From left-arm tennis ball spin to country’s fastest bowler - the Tymal Mills story
When an ultra cocksure Chris Gayle strode out in Somerset colours at Hove for a NatWest Twenty/20 Blast encounter against hosts Sussex earlier this month, yet another trademark big knock was anticipated.
Seemingly anxious to stop the shortest format’s all-time record run-scorer before he could get up a head of match-defining steam, Sussex skipper Luke Wright handed the ball to Tymal Mills in the second over.
The first blow in the power versus pace duel was struck by Gayle, who top-edged Mills’ second ball over the slips for four.
But then, with the West Indian legend looking set, his bails were sent somersaulting by Mills’ next delivery, which was clocked at an eye-watering 93.3mph.
It was the first of two wickets for the left-armer that evening and enough for the England selectors to bow to the clamour that had been growing ever since Mills’ speed had sent shockwaves through his fellow countrymen during a pre-Ashes warm-up encounter three years earlier.
On June 13, for the first time, his name was included in the England T20 squad for the one-off clash against Sri Lanka next Tuesday.
Yet, while the majority of the 23-year-old’s team-mates will have taken the academy route from a young age to reach the international stage, Mills has a different story to tell.
Born in the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury, Mills was raised 180 miles south in Brandon. It was there he would attend Breckland Middle School, an establishment known particularly for its successful basketball teams.
Cricket, meanwhile, was never high on the agenda, neither at the school nor within the local area.
That would change, though, when former Suffolk cricketer David Snoad offered up his coaching services, albeit in testing circumstances.
“There was no club in Brandon and we had no facilities to speak of,” said Snoad.
“We had to make do with training and going through drills behind the leisure centre.
“It was the equivalent of jumpers for goalposts, but the kids seemed to enjoy it.”
Sports fanatic Mills, aged 13, was one of those who attended the sessions and immediately showed genuine potential.
“I was impressed with Tymal straight away. Funnily enough, he was actually bowling left-arm spin with a tennis ball early on,” continued Snoad.
“You could see that he was so keen on sport. He was dedicated, enthusiastic and never gave up.
“I could see immediately that he had all the key bowling attributes. He was doing things others couldn’t.
“You can teach kids to run in and hit middle stump, but you cannot teach them to run in fast.
“Tymal had the second part, so it was a case of working backwards with him, without taking away any of that pace.
Mills started to develop at such a rate that he soon outgrew Snoad’s ‘jumpers for goalposts’ set-up.
The youngster needed competitive action and, following a stint with Snoad’s former club Tuddenham, Mills linked up with Mildenhall.
At this point, few were tipping the extras-laden 15-year-old to go on to represent his country, yet for all of the waywardness, Mills’ velocity was making an impression.
“There were times when it seemed he had no idea where the ball was going,” reflected now Mildenhall captain Ben Shepperson.
“But he was built to bowl fast even then, and when he got it right it was a scary prospect.
“Nobody put their hands up to face him in the nets, and if you did, it was a case of making sure you came out in one piece.”
It is a similar version of events for Christian Appleford, who taught Mills at the Mildenhall College Academy.
“I once went in the nets with Tymal and what a mistake that was,” said the teacher.
“He was only bowling with one of those orange balls, but it hit me on the thigh and left a big mark.”
As the progression continued, Mills captured the attention of County Championship outfit Essex.
The journey to Chelmsford was arduous and one that left Mills reliant on public transport and lifts.
Yet, it is those that helped Mills along the way who believe such a trip, as well as his mental toughness, provided the grounding which has left him on the brink of England honours, even when a well-documented mysterious back injury threatened to derail things.
“Tymal was up at 5am working on the market, came to school and then headed off on buses and trains to Essex,” offered up Appleford.
“That shows how dedicated he was to making it. He is a grounded, humble lad and no-one deserves this chance more.”
Snoad added: “It is a bit of a rags to riches story because he was such a late bloomer.
“Tymal has always been level headed and is still always looking to improve.
“A lot of people would have given up when the medical teams could not diagnose his back problem, but not him.
“He is a confident boy and has everything he needs to reach the pinnacle.”
If Mills is given the nod at the Ageas Bowl next week, his main focus, as you would expect, will be on making such an impact that he becomes a regular fixture in the squad.
However, he will undoubtedly also find a moment to reflect upon where it all began.
“The list of people I have to thank is huge,” admitted the man himself.
“I enjoyed every minute of playing for Tuddenham, and when I needed to move to Mildenhall, there was no drama.
“So many people offered up their time and lifts for me. I am hugely grateful.
“I know I used to bowl wildly at times and give away extras, but the captains never took me off.
“I just went with what I knew and loved being there.”