Alex Lees on being dropped by England, and how he plans to win back his Test place.

The decision to cast Alex Lees aside and keep faith with Zach Crowley for the tour of Pakistan came as a surprise to many.

The opening pair had very similar summers in 2022, although Lees eclipsed him on every metric: runs, averages, fifties and double-figure scores. Except, ultimately, at the limit of talent. The three wise men in England’s set-up – Rob Key, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes – had long spoken of Crowley’s incredible ability, and when he did so with an unbeaten 69 at The Oval, the English season ended. Ended the test summer with it. The series win against South Africa made the choice between the two easy.

Crowley scored a century in Rawalpindi, his first innings of the Pakistan tour that would eventually fetch 235 runs for some much-needed currency heading into 2023. A Christmas of family, reflection and decluttering.

“I’m sure I wasn’t amazing to be around for a few weeks,” says Lees, recalling his mood at certain times in November and December. “But those things [family] Always ground you and give you a positive outlook on life. And what can you do?”

By his own admission, his ax was greeted with dismay. “I think it’s human nature. If someone has news that they’re not particularly happy about, whether you’re in sports or life, you have a natural nastiness in your mouth.” But it wasn’t a bolt from the blue.

“I wasn’t a dead cert to go to Pakistan. I’m not naive with that. My runs probably don’t reflect the impact I had in some games. Especially chasing some runs.

“It wasn’t that it certainly wasn’t on my radar that it wasn’t a possibility. They gave us some encouraging help over the summer. But unfortunately, that’s part of the game. There are always tough decisions. Because, for anybody, that’s not good news.”

There was a flurry of bad news on the horizon when Lease failed to add him to the main contract list. His sit-in was confirmed by a call from the Director of Men’s Cricket and McCullum. Amidst the condolences, there was a clear message: spend time refreshing and then tailor your game to the development of the Test team. Being punchier, domineering and self-confident. Something he has already started working on with Durham, and will hope to extend it to England Lions in Sri Lanka next month.

“For me, I’ve just got to stay in my lane and keep trying to grow as a player. And hopefully, if I can go back and have some good performances…” Lees said after doing some internal math. Paused first. “It’s not necessarily this year but in the next couple of years when I’m still young enough, hopefully I’ll get another chance at some point.”

There are some things that stick out here. The first is that Lees recognizes the man who replaced him, Ben Duckett, will be supported for a long time. Not just because of his impressive return to Test cricket this winter, but because loyalty is a key principle under Stokes. Any recovery of the lease will take time, in part because its replacement will be afforded the same luxury of permanence as it was.

The second, more important, part might be “staying in my lane.” There is a bit of a misconception surrounding The Word Accord To Baz and Ben: that they are asking players to bat on the wild side. While the shift has been towards being more aggressive in the middle, the onus is on the player to find *their* best way to do this.

Looking back to the summer of 2022, there were moments when Lees successfully tapped into that side of himself. Specifically, the fourth innings against New Zealand at Trent Bridge and India’s chase at Edgbaston. Scores of 44 and 56 set the tone for successful chases of 299 and 378 respectively. Both knocks earned praise from the captain, coach and those who had the privilege of watching England at home for laying the foundations for those achievements.

This was in contrast to Lees first three of 10 Test caps in the Caribbean. As England transitioned from Chris Silverwood’s tenure after a 4-0 Ashes defeat, the unknowns of the summer meant a pattern of holding in March. It was followed by a 1-0 series defeat by the West Indies. Lees scored just 126 runs in six innings at a quiet strike rate of 27.39. He explains that it was an era in which he was just trying to fit in.

“I don’t see myself as a limited player,” he says, reflecting on the early knocks. “I think it was obviously a conscious decision: You’re trying to get the philosophy of the team. The first innings run doesn’t matter how long or how long it takes to get it. So I think I was trying to play according to the team ethos every tour.

“But it’s not like I’m a one-size-fits-all player. I was literally just trying to bring out the captain’s and coach’s vision through action.”

Thus, despite Summer’s struggles, Liz doesn’t feel like he’s trying to do anything alien to her. If anything, the 29-year-old was recalling an approach used in his early years at Yorkshire, when he excelled against both the red and white balls with a game that suited both. was The kind that earned him the nickname “Hados” from then-Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie, after Australian left-hander Matthew Hayden, Lees’ early inspiration as a fellow southpaw. The change since then has been as much about age as the changing conditions and levels of county cricket.

“I think in terms of style of play it’s probably something I haven’t played in a while,” he says, “just because the wickets haven’t been that good in county cricket over the last few years. Not something I was used to in the recent past.

“But I think at the beginning of my career I felt very comfortable and I probably played that way, especially when I started playing in Yorkshire because the wickets were a bit faster and they had a lot of carry. more than they’ve had in the last few years. So I think in terms of coming back, naturally, I didn’t feel too bad. I just had to go into a different part of my career and I’ve been able to do that. Felt good together.”

The factor that will help in any future cases Lees moves to increase his test caps is the degree to which he has buy-in to the project. Teammates regarded him as an engaging presence in the dressing room, amiable and unwilling to back down even under pressure. The best example of this last aspect came in the only Test with India when he was more than willing to bite Virat Kohli when the pair were verbally bantering as they walked off the field at tea time on the fourth day. On Stump that day, he played the incident down as a lot of fun: “He’s obviously a very competitive person, and I’m pretty strong too. That’s what my wife says.” Even so, standing up to such a decorated opponent went some way to showing that Lees is committed to the cause and building a sense of belonging.

Naturally, this makes his current situation a little harder to bear. At the same time, he is fixated on returning as a more capable player. After returning to training with Durham at the end of 2022, he heads into the Lions’ two “Tests” against Sri Lanka A knowing what he has to do, and how he has to do it.

“I think I enjoyed being in that environment, especially playing on a successful team in the summer,” he says. “It was fantastic. I think that was my reflection on playing those games, I played pretty well but just didn’t have a big score which obviously is the difference. For the summer which, in essence, is the same. is what your test summer is built around.

“My biggest reflection is disappointment, after putting myself in good positions in the summer and not taking advantage of it. I would love to experience this environment again and I think if I can If so, that’s my biggest learning from this summer: I need to score big centuries.

“That’s the difference between me having an average summer and having an exceptional summer and being left out. I’m focused on coming back.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo.

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