For Liam Dawson, selection in England’s squad for the ICC World T20 in India next month continues a remarkable transformation in fortunes since Hampshire allowed him to join Essex on loan midway through last summer.
Dawson had not made a single appearance for Hampshire in the NatWest T20 Blast in 2015 when the county’s first-team coach Dale Benkenstein confirmed his departure for Chelmsford at the end of June, saying: “We just can’t find a place in our team for him at the moment.”
After rediscovering some form and confidence in two County Championship appearances at Essex, Dawson was recalled from his loan and went on to play a key part in Hampshire’s great escape from relegation – notably with a century against Yorkshire at the Ageas Bowl in September.
He also impressed in their Royal London One-Day Cup matches and earned a place in the team for the Blast quarter and semi-final against Worcestershire and Lancashire respectively – and then received a surprise call into the England Performance Programme which headed to Dubai in November ahead of a Lions series against Pakistan A, as a late replacement when Surrey’s Zafar Ansari was forced to withdraw with a hand injury.
Dawson, who had made a previous Lions tour to New Zealand way back in 2008-9, seized that chance – and it was his performances in the T20 series before Christmas that thrust him into the senior England reckoning.
“He’s shown a lot of skill as a part-time left-arm spinner, to such an extent that we played him as a full-timer,” said Lions head coach Andy Flower. “But he’s also an excellent fielder, and he’s a very skilful right-handed batter, and he holds himself well under pressure.”
He built on that good impression in the 50-over series against Pakistan A last month, watched by England selector Angus Fraser – but admits he was still surprised to receive a call from the National Selector, James Whitaker, at the weekend.
“He said ‘Well done on the winter’, then asked if I’d booked any holidays for March,” Dawson said. “Luckily I hadn’t, because then he told me I was in the Twenty20 squad. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. It’s a dream come true, what you do all that training as a kid hoping might happen one day.
“It’s definitely been a strange eight months. I’ve said before that I was thankful to Hampshire for letting me go out on loan, and thankful to Essex for giving me the chance.
“Then I went back to Hampshire and finished the season pretty strongly. Zafar got injured, I got the call to go out on the EPP, and I loved it.
“The training camp was brilliant – it was hard work, but pretty relaxed as well. I think all the boys would say they benefited from it. There was a focus on spin bowling and batting against spin which obviously suited me. The specialist coaches we had out there were great – we got to pick their brains, which I enjoyed.
“And then the series against Pakistan was very enjoyable for me. I’d like to think I contributed to all the games, and took my chance – which is what you’ve got to do.”
Dawson will be one of four players from that victorious Lions squad who have earned a place in England’s T20 plans – three of them from Hampshire.
Reece Topley was briefly a team-mate during Dawson’s loan spell at Essex last summer and has now joined him on the south coast, but his friendship with his Hampshire captain James Vince stretches back much further.
The pair are both from Wiltshire and were team-mates in club cricket at Chippenham as teenagers – giving the West of England Premier League club an unusual and impressive double representation in England’s T20 squad.
“I played most of my cricket as a youngster at Goatacre, and then I moved to Chippenham where I first met Vincey when we were about 13,” Dawson explained. “We played all our age-group cricket together, joined the Hampshire Academy and now he’s my captain.
“It was good to have him out with the Lions as captain as well, and it’s great that he’s going to be out in India. He’s obviously had a taste of international cricket already and done really well. I haven’t, and I can’t wait for it.
“It’s nice to be going into the England squad with a few of the other Lions guys. I had a few good stands with Sam Billings out in Dubai, we seem to work pretty well together. And it’s been great to see Toppers doing so well in the one-dayers in South Africa.
“It’s obviously an amazing tournament to be involved in, especially being in India as well which will be an exciting thing to experience. I’ve played against Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid a few times over the years but this will be the first chance to get to know them properly, work with them and pick their brains a bit. It’s just an honour to be part of the squad.”
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 10, 2016