In 2016, ahead of the World T20 clash in India, England picked Reece Topley ahead of Tymal Mills but what if they picked the latter instead? Would it have changed England’s fortunes or would it have not?
It is 2016, just months before the mega event in India, the World T20, where England are finally looking to assemble one of the strongest squad, for their second T20I title. In the process to strengthen their squad, the English selectors decide to pick the talented Tymal Mills, who had picked 19 wickets for Sussex in the domestic T20 competition but that means Reece Topley has to miss the competition.
Having been picked in the squad, a left-arm option was always in England’s alley, with just David Willey the sole left-arm seamer in the playing XI. Despite his maiden against Afghanistan, his inability to get wickets has tempted England to make a change, bringing in the X-factor Mills for the final game of the group stage. Against Sri Lanka, the left-armer makes an instant impact, picking up a two-fer.
Come to the final, England have already defeated multiple sides, etched themselves on the wall as the favourites but there was a certain West Indies side, who would never go down without a fight. However, after losing the toss, England score 170 off their 20 overs, with a late partnership between Willey and Mills propelling them to the total. Once they got 170, there was no beating them, with the two left-arm seamers picking up six wickets in between them as Windies get bundled out for a meagre 120, giving England their second World T20 title.
However, having gone unsold in the IPL Auction, that prefaced before the World T20, Mills is preparing himself for a long vacation. Just as he is, calls come in that Mumbai Indians have roped him as a last-minute replacement for the injured Corey Anderson. While Mumbai had a set team already as he arrived, the form of Tim Southee wasn’t what they had expected, which prompts them to replace the veteran with the newbie on the international circuit, Mills. Making his debut against SRH, the left-arm Englishman picks up an incredible three-fer, yet goes unnoticed due to Mumbai’s staggering defeat.
Slowly yet steadily, the left-arm is picking up pace, as with another two-fer, he seems to be a go-to-man for Rohit Sharma and the management, this time against RCB. Having gone unsold in the Auction, Mills has begun to turn all heads in his favour, with his bowling and his knacky variations. Despite becoming a fan-favourite, with 14 wickets in the tournament, at an average of 17.93, Mumbai finish outside the top four, crushing all hopes of their dreaded fans.
But that doesn’t stop Mills, who then gets picked in the England squad for their T20I series against India on high-scoring venues. Despite venues not favouring him, with more turn on offer, the Sussex man relived his shark days, picking up six wickets, with an economy rate of seven, which surely turned all the eyeballs towards him, especially against India at their own den. Going into the next season of the IPL, the left-arm surely warranted a better treatment and sum right?
After Kings XI Punjab outbid Mumbai Indians for Mitchell Johnson, the Paltans don’t have a choice but to pick Mills, with their fondness over picking former players. He wasn’t just picked for love but instead with expectations of an entire year. He has already got a section of the crowd to chant his name but it wasn’t quite enough as he upped the ante. A stunning tournament by all measures, Mills picks up 22 wickets in the group-stage, turning all eyes once again.
However, in the final, the left-arm seamer is put under the spot, bowling the death overs, where he has to defend 18 runs off three overs. While he bowls the immaculate slower delivery to dismiss MS Dhoni, come against Manoj Tiwary and Smith, he struggles, with RPS winning the title. He was bashed, squashed, with Mumbai fans taking to Twitter in frustration over his bowling. Visibly, Mumbai didn’t retain him and neither was he picked in England’s squad for the long home season.
England’s approach was vividly different - their plan to unleash the pace of Mark Wood - had made them different from the other teams that toured them during the same time. Effectively, it brought around results, as Wood established himself as a big name in the 20-over format, leaving Mills distraught, as he aims to go back to the long grind before his next big tournament. Having watched South Africa and West Indies series from the couch, the left-arm pacer works closely with Jason Gillespie, getting back his mojo.
Ahead of the 2018 IPL Auction, reports about several teams interested in him but ultimately it is SRH, with their think-tank, who get the talented left-arm seamer, with his unique utility at 6 crores, after watching his hattrick earlier in the year. As his whole life flashes in front of him on debut against Mumbai Indians, he even picks two wickets, sending back openers - Rohit and de Kock. However, as he runs around the Wankhede turf, an ankle twist at the wrong time rules him out of the IPL, and his place in the England squad becomes a bigger ask. While he is set to return in the English winter, the rehabilitation takes longer than expected, ruling him out of the entire cricketing year.
Come to IPL 2019, none of the franchise looks very interested in the left-arm seamer, with all of them preferring other choices over the Sussex man, making him go unsold, just like how he spent his first IPL. However, an injury to Lungi Ngidi, who was earmarked to have a better year for CSK, the franchise rope in the English left-arm bowler instead, who has a similar bowling profile to the South African. While the move seems crazy at the beginning, CSK and Mills form an unbreakable bond, much like how Doug Bollinger had made Chepauk his second home, away from Australia.
With no Ngidi and an injury to Dwayne Bravo, which ruled him out of the opening few games of the season, In the dearth of available players, CSK forcibly picks Mills for their encounter against RCB. While he doesn’t have a start like yesteryears, his performance in the second game, against Delhi, wins the hearts of the Yellove fans, who begin to chant his name in front of Dhoni and his team. The left-arm seamer picks up three wickets, instantly overturns his fortune and puts on a scintillating run in the next few games. In the next five games, Mills picks up 12 wickets, the most he has picked in the first seven games of an IPL season. Just as he is preparing for the game against RCB, the Sussex man receives the best news of his season, with England including him in the squad against Pakistan.
In the first and only T20I, the left-arm seamer is picked ahead of Willey, as he forms an instant partnership with Jofra Archer, picking up six wickets in between them. Pakistan are stunned, getting reduced to a small total of just 125. In reply, the English batsman make a mockery of the chase, chasing the target in under ten overs. In place of Tom Curran, the left-arm, who is fresh off his partnership with Archer, leaves an indelible mark on the English selectors, with 12 wickets at an average of under 20 to pose new questions, just ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
But come closer to the World Cup, the English selectors, headlined by their selection of Jofra Archer, contains a name that goes relatively unnoticed - Tymal Solomon Mills - who is picked as the only left-arm option in the Three Lions setup for the home event. England don’t require his services, as they crash Australia to enter the World Cup final but come to the final, adversities do not only reach them but it crosses their radar. Jofra Archer, the man, who had single-handedly brought about a bowling revolution was injured!
Still recovering from the shock, the think-tank points out at Mills as the best option to replace the lanky pacer, with the final being played at Lord’s, a venue that has always been of support to left-arm pacers. While he starts with a choke, he picks up two crucial wickets in the middle overs - sending back Kane Williamson and James Neesham, reducing New Zealand to 241/8. Mystically, aided by the superpowers of Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, England tie the final, taking the encounter to super over.
New Zealand concede 15 runs, leaving England’s chosen bowler - in this case, Mills - 16 runs to defend and get them their first-ever 50-over title. As the flashbacks keep popping in, Mills’ fails to defend the target, on the Lord’s grass, on his knees, tears up in agony and frustration. England have grassed it, Mills has grassed it, Williamson comes to console them but the agony won’t die down. New Zealand win their first-ever World Cup and the news all over England, point at the Mills’ face.
Shortly after, Mills, due to the endless hate that he had received in the last few days, retires from the 50-over format, having played just the one World Cup. The selectors in the same line, announce that talented Reece Topley, another Sussex star - makes his return to the setup, replacing Mills, as the IPL star’s English ODI fame fades off.