Eighteen months ago, Tom Abell was part way through his fifth season in the Somerset first team with just 13 T20 runs to his name. Now, he is Bangladesh-bound for his first taste of franchise cricket with Rangpur Rangers at the BPL, having reinvented himself as a middle-order accelerator in the shortest form.
After a useful run with the bat in 2018, Abell’s limitations as a T20 player were exposed in a televised game at Canterbury at the end of the group stage. Chasing an imposing 231 to win, Abell eked out 21 not out from 18 balls, eating up the time left for captain Lewis Gregory to close the game out; Gregory ended unbeaten on 44 off just 15 balls, but Somerset fell five runs short.
This season, he was a player transformed, scoring quicker than any other batsman in the competition other than AB de Villiers (minimum 200 runs) and almost doubling his scoring rate against seamers.
“Halfway through the summer, at the start of the T20 competition, I wasn’t really that confident or that comfortable with my white-ball cricket,” Abell tells ESPNcricinfo. “I made a conscious effort to work on [it] and find a method that was going to be successful.
“It was about finding a way that would work for me. I don’t feel like I can always hit it out the ground like some other guys, but I guess there’s different ways of going about scoring runs for different people. I worked on my power-hitting, and having different options in my game. It was mentally as much as anything – having that confidence to try and express myself.”
Perhaps the most noticeable change was a penchant for innovation, as Abell integrated ramps and reverse-scoops into his previously-orthodox method, having worked extensively midway through the county season with Jason Kerr and Paul Tweddle on his white-ball skills. Like his team-mate Tom Banton, he played hockey growing up, and suggests that “you get a lot of value for that shot… there’s rarely anyone behind the keeper, so for me just trying to deflect it over [him] is quite a good option”.
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The competition ended with a maiden T20 hundred from 46 balls, a feat which Abell admits he never thought he was capable of achieving, and soon after, he was a £100,000 (US$132,000) pick for Manchester Originals in the inaugural draft for the Hundred.
“I never anticipated that I would have been picked up when I was – I was as surprised as anyone. I think it’ll take a while to sink in,” he says.
“To have that backing from all involved at Manchester – it’s a great feeling on a personal level. I don’t think anyone knows what to expect really, it’s a brand-new competition and no-one knows how it’s going to go down. I think there was a huge amount of excitement around the draft and I’m sure that’ll be the same nearer the time.”
Abell treads carefully in expressing his excitement for the competition, wary of the disgruntlement that many Somerset supporters feel about having their captain taken away for six weeks of the season and uneasy about having his “life-changing” salary broadcast so publicly.
“I completely understand divided opinion, and I’m very passionate about Somerset cricket – but without contradicting myself, I want to play for England, and to do that it’s important that you’re playing in top competitions. Naturally, I’m absolutely gutted that it’ll mean missing cricket for Somerset, but at the same time, it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
He has exchanged texts with Simon Katich, Manchester’s head coach, and is likely to slot into his usual middle-order role when the competition starts next July.
Abell’s immediate focus, though is on his first taste of franchise cricket. He was somewhat bizarrely named in a squad list for the ongoing Qatar T10 league despite not having entered the draft, but will spend Christmas in Bangladesh after being picked for a Rangpur Rangers squad that also includes Mohammad Nabi, Mustafizur Rahman, and county team-mate Gregory.
“It’s my first experience of anything like this in terms of franchise cricket,” he says. “It’s a huge opportunity for me – getting the chance to play with and against some top players will be a really good thing for me.
“It’s certainly nice having had a decent summer to get this opportunity… I wouldn’t see it like it’s a reward necessarily, because I still feel hugely fortunate. But cricket’s like that – you have ups and downs. It should be good exposure, and I think that’ll be a great thing for me.”