To make it in County Cricket it seems that these days, you must tick one or more of the following boxes:
- – be born abroad but with British parents – or maybe just a Scottish granny
– have a famous father who was an international cricketer
– have attended a well-known public school
– have come through a county age-group system, breaking records on the way
Joshua Edward (Josh) Poysden must be the exception that proves the rule.
Josh was born in Sussex.
He attended state schools.
His dad played cricket but at a relatively humble level.
He failed to make it in county age-group cricket.
And yet, now aged 23, he is beginning to make a name for himself with Warwickshire and their alter ego, the Birmingham Bears, as a practitioner of that most difficult of cricketing arts, leg-spin bowling.
Deep Extra Cover‘s Terry Wright talked to Josh at Edgbaston recently to gain an insight into how he has managed to defeat the odds and establish himself at a top county, earning himself a top-notch nickname in the process.
Terry Wright: So, Josh, tell us about your early years
Josh Poysden: Well, I was born in Shoreham in Sussex but actually grew up in Hove, where I went to school. I was always interested in cricket as a boy. It’s the only sport I’ve ever been any good at. I used to go and watch my dad play when I was really young.
TW: Did your dad play to a reasonable standard?
JP: Well, it depends. If you asked him, he would say yes. If you’re asking me, I’ll say not really! He played in the Sussex Invitation League. He wasn’t a leg-spinner. He was a seamer who also slogged it a bit. His main claim to fame that he never shuts up about is that he once got all ten wickets in an innings.
No matter what I’ve done in my cricket career, I’ll go back home and he’ll say “That’s not like a ten-fer is it?”
TW: Did you always want to be a professional cricketer?
Josh: I suppose that was what I wanted when I was really young, say five or six, but it wasn’t realistic until I was much older. I played one year of Sussex age-group cricket, at under-14 level. At that age I just wasn’t as good as the other lads and the next year, probably quite rightly, they didn’t want me. So I played Club cricket, with my dad. I was bowling leg-spin by then. Up until age 12, I kept wicket. But then I tried leg-spin and it seemed to come out all right so I stuck with it.
TW: How did you make your first steps towards a cricketing career?
JP: In my gap year, when I was 18, I took the big decision to go to Australia. I played Grade cricket for Gordon Cricket Club in Sydney. Initially I didn’t do anything special. I started in 5th Grade and worked my way up to 2nd Grade. I was just working hard and enjoying it.
When I came back, I was playing at Brighton & Hove Cricket Club but then I moved to Hastings because I wasn’t getting too many opportunities to bowl in the first team. The captain at Hastings, Jason Finch (whose son plays for Sussex), gave me a chance. I started taking wickets in Club cricket. That year, I played a couple of games for Sussex second team and did OK. So I could begin to see that there was a chance that I might make it.
TW: What were your next steps?
JP: I chose my university with a cricket career in mind. I decided to go to Anglia Ruskin, so I could be part of one of the MCCUs – the six MCC funded university cricket academies. I did a Sports Science degree and played for Cambridge MCCU for the next three years. I saw it as three years where I could train in a good environment and play a higher level of cricket without any pressure on me.
Leg spinners mature late, so if I was going to make it, it was going to be further down the line. It bought me time – three years during which I would also get a degree in case it didn’t work out for any reason, so that I’d have something else to fall back on.
TW: It sounds like you took full advantage of the opportunity.
Josh: Yes, I think so. While I was at Uni, I kept playing the odd game for Sussex second team and for the MCC Universities combined team that played in the Second Team Championship. In my last year, in 2013, I got a trial for the Unicorns and so got to play in the Yorkshire Bank 40 over competition. I played the first two games of the season.
Mind you, in the first game I got whacked by Marcus Trescothick.
I had one over and it went for 24 runs. Then I badly broke my finger and was out for 3 months. I came back at the end of the season and played for the Unicorns again. There were three games left and I did well in them. Against Middlesex at Lord’s, I took 3-33, including the wicket of Eoin Morgan.
