months earlier, the opener headed home from England’s postponed tour of Sri Lanka adamant that something needed to change.
The distinctive chest-on stance and technique that make him so dominant through the legside remain but, as he prepares to play in his first Test on home soil, the hulking frame that earned him the nickname ‘The Fridge’ among his England team-mates has shrunk. Significantly.
England vs W Indies
July 8, 2020, 10:30am
“In Sri Lanka, for the first time in my career, I felt a little bit self-conscious about my physique and my weight,” Sibley said ahead of the opening #raisethebat Test against the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl.
“In that heat I saw a few of the lads running after a big session and that was an eye-opener for me. It was just seeing how fit some of the senior guys are and how impressive they are in training.
“I remember sitting on the plane thinking I need to do something, especially during lockdown when we couldn’t improve anything cricket-related.”
Rather than having the chance to cement his place at the top of the order for England in Sri Lanka and then reacclimatise to home conditions with Warwickshire, the coronavirus outbreak meant Sibley, like so many others, was left in limbo, not knowing when he when he would be able to get back playing.
However, he was determined to make good use of this unexpected break and fitness was his top priority.
“It was an opportunity for me to improve that side of my game and I’m glad to have been able to stick to it. Because of social distancing we haven’t been able to do stuff like skin folds but on the scales I’ve lost 12kg,” Sibley added.
“I needed to, to be fair. Over the winter I was probably carrying a bit too much weight.
“I think we all like a little treat after a few runs but it’s great to be a bit more disciplined. It’s been tough, but it’s good to feel the benefits now.
“I’ve always been someone who hasn’t necessarily been the fittest in the squad and I’ve always, whether at Surrey or Warkwickshire, been coasting in that aspect.
“I’ve had taps on the shoulder before and haven’t really done anything about it. I think it was overdue having that wake-up call and a good lesson for me, regardless of whether it leads to runs. I had to put that tough graft in the bank and hopefully it’ll stand me in good stead.”
Sibley says he still feels the same at the crease and is hoping being fitter will make him better equipped to bat long periods of time.
“People have said I look different, which is nice, but in terms of batting I don’t feel any different,” he said.
“I didn’t do anything massively drastic; it was just being consistent and putting in some pretty hard graft.”
There will be no let up in the next month either as Sibley prepares to face a West Indies pace attack that blew England away in the Caribbean at the start of 2019.
The 24-year-old was still waiting for his first England cap at that stage and after acquitting himself well against Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje in South Africa, Sibley has been keen to find out more about what he can expect from the Windies fast men.
“We’ve had a few batters meetings about their bowlers, as you do normally with every opponent you come up against,” he said.
“Obviously a lot of the guys have come up against these bowlers before so it is great to be able to pick their brains and try and get as much information from them and try and implement that into practice.
“They’ve got guys who have played a lot of Test cricket and been successful, they’ve also got guys who are less experienced, so it is going to be a good challenge either way.”
The first Test match since COVID-19 brought the world to a halt was always going to attract plenty of attention but with Joe Root absent, having left the England team bubble to be at the birth of his second child, there is an added element of intrigue.
Just shy of a year on from his World Cup final heroics, Ben Stokes will captain England for the first time. The all-rounder is a one-off, according to Sibley, and the team are in good hands.
“He is just going to do what he does and that’s lead from the front, probably try and lead by example.
“His quality and his energy on the pitch is unique. He’s got unique skill and a unique presence. He’ll use that and lead by example. He is someone that the young guys look up to and will continue to do that regardless of whether he’s captain or not.
“I’m sure he’ll do his thing and we’ll follow him, for sure.”
Watch day one of the first #raisethebat Test between England and the West Indies from 10.30am, Wednesday on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event.