Playing grade cricket in Melbourne is a world away from England’s current travails in the Caribbean, but Nick Browne is confident he can make a compelling case for a Test call-up by the time the Ashes start this summer.
The opener is spending two months in Australia turning out for Geelong, a gig set up by his former Essex teammate Mark Pettini, currently team manager for Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League.
Browne has been an interested observer from afar as England’s batsmen have suffered a collective meltdown in the Caribbean to hand the Test series to the West Indies with a game to spare.
“I’ve watched bits and pieces of it,” he said. “I’ve been recording and watching it. It’s interesting and there’ve been strange wickets for the batters to play on, but I thought we’d have done much better than we have.”
Australians are never shy of sledging an Englishman and results in the Caribbean have provided Browne’s teammates plenty of ammunition, even if they are not feeling that great about their own team following the recent Test series defeat by India.
“I’m getting a fair bit to be honest with you but the Aussies aren’t looking much better anyway,” says Browne. “They all feel like they’re going to lose the Ashes, which is quite interesting.”
The Ashes must be at the forefront of every English batsman’s mind following the horror show in the Caribbean. Places will be up for grabs this summer, especially in a top-order that has consistently underperformed for several years now.
Browne, who has a first-class average of 41.92 and scored 1,000 first-class runs for three successive seasons before an injury-hit summer in 2018, is keen to make sure his name is at the top of any list of potential call-ups.
“One hundred per cent,” he says. “I think it’s just human nature to look at the team and say, ‘people are struggling’ and it’s up to you to score some runs. There’s nine Championship games before the first Test so I’m sure there will be a lot of county cricketers sitting there going, ‘do you know what? If I can score some runs then I put my name in the hat’. I suppose I’m one of those.
“There’s opportunities there – 100 per cent there is – and it was tough last year to score runs, but this year’s a new year and hopefully if I start well and put some big scores on then you never know.
“People ask me all the time if I’m looking at England and it’s only human nature to do so because you can see what’s going on. There’s opportunity there and hopefully I can take it by scoring loads of runs for Essex before that first Test. But who knows what the selectors are thinking?”
At 27 and with such a decent track record at county level, it is remarkable Browne has never even received an England Lions call-up.
Asked if he has ever felt like he has been close – like when he led from the front as Essex won the County Championship in 2017 – Browne replies: “No, not really to be honest. I don’t really know where the selectors think I’m at. I’ve never had any sort of inkling. But I felt a couple of seasons ago I could have got on a Lions tour and that could have progressed me.
“I think my stats are pretty good. But I’m equally in the dark. I have felt I could have gone on a Lions trip in previous years and shown people what I could do, but it’s not happened.”
With the international retirement of Alastair Cook at the end of last summer, it might be prudent of England to try to fill the void left by their all-time leading run-scorer with another left-hand opener from Essex.
Cook will continue playing for Essex having signed a three-year deal and Browne is looking forward to spending plenty of time in the middle with the 34-year-old this summer.
“Obviously Cooky coming back is unbelievable for us and the main thing about cricket in England is if you can have a good opening partnership then you’re going a long way to winning games of cricket,” says Browne. “Our middle-order is so strong and if me and Cooky can get to 60 or 70 for none and blunt the new ball, pretty much we’ve got runscorers in the middle. For me, that’s where four-day games are won. If you can get through the new ball you’re winning games of cricket.”
Cook’s influence off the field will also be keenly felt.
“He carries such an aura around the place,” says Browne. “Even without his runs his professionalism is amazing – I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’s the most competitive bloke I’ve ever met and I ever will meet. So I think he’ll score loads of runs. The lads are looking forward to playing with him. He’s a legend.
“He’s great to learn from. It’s fantastic to draw some experience from him. His professionalism is something everyone should aspire to.”
As for Essex, Browne is confident they can win back the County Championship title they lost to Surrey last summer.
“We’re looking great actually,” he says. “We’ve got bowlers who can win games in a session. Jamie Porter has been brilliant the last three or four years and he’s just horrible to face in England. Sam Cook has kicked on really well. He nibbles it around and bowls these wobble seamers that are really hard work.
“With Peter Siddle coming back over – he might get picked for the Ashes so we’ll see how much he plays – but that’s another plus and Simon Harmer, if the ball’s turning he’s the best in the country if not the world. He’s an unbelievable bowler.
“So I think we have a chance to go for the title again. Surrey look strong but they’re going to miss quite a few players at the start with the World Cup I’d imagine. I think we’ve got a really, really good chance.”
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