From those performances, Phil Oliver the coach put me forward for a trial here at Edgbaston. I played a second team game at the end of the season and did OK so they asked me back at the start of the next year (2014) on trial. I thought I would play in the second team just on a week by week basis. But early in the season, Dougie Brown, the Director of Coaching, gave me the opportunity to move up here and play for the second team every week and also play club cricket for Barnt Green. That gave me a prolonged period of time to establish myself and improve my game, which was perfect for me at that point.
TW: And then you got into the Bears’ first team?
JP: Yes. In the second team, I did OK but I didn’t set the world on fire. But I was always bowling in the nets to the boys and it came out well. So I got a first team opportunity last year in the last group T20 game against Leicestershire and I played in maybe five of the 50 over one-dayers as well. I was in the squad for the Royal London Finals Day at Lord’s. For someone who was still just on trial to be in those situations was fantastic – I was loving life. At the end of last season I didn’t get offered a contract but Dougie told me that if I came next season, I’d be involved so I went back to Sydney again and played First Grade for Gordon.
TW: Tell me about playing grade cricket in Sydney.
JP: Playing for Gordon is very different from Club cricket here. It’s a bit like second team cricket here. The wickets are good. It’s played in a very hard spirit and everyone trains hard to make the most of their ability which is maybe a touch different to Club cricket here. I played a lot of two-day cricket there. It’s been an opportunity to play really hard cricket and has been a fantastic learning curve for me.
At a young age, going away and bowling lots of overs, it was a bit of a no-brainer.
I’ll go away again this winter. I’m not going back to Gordon unfortunately so I’m trying to find another Club in Sydney at the moment. I just want to bowl and bowl and bowl.
Sidenote – the affection that Josh has for Gordon CC is mutual – their website explains that because they have signed Will Smith for 2015-16, they will not be able to offer Josh a contract. But their website says:
“With Will being our 1st Grade Pommie import for this season, it does unfortunately mean than the much-loved Josh Poysden won’t be gracing our shores this coming season. It’s no secret this webmaster has enjoyed watching Josh over the years – from the 2009/10 season when he began in 5th Grade and took 35 poles on his way to 2nd Grade, before his successful return in the 2013/14 season, taking 31 poles @ 28.
“Last season was unfortunately less fruitful for Josh, taking 22 wickets @ 38, with a handful more in the T20 matches. We certainly hope Josh will return in seasons to come to take many more wickets at Chatswood Oval – and for Warwickshire.”
TW: How has it gone this season so far?
JP: I came back from Australia and went to Barbados pre-season which was a brilliant trip. Then I got offered a contract when we got back here, so I was over the moon. I’ve played as a regular in the Birmingham Bears’ T20 side and done pretty well. I’ve also made my Warwickshire first-class debut, ironically against Sussex. But on a dead pitch, it was hard work.
Sidenote – it was indeed a tough debut as Sussex piled up over 600, with four players making hundreds. Josh toiled through 40.4 overs, taking 1/165. He took some consolation when DEC pointed out that, on his debut in 1932, also against Sussex at Edgbaston in July, Warwickshire’s greatest leg-spin bowler, Eric Hollies, took 1/150 off 27 overs. He went on to take 2323 first-class wickets.
TW: How have your skills and technique developed over the last few years?
JP: I was at Uni with Paul Best and also Zafar Ansari – we were all in the same year. We’d all play together and learn off each other and then have specialist spin sessions with a coach called Chris Brown. Also, whenever I play against or come across a leg spinner I try to speak to them. For example last winter in Sydney I bowled in the nets against South Africa and Imran Tahir was playing for them.
Here at Edgbaston, Jeets (Jeetan Patel) helps me – not so much technical but tactical. Richo (Warwickshire bowling coach Alan Richardson) as well, he’s helped me pick up some technical bits and bobs.
TW: Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your career to date?
Josh: That’s a difficult one. There’s not that many leg spin coaches around so I’m pretty well self-made. But when I was young, we had a coach at Brighton & Hove called Dick Roberts, who’s sadly passed away now, who was a real help to me. When I moved cricket clubs when I was 18, the captain of Hastings, Jason Finch, was a really good influence on me. When I was at uni, Steve Perryman was our coach.
