Sam Curran says that his objective during England’s Test series against New Zealand this month is to “stop being the one who is vulnerable”, after appearing to have kept his place in the side for Thursday’s first Test at Mount Maunganui ahead of his rival allrounder Chris Woakes.
In a promising start to his Test career, Curran has averaged 30.05 with the bat and 29.00 with the ball in 11 Tests, and was named Man of the Series in his maiden summer against India in 2018 after a series of gutsy displays, particularly in the first Test at Edgbaston, where he set up a tight victory with four first-innings wickets and a vital 63.
However, his twin roles of fourth seamer and No. 8 batsman offer little in the way of job security. Curran has been dropped on four occasions already in his career – including for the first four Tests of this summer’s Ashes – with his obvious aptitude for the cut-and-thrust of Test cricket unable to protect him on the occasions when England have needed to change their team balance.
“There was [frustration],” he admitted, “but the team was in a good place going into the Ashes. I was in all the squads, so that was a confidence booster. At the same time you’d love to be playing, and as the series went on you’re itching to get out on the field.”
But now, with James Anderson still missing from England’s ranks while he recovers from a long-term calf injury, Curran’s ability to swing the new ball, allied to his left-arm line, appears to have tipped the balance for the selectors, as they prepare to field a side containing three other right-arm seamers in Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, alongside the left-arm spin of Jack Leach.
“I think anyone looking at the balance of the side can see that is pretty obvious,” Curran said of his perceived battle with Woakes for the one remaining place in the side. “I think if I do get the chance, it is about nailing down my spot in the side and stop being the one that is vulnerable.
“That is my responsibility and whoever gets the spot, if it is me, has to take the opportunity by getting runs and taking wickets and contributing to the team. If I do get the nod, hopefully I can go well and contribute with both bat and ball.
“As an allrounder I look up to someone like Stokesy and the way he contributes with the bat up the order and he takes wickets when he bowls and that is what I aspire to do. As long as I’m helping to win games for the team then I’m happy.”
Curran had some limited success during a tough three-day warm-up against New Zealand A in Whangarai ahead of the first Test, claiming three second-innings wickets on a pitch which Archer described as “probably the flattest I’ve played on in my life”, to give England hope of forcing a win before a late-order rally shut up shop for the hosts.
And while he has been in New Zealand for a month already during the T20I series, he said the chance to hone his technique with the red Kookaburra ball had been a useful exercise in spite of the hard yakka, especially given that his lack of pace was exposed in his last overseas Test, against West Indies in Antigua earlier this year.
“Yeah, it was nice to get out there with a red ball in a first-class game with a bit more on it,” Curran said. “It was nice for the bowling group to be put under pressure against some of their good New Zealand batters and I thought they played well.
“I think any bowler who bowls with a Kookaburra is going to say they prefer the Dukes but you’ve got to learn somehow,” he added. “If you look at the scores in New Zealand domestic cricket there are a lot of hundreds scored but you never know, in cloudy conditions the scores could get lower.
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“We can’t predict what the wicket is going to be like next week until we get up to the Mount and we’ll come up with plans. It is a great learning curve for me, but I’ve made some strides in this game and come up with a few different options so I’m pretty confident.
One of those options will be to come round the wicket and create an angle into the many right-handers in New Zealand’s top order.
“It’s not necessarily new to me, I do do it quite a bit in county cricket,” he said, “but probably more overseas where the ball doesn’t swing as much. Trying to get the batsmen to play a lot more coming by round the wicket, it is just about finding different ways.
“It is a new thing for me to bowl with a red ball in New Zealand so I’m still learning, but I thought it came out better than it did in the first warm-up game so I’m feeling pretty confident going into next week.”
Curran will have a number of familiar faces around him in the first Test, including his Surrey captain Rory Burns, now established at the top of the order, as well as his former Surrey academy team-mates Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley, who is set to make his Test debut.
“I joined the Surrey academy at 14 and that is when I played against Cranleigh where Popey was, and Sibbers was at Whitgift,” Curran said, “so I played against them all the way through the academy days until we got into the first team at Surrey.
“It is a nice little friendship we’ve got going and I know Popey and Sibbers’ parents are coming out as well so it will be special to see so many familiar faces.
“I think it makes it a bit easier to be playing with guys you’ve grown up with. International cricket is international cricket but when you’re playing with your mates and you’re standing in the field with guys you’re familiar with, if things are going badly you can kind of laugh it off and stay positive because you’re playing with mates and that’s good fun.”