Tom Banton is a rare talent, someone who had shown his prowess in several sports, to a point where he was playing as a centre-forward in the England U-17 hockey team. But as fate would have it, Banton made his mark in cricket, a big one before the fall took him back to where he started.
At the age of 17, Jadon Sancho had to make a move to Borussia Dortmund, in Germany after a dispute over playing time with Manchester City, a club that he called home for two years. Until then, he was considered just another overly talented youngster in the country but his move and subsequent performance ensured that he lived up to the hype and became the path-breaker.
In a completely different sport, during the same timeline, in 2017, an 18-year-old Tom Banton had finally made his debut in cricket after signing earlier for the Somerset Academy. In his first season as a cricketer, in the shortest format of the game, he ended up playing just two games, scoring four runs, at a strike-rate of 57.14, far away from the Banton that we know today.
It wasn’t until the 2019 Royal London Cup, when he started making it to the headlines, for his 454-run season, with two hundreds and three fifties all while still striking it at 94.58. His leg-side strokes instantly found an uncanny comparison with yesteryear English star, Kevin Pietersen. So much so his stock over the next year grew multi-fold, with even Pietersen dubbing him to be the next big star from England.
Fast forward to 2020, Banton had already made his debut in the T20I setup, against New Zealand, already impressing the selectors with his ultra-aggressive play-style, after they had appeared to have moved on from Alex Hales. While he had a high score of only 31 in the previous year, the selectors viewed his strike rate as the ulterior motive. Once again in the 2020 home series against Pakistan, Banton walked away with scores of 71, 20 and 46, with the press dubbing him as the next big thing.
With the exception of Test cricket, Banton had got all he dreamt, a place in the T20I side, a place in the ODI squad and certainly an IPL contract, something that would bring about his downfall. Walking into the IPL on the back of low scores - 8,2 and 2 - Banton was under the pump for the first time despite the presence of England’s limited-overs skipper, Eoin Morgan.
After a total of two games, 18 runs, an average of 9 and a strike rate of 90, the franchise parted ways with the youngster, putting him back on square one, in his quest to become one of the regulars in England’s playing XI. Several English cricketers, in the past, including Chris Woakes, who was only recently recalled had to undergo severity without being part of the T20I setup.
Woakes’ IPL route combined with steady performance made his comeback a possibility and for Banton, that was the only way he could get back into a side, which has some of the best openers in white-ball cricket. Despite possessing a plethora of options at the top, England, unfortunately, due to cricketing’s larger scheme of things can only field two openers. One has been Jason Roy and the others, a handful of choices. When Banton did not make the cut to India and later home series against Sri Lanka despite a surfeit of injuries in the camp, that was the warning sign that he had to earn it.
The right-hander, subsequently, also pulled out of the Big Bash and then dropped himself off the Auctions’ list for the 2021 IPL, two big moves that acted as a step back in his career. He admitted the need to be playing more cricket instead of sitting on the bench but such has been the start to his international career, that he couldn’t warrant a starter-spot in a Kolkata Knight Riders’ outfit struggling for openers even after David Hussey calling him as the “new version or better version of Kevin Pietersen”.
A career that was on the cusp of being marred due to expectations, not the first in English cricket. So much so, the English publication, the Sun, had dubbed him to plunder bowling for England in 50-over and T20 cricket, putting him on the same page as Ollie Pope. His hockey skills had garnered attention more than his runs and the fact that the expectations were at an all-time high, he broke down under the pressure, going back to square one. Enter T20 Blast, and Somerset.
Somerset vs Kent, in Canterbury, on a day filled with gloom in the early half. Having lost the season opener and the next game, Somerset were on a high, winning two out of the two completed games. When they faced Hampshire at home, in Taunton, Banton put an end to his struggles, with a 77 after a string of low scores - 5, 9, 1, 18 - in the first four fixtures of the season. Back to a familiar position, at the top of the order, the 22-year-old’s innings came as a sudden breeze to Somerset’s ‘rainy’ season.
Until that encounter, he had only scored two sixes in the season but when he flicked New Zealand’s Colin de Grandhomme, there was a familiar sight on offer, the leg-side hockey-ness in his game returned and so did the runs, which flowed like it was natural spring. Three sixes later, Banton’s next target Mason Crane had his share of tonking, with twin boundaries and a reverse-sweep for a maximum.
62 of the 100 runs that Somerset had put on the total was from Banton’s blade. While he was dismissed for 77, off 37 balls, he had already got the club to 121 in just 14 overs, on a night where batting was cumbersome and ever-struggle for the others.
Just as the weather cleared more and more, in Canterbury, Banton’s sixes on the night, against Kent, cleared the boundary more and more. A 57-metre to warm-up, the youngster grew in confidence as the night passed, with every six striking the heart of the Kent bowlers, as he cleared the last one in prime style, 93 metres with a statement to send. 7.1 overs into the innings, his confidence was on an all-time high, when he smoked through the covers, inside-out to find the cover boundary in a flash.
"I rode my luck to begin with, a few went just over the fielders but that's cricket for you," Banton said after the clash against Kent.
107 off 51 balls, Banton had made the bowlers, including Adam Milne, look ordinary with them already toughened up with the task of bowling with a wet ball. But either way, the way Banton went about things, it was as though he was preparing himself for The Hundred bash party. He had definitely put the stride, a small but meaningful one in his long road of invigorating his broken dreams - an England career.
Difficult times often bring out the best in people, as cliche as it sounds, for Banton it did not bring out the best in him, at least yet, it brought out the best possible path for him to force his way back into the English setup. Now he has to tread on this path cautiously.
While the 2021 World T20 in the Middle East might be too early for him but his long road of bringing back happiness on the faces of several had just started, strategically in Taunton. The early comparisons to Kevin Pietersen combined with the media pressure might have got to his career but with him settling down and finding his feet, the long road in front of him might just be a path-breaker, like how Sancho had found in Germany, via Borussia Dortmund.
With Sancho heavily linked once again with a move to Manchester United, Banton, in Taunton, miles away from Salford might have found a new lease of life in his T20 career, a new purpose that now has the only intention of breaking back into the Three Lions set up before the 2022 World T20 in Australia.