‘I have that desire to play Test cricket again’: James Bracey is keen to put his summer woes behind him as he sets his sights on forcing his way back into Joe Root’s team after hitting an eye-catching century for England Lions against Australia A
- Bracey made two appearances for England against New Zealand in the summer
- The wicketkeeper struggled with the bat and gloves as England lost the series
- He is now with the England Lions, and scored 113 against Australia A recently
- The 24-year-old has ambitions to get back into the England team in the future
English cricket didn’t have much to celebrate in Brisbane last week. But from the wreckage of defeats for the Test side at the Gabba and the England Lions a few miles north at Ian Healy Oval emerged a reason to smile.
Even as the Lions slipped to a 112-run loss against Australia A on Sunday, James Bracey scored a high-class century against an attack full of international experience. And since he’s only 24, it may yet be remembered as the start of the next phase of his career.
The first phase, crammed into a painful fortnight in June, left Bracey wondering whether his chance would ever come again.
James Bracey caught the eye with a classy century against Australia A for England Lions
A late inclusion for two Tests against New Zealand after Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes tore a hamstring slipping in the Oval dressing-room, Bracey began with ducks at Lord’s and Edgbaston, managed eight runs in all at an average of 2.67, and struggled behind the stumps with the early-season dip and swerve.
The reaction to his woes was not universally kind, and Bracey felt overwhelmed. Back in county cricket, 10 more championship innings with Gloucestershire brought only two half-centuries and five successive single-figure scores. Had he blown it for good?
‘I had a bad couple of games in the two games where I wouldn’t have wanted to,’ he said after his careful 113 from 295 balls against Australia A. ‘That’s the best way of looking at it. I still know I’m not a bad player.
‘I’m not a bad batsman, even though I averaged two. I’m not a bad keeper, even though I dropped a few balls. I’m trying to create a self-belief that looks beyond that, and it’s starting to come to fruition.’
He will hope he is back on track after a difficult summer when he got a duck on his Test debut
It helped that the England set-up didn’t lose faith. And while Foakes had the gloves on this trip – and helped the man who replaced him against New Zealand to add 111 for the sixth wicket as the Lions fought in vain to avoid defeat – Bracey repaid them with his seventh first-class century.
‘It’s the first time I’ve been back in an England or an ECB environment,’ he said. ‘Even though I’m confident in the surroundings, it was a little bit nerve-racking. How would I respond to that?’
The question of whether he was good enough to hack Test cricket ‘dipped in and out’. But he added: ‘It’s about getting that confirmation that you’re good enough, having something that goes beyond what the media say, what opposition say, what everyone around you says.
‘I’m really pleased with how it’s gone, really happy with where my head’s at currently. And hopefully that continues into the new year and the new county season, where I can continue to score runs and start to rebuild.’
There was certainly little self-doubt about the moment which took him to three figures, as he advanced on leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson – who has been drafted in Australia’s 14-man squad for Thursday’s second Test at Adelaide – and launched him over long-on for six. His technique, he believes, has never been the issue.
So what exactly went wrong against New Zealand? Bracey admits he struggled to cope with the media attention, though he believes he is better placed now. But there was a deeper malaise within his own game, despite the good impression he made on team-mates during his stint in the Covid bubble in the summer of 2020.
Bracey has admitted that he wasn’t happy with how he performed when he played for England
He still wants to prove himself and get back into the England Test team in the future
‘It was generally just the cricket I played at the time,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t happy with how I did. After all the build-up and the time I’d spent in that environment, it just felt like a bit of an anticlimax.’
For the moment, he is flying back to England, preparing for the new season and trying not to fret about winning back his Test place.
‘I want to go as far as I can, but I’ve learned that can be unhealthy at times. After what has happened, it’s good for me to relax. If that opportunity does crop up this year, next year, two years down the line, I’ll try and enjoy it more for what it is, rather than put that pressure on myself.
‘If I continue to put labels and targets on things and put everything on trying to get back in the Test team, it wouldn’t be good for me or my game.
‘I have that desire to play Test cricket again, and hopefully that happens sooner rather than later. If it doesn’t, I’ll keep working and see where my career takes me.’
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