Josh Tongue says his selection for and performances for England Lions in Sri Lanka this winter has given him extra confidence heading into the new season with Worcestershire.
The pace bowler picked up 12 wickets in two games, including eight in the second Test and it was a proud moment after he walked off the pitch with the match ball after a five-for in the first innings.
It was the latest upturn in fortunes for Tongue after his career-threatening shoulder injury following a successful return to action with Worcestershire at the end of last season.
The good news continued for the 25-year-old with his selection to play in The Hundred for Manchester Originals this summer.
But his immediate priority is to play for Worcestershire – “which I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old” – and play a full part in helping them strive for promotion.
Tongue said: “When I first got selected for the Lions, it was a massive boost to my confidence, especially after what I had been through with my shoulder.
“Then to go out to Sri Lanka and do well has given me a lot of confidence for the season with Worcestershire.
“I wasn’t looking to be playing any of the Test matches, to be fair, just because we’d got a lot of good bowlers in that squad.
“But I played in the warm-up game, did well, just missed out on the first Test and then got the nod for the second Test and, taking eight wickets in the game, I couldn’t think of anything better, really.”
Tongue added: “It was hard work. In the whole game I bowled something like 37 overs and, in sub-continent conditions, 32-33 degrees with high humidity levels, that is quite a lot of overs.
“But, when you get some wickets, the adrenalin kicks in, and you keep on going.
“Going into both Tests, we thought it might turn a bit more, and the seam bowlers wouldn’t have bowled as much as we did, but coming off the pitch, taking five wickets, I was very proud.
“Whenever you take a five-for or score a hundred, a lot of hard work has gone into things even before the game, before practice. With my shoulder and what happened, I may not have been there if I hadn’t kept at things and stayed mentally strong.”
Tongue says the Sri Lankans were tough and worthy opponents, with the two Tests both drawn.
He said: “They are a good side. Their batters were exceptionally good, they didn’t let you settle in that much, and if you didn’t bowl a good line and length, you would get punished and hit for a four.
“One of the batters (Nishan Madushka) got nearly 250 in the first game, and I think he is in the Test squad now, and there were two or three others pushing for a Test place and in their bowling attack, they had a Test bowler and the spinner Lasith Embuldeniya. There were good match-ups.”
Tongue had received three previous Lions call-ups only to have to pull out through injury on each occasion.
He said: “This felt like a big breakthrough. I had to pull out a few times a while back and, knowing what I had been through in the past, to get the call-up after only playing three Championship matches at the end of last summer was a bit surreal, really.
“All the coaches and people there said ‘well done’ and stuff like that, Rob Key, Killer (Neil) Killeen as bowling coach and Mo Bobat (ECB Performance Director).
“It was nice having those people around when taking that five-for. It was good to impress in front of those sort of people and know that they are going to be watching how things go during the season. It was definitely good them being there.”
It was also the opportunity for Tongue to pick the brains of other coaches away from the likes of Head Coach Alan Richardson at New Road.
He said: “I’m used to doing some great work with Richo (Alan Richardson) at Worcestershire so getting a different perspective of how other people go about things was good.”
Now all of Tongue’s thoughts are on the opening LV=Insurance County Championship match at Derby from April 6, and he and his colleagues in the attack are aware of the need to take be on song for delivery after delivery.
He said: “It is crazy how quickly it has come around after getting back from Sri Lanka, from having a week or so in Malvern, then outdoors practice at Kidderminster and the friendlies.
“We always speak as bowlers as the only way to win a game is to take 20 wickets, and that’s what we’ve been trying to nail in our practice, and even practicing against our batters, making sure we don’t give them even one loose ball.
“It’s about making sure the first 20 balls are on the dot, not giving them scoring options and trying to take wickets as quickly as we can.
“I haven’t really thought about too many targets at the moment. Having been through the shoulder worry, me just being on the park at the moment, being as fit as I’ve ever been at the moment, is the main thing.
“But taking as many wickets as I can is going to put Worcestershire in a better position to win as many games is the goal.
“Taking 50 wickets would be an amazing achievement for myself. If I’m taking 50 wickets, and other bowlers like Dillon (Pennington) and Joe (Leach) are also doing well, it is going to help put us in a good position in the league to get promotion.”
As for his call-up for The Hundred, Tongue admitted: “I can’t believe it. From what I’ve been through to then getting the Lions call-up and now The Hundred, playing cricket for Worcestershire, which is what I have wanted to do since the age of six, is an amazing feeling.
“From where I was 20 months ago, nearly retiring and trying to find something else to do, it’s a real positive change.”