Tom Banton interview: I did not work hard enough after meteoric rise

Tom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I did not work hard enough after meteoric rise
Tom Banton is keen to cement his place in Somerset's County Championship side - Getty Images/Naomi Baker

Life came at Tom Banton fast. First with Somerset, then England, and then a host of franchise sides across the globe.

“If you look back to 2019, I started the year sat in the second team thinking ‘I’ve got one more year left on my contract, if I don’t do well, I’m not going to have a job’,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “I went from there to playing for England in a few months, opening the batting in New Zealand.

“It was surreal, so amazing, but at the same time quite scary. I was 20 or 21, stuff happened so quickly. Eighteen months earlier I’d been at school! I was suddenly going to the IPL, being spoken about on social media, compared to people.”

Banton is right. Brilliant performances in the Blast for Somerset saw him capped by England at 20 and, as a willowy right-hander with all the shots, comparisons with Kevin Pietersen became commonplace. Michael Vaughan thought him so talented that he encouraged him to ditch an IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders to chase a Test place. He had the cricketing world at his feet.

Four years on, Banton remains a man in demand in franchise cricket, and has a career of rich potential ahead of him. But, by his own admission, progress has not been linear. The 25-year-old has spent the early part of the season playing – and playing rather well – for Somerset in the County Championship, rather than at the IPL.

If things were slightly different, he could easily have been opening the batting with Jos Buttler – another player with whom there were plenty of comparisons, and not just because same school, Kings Taunton – at the T20 World Cup next month. He has not played for England since January 2022.

Tom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I did not work hard enough after meteoric rise
Tom Banton was the breakout star of the 2019 domestic season – his form with Somerset catapulted him into England's T20 squad - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

“It was like… what is going on!” he says. “Maybe it happened too early for me. The pressure and expectation I put on myself. I’ve had this amazing year, 2019, I’ve got to do this again, put in performances to get into the England team, get these contracts, the IPL, BBL. It all happened so quickly. I was 20, 21. What is happening?

“Looking back, I probably took it a bit for granted. I probably didn’t train as hard as I could have. It all happened so quickly. I was like ‘wow… this is how it’s going to be now then’. And then obviously the higher up you go, the better standard of bowling and team-mates, and people find you out.

“I have worked a lot since then. It’s all a blur looking back now. I’ve learnt a huge amount from that both on the field and off it. I’m way more level headed now. If I have two or three bad innings, there’s doubt because that’s natural, but I’m not coming off and throwing my kit… I have grown up quite a lot since then.

“I had a few not great years. I’m not happy it happened, but that’s life, it could happen to anyone. In the last year I have felt I have come through it, and am back to who I can be. It was a weird time of my life. It wasn’t like I meant to do it.”

Banton was a key player during Somerset’s remarkable Vitality Blast win last year, opening with Will Smeed, with whom he has played since his schooldays. Famously – or infamously, depending on who you ask – Smeed quit red-ball cricket before even making his Championship debut to work on his white-ball game. Banton does not shy away from the fact that in quieter moments, he has contemplated doing the same. First-class cricket has not come as easily to him, and he has made just one hundred in the Championship.

This year, though, he has played a number of key hands from No 5. It comes after a winter where he worked with Hashim Amla at MI Cape Town during the SA20. He did not play a game, but worked relentlessly in the net.

‘Hashim Amla has taken me out of my comfort zone’

“The last few years haven’t been as good as I would have liked,” he says. “The winter was probably my most productive and efficient one I’ve had. I was with Hashim Amla, the second time I’d worked with him and he was amazing. He took me out of my comfort zone. I’ve also spoken a lot to Shane Burger, our batting coach at Somerset, and I have tried to apply more pressure on the bowlers, which is good for me, I am always looking to score.

“Even before this season I didn’t really know where I stood with red ball cricket. Now, I do have more of an understanding over my approach, how I’m building an innings, and how important those first 30 balls are.

“Through the winters I’d be going from country to country, playing franchise competitions. There wasn’t an opportunity to train red-ball skills. There was a stage when I went from doing quite well at 5 to opening, and I’d be the first person to say I’m not a red-ball opener. That ruined my confidence a bit, and I got stuck on how I wanted to play in that format. Things are going nicely at the moment but I can’t take that for granted.

“There have been times where I’ve wondered if this [red-ball cricket] is really worth it. But I’m committed to playing it.”

That decision was vindicated 10 days ago, when Somerset secured their first win of the season, over Essex in a harum-scarum two-day game at Taunton. It leaves Somerset second in the table, behind only champions Surrey. They have never won the Championship, but Banton says this group believe that they can compete all season on two fronts, as their Blast defence nears.

Tom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I did not work hard enough after meteoric rise
Somerset opener has made a bright start to this County Championship season - Getty Images/Harry Trump

“I will always say that a red-ball win is the best kind of win, especially a close one against a top team like Essex. With how hard red-ball cricket can be, the satisfaction of doing well in that is way better than anything else. That’s what draws you back to playing in it.”

“There is a belief here. I know how much it means to everyone at Somerset. The crowds, the support we get at home. Other teams say how amazing it is. We are very lucky. It means so much to Somerset as a county, and the smiles it gave to people is very special. Four day games, the gates open and you see members charging towards their seats as if they can’t be touched by anyone else. Against Essex, every run was cheered like a six in a T20. Those are the moments I was stood at the non strikers’ end taking it in. I’m lucky to call it home.”

Banton’s hopes of regaining England place

More mature, more mellow, Banton is enjoying his cricket – whatever the format.

“My goal is to get back playing for England, but it’s not something I think about,” he says. “I’ve got a better understanding about how cricket works now. Hopefully I can perform for Somerset and we will see what happens. It’s a dangerous thing to be too desperate for England. Think like that, and it can go even further away. I can’t wait to watch the T20 World Cup, there are a few guys my age who I hope do really well. You never know what’s round the corner.

“Everyone forgets that you are not that far away. It takes two to three innings, and people are talking about you again.”

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