Interview with Tom Banton: I didn’t work hard enough after the meteoric rise

Tom Banton is keen to cement his place in Somerset’s County Championship squad – Getty Images/Naomi Baker

Life came fast for Tom Banton. First with Somerset, then England, and then a large number of franchises around the world.

“If you look back at 2019, I started the year in the second team and I thought, ‘I’ve got another year on my contract, if I don’t do well I’ll be out of a job.’ he tells Telegraph Sport. “From there, within a few months I went on to play for England and opened the batting in New Zealand.

“It was surreal, so amazing, but quite scary at the same time. I was 20 or 21, things happened so quickly. Eighteen months earlier I was in school! I suddenly went to the IPL, which was talked about on social media, compared to people.”

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

Four years later, Banton remains in demand in franchise cricket and has a career with a lot of potential ahead of him. But, as he himself admits, progress has not been linear. The 25-year-old has spent the first part of the season playing – and playing quite well – for Somerset in the County Championship, rather than the IPL.

Had things been a little different, he could easily have opened the batting with Jos Buttler – another player with whom there were many comparisons, and not just because of the same school, Kings Taunton – in the T20 World Cup next month. He has not played for England since January 2022.

Tom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I didn't work hard enough after the meteoric riseTom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I didn't work hard enough after the meteoric rise

Tom Banton was the breakout star of the 2019 domestic season. His form at Somerset catapulted him into the England 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 expectations I put on myself. I’ve had this great year, 2019, I have 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’s going on?

“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 what it’s going to be like now’. And then obviously the higher you go, the better the level of bowling and teammates, and people discover you.

“I have worked a lot since then. It’s all a blur when I look back on it now. I learned a lot from that, both on and off the field. I’m much more down to earth now. If I have two or three bad innings, there’s doubt because that’s normal, but I don’t come away and throw my gear… I’ve matured quite a bit since then.

“I’ve had some not great years. I’m not happy that it happened, but that’s life, it can happen to anyone. Over the past year I have felt like I have gotten through it and am back to being who I can be. It was a strange time in my life. I didn’t mean to do it.”

Banton was a key player in Somerset’s remarkable victory over Vitality Blast last year, opening with Will Smeed, who he has played with since his school days. 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 doesn’t shy away from the fact that in quieter moments he has considered doing the same. First-class cricket has not come so easily to him, and he has only made a hundred in the Championship.

This year, however, he has played some important hands from No. 5. It comes after a winter spent working with Hashim Amla at MI Cape Town during the SA20. He didn’t play a match, but worked relentlessly in the net.

‘Hashim Amla took 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 winter I’ve had. I was with Hashim Amla, the second time I worked with him and he was great. He took me out of my comfort zone. I’ve also been talking a lot to Shane Burger, our batting coach at Somerset, and I’ve been trying to put more pressure on the bowlers, which is good for me, I’m always looking to score.

“Before this season too, I didn’t really know where I stood in red ball cricket. Now I have a better understanding of my approach, how I build an innings and how important those first 30 balls are.

“In the winter I went from country to country to play franchise competitions. There was no opportunity to train red ball skills. There was a phase where I went from doing a pretty good job at five to opening, and I would be the first person to say I’m not a red-ball opener. That ruined my confidence a bit, and I got stuck in the way I wanted to play in that format. Things are going well at the moment, but I can’t take that for granted.

“There have been times when I wondered if this was the case [red-ball cricket] is really worth it. But I’m determined to play it.”

That decision was confirmed ten days ago, when Somerset secured their first win of the season, over Essex in a two-day harum-scarum match in Taunton. It leaves Somerset second in the table, behind only champions Surrey. They’ve never won the championship, but Banton says this group believes they can compete on two fronts all season as their Blast defense closes in.

Tom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I didn't work hard enough after the meteoric riseTom Banton – Tom Banton interview: I didn't work hard enough after the meteoric rise

Somerset opener has made a good start to this County Championship season – Getty Images / Harry Trump

“I will always say a red ball win is the best kind of win, especially a win against a top team like Essex. As difficult as red ball cricket can be, the satisfaction of doing well at it is far better than anything else. That’s what attracts you to play in it.

“There is a belief here. I know how much it means to everyone at Somerset. The hustle and bustle, the support we receive at home. Other teams say how great it is. We are very lucky. It means so much to Somerset as a county, and the smiles it brought to people are very special. Four-day matches, the gates open and you see members running to 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 when I stood on the side of the non-strikers and absorbed it. I’m lucky to call it home.”

Banton’s hopes to regain England’s place

Banton is more mature and calm and enjoys his cricket no matter the format.

“My goal is to play for England again, but I’m not thinking about that,” he says. “I now understand better how cricket works. Hopefully I can perform for Somerset and we’ll see what happens. It’s dangerous to be too desperate for England. If you think like that, 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 around the corner.

“Everyone forgets that you’re not that far away. It takes two to three turns and people start talking about you again.

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