James Rew interview: I’m not going to become a Bazballer, I know what my strengths are

Somerset’s James Rew sees himself as more of an Alastair Cook type than a reckless Bazballer – Harry Trump/Getty Images

When James Rew was growing up, he remembers: “Jos Butler was probably my big idol.” Rew seamlessly followed Buttler’s path from King’s College, Taunton to Somerset’s wicketkeeper-batsman; he could eventually follow Buttler into international cricket too.

But for all the similarities to Buttler’s journey to the professional game, Rew plays in a very different way. He admires a fellow left-handed batsman: “The grittiness of Alastair Cook and the way he executes his innings – that’s what I like to watch.”

While he only turned 20 in January, Rew’s five Championship centuries last summer raised questions about whether he will be England’s Test wicketkeeper in the long term. But if other new-generation prospects – Durham’s Ollie Robinson, Surrey’s Jamie Smith and Lancashire’s Phil Salt – adopt a style well suited to Ben Stokes’ England, Rew prefers delayed gratification. His success rate in the Championship last year was around 50: perfectly fast by normal standards, but still a level below England’s average success rate of 76 since Brendon McCullum became coach.

“I don’t really have that ability yet – I’d like to do that,” Rew reflects. “I feel like the best way for me to help the team and the way for me to get the most runs is to just dig in and work really hard on my first 30, 40 balls.”

While Stokes said last year there would be no room for a young cook in his Test side, Rew has no plans to abandon his method. “If it gives Somerset opportunities to win games then I probably won’t deviate from that. My aim is to help Somerset win a first Championship title, so in that respect I just want to keep doing what will help the team most. And that’s probably me, the way I play.

James Rew plays defensively from the front footJames Rew plays defensively from the front foot

James Rew is likely to keep the wicket and batting at six for Somerset this season despite being used as a specialist batsman during the Lions tour of India – Harry Trump/Getty Images

“I can always evolve my game, I’m still young. But right now it’s about keeping it the same and performing as best as possible for the team.”

Last summer Rew did very well with only two men in Division One scoring more County Championship runs than his 1,086 runs at 57.15. Most of this was achieved while keeping wicket: an extraordinary return for a player who had previously played only half a Championship season.

“It happened so quickly. I just remember getting a few low scores in the first few games at the beginning of the season and suddenly having a few hundred points halfway through the season.”

For Rew, it highlights what he considers one of his most important qualities: remaining equal no matter what he does on the pitch. He laughs when asked if he is a bat thrower.

“I’m very chilled. I always walk away and just take off my sanitary pads. I don’t really get angry – just try to stay very level. Make sure the highs don’t get you too high and the lows don’t get you too low.

“I always feel like it’s about how well I start and not getting carried away because I’m always a slow starter. Whether I have scored runs before or not, I will always find it difficult to go to the middle and start my innings.”

A winter tour with England Lions to India cemented Rew’s status among the rising men of English cricket. Although Rew’s returns were modest in the three first-class matches (playing as a specialist batsman he averaged 21.8), he believes he will be a better player after observing India’s approach.

“The way they play spin and how simple they keep it – they all seem to score so quickly, but without trying. They don’t do it like Bazball, as we would say, but they always seem to hit almost 100 by respecting the good ball and they are just so good that they can put that bad ball away so quickly.

“That really gave me a bit of confidence that I can continue to play the way I do: staying patient and making sure you put away every slightly bad ball to the boundary.”

Selection for the Lions also allowed Rew to work with Andrew Flintoff, who was a mentor to the side.

“He hates looking at technical things. For him, it’s all about how to score runs, whether it’s in an attacking style like he used to bat or in one’s personal style. But how can you eliminate the opponent bowlers and score runs?

“He kept it so clear and made everything so simple. I think you understand why he was so successful. He didn’t let anything mess with his mind and didn’t really think about anything too technical. He was just thinking about how he was going to score points against whoever he was playing against.”

In a completely different way, this also applies to Rew. He was adept at hockey and squash at school and took advantage of the seamless relationship between King’s College and Somerset: “I used to leave classes at five to four and be at the academy at four.”

His qualities have long been admired in England. After being picked for a county select XI in 2021 at the age of 17, Rew realized he could have a career in the game. The following year he had a fine U-19 World Cup, hitting 95 in the defeat to India in the final.

Put on the glovesPut on the gloves

Rew hopes to build on his success with England U19s by forcing his way into Somerset’s Blast side – Harry Trump/Getty Images

That innings came as a specialist batsman at number 4. Although batting is the more advanced aspect of Rew’s game, he remains committed to the journey behind the stumps that began when, at the age of 11, no one wanted to stay in a club game.

“Mum bought me a pair of Kookaburra gloves from Sports Direct or something. I tried it out and never really looked back,” Rew recalls. “I really enjoyed sticking around and seizing all the opportunities.” His development as a goalkeeper should be accelerated by Shoaib Bashir and Jack Leach bowling together for Somerset.

This summer, Rew expects to remain at No.6 as a keeper-batsman, but he has ambitions to move up. “Even if I hit on four, I’d probably be happy to stay.” He also hopes Somerset, the defending champions, can find a place for him in their T20 Blast side.

“My T20 cricket is not where I would like it to be at the moment. But I will work on that and try to be as good as I can in white ball cricket, which would definitely help my red ball.”

Despite the common refrain that holding can damage a player’s output with the bat, Rew has a different opinion. “Hold on, you’re in the game, you see exactly what’s going on. I think it probably helps my batting if I can see what the wicket is doing,” he says. “I see myself as a batsman, but then I would say I train as much as a goalkeeper. There is certainly enough time to do both.” And there is still plenty of time, Rew is convinced, for batsmen who approach first-class cricket at a more conventional pace.

Leave a Comment