Then here, there’s Dougie, Richo, Jeets, so it’s hard to single out just one person. And when I was young I used to spend some time around Mushtaq Ahmed. I used to watch him bowling. It wasn’t technical. It was how he bowls and about what he controls, about doing the right things and even about being a good person and everything else will look after itself.
TW: So how many different deliveries have you got?
I reckon I’ve got five. There’s the leg spinner, the googly, the top spinner that dips and bounces a bit more, and a new one that I learnt off Imran Tahir but I’ve named it myself. It’s called DoBBy. You kind of push back on it so the seam goes backwards.
It’s a bit like a flipper. The ball sort of floats so the batter might think it’s going to be a short ball but it keeps going and tends to swing in quite a bit. I’m still working on it. I tried a couple yesterday [v Sussex] but they didn’t come out great. Then there’s the flipper. I can bowl it but I can’t control it so I wouldn’t bowl it in a game yet.
TW: How’s it like bowling in a first class game as against a T20 game?
JP: It’s very different. In T20, it’s almost like trying to show off because the batsman is coming hard at you, so you have to bowl a lot of variations. I bowl a lot of googlies, mix it up. I know they’re running at me, so the more doubt they have in their mind the better. You’ve got your protection out so if it comes out wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Whereas in four day cricket it’s about having complete control and mastery of your stock ball. You try to give the batter nothing.
TW: Isn’t it a bit scary, bowling in T20?
JP: No, not really. If you can bowl two dot balls, the pressure’s on the batsman, whereas in four day cricket it can be hard, if you haven’t got complete control of your stock ball the batsman can sit back and wait for the bad delivery. So for young spinners, white ball cricket can be the best way in. If you look around the County Championship at the moment, apart from batters who bowl a bit, there’s only one out and out leg-spinner playing. That’s Adil Rashid, but all the other leg spinners, like Waller, D’Oliveira, Beer, they play almost exclusively white ball cricket.
TW: And how do you bowl on different pitches – say, a slow pitch compared with one that has a bit of life and bounce?
JP: Well, on a slow pitch, I think your length has to be a bit fuller. If the batsmen are allowed to get on the back foot, it’s easy to play so I try to get them driving. On a quicker wicket, you’ve got a bigger margin for error, so if you’re a bit short, the ball may still skid through. On a slow pitch it may turn or skid through but the batsman has time to adjust.
TW: Do you have any regrets about not playing for Sussex?
JP: Not really. I’ve loved my time up here – I love the people, I love Birmingham as a place and I love playing at Edgbaston. So everything has ended up well. I’m at a county I really like playing for and it’s a big county that’s always competing for trophies. So there’s no place I’d rather be than here at the moment.
TW: We’ve talked about your bowling. But how’s your batting?
JP: It’s OK. I try and work hard on it. I’ve got a few runs in Club cricket this year. So I definitely aspire to be an all-rounder. That might be the difference between me getting picked or not. At the moment, I’ve got a long way to go but I’m going to work hard on it. Here at Edgbaston, a lot of people in the first team can bat so if you want to be a nailed on first team cricketer, you’ve got to improve. And fielding as well. From a couple of years ago, my bowling has always been at a decent level but my batting and fielding lagged behind. They’ve come on a lot but I want to keep working on them so that I can make a difference.
TW: What do you do when you’re not playing cricket?
JP: Well, this summer, I’ve not had much time for anything else. I’ve got a girlfriend from Australia who’s over at the moment. I’ve been playing a bit of golf. And I do a lot of reading, to be fair. I get stick from the boys but I do read a lot of cricket books. I think it’s important to learn about the game so I read a whole mix of stuff.
I don’t know if you’ve heard the term cricket badger, which is like a cricket geek, but I think I’m a bit like that.
At the moment, I’m reading a book about the history of English leg-spinners. It’s interesting reading. I’ve read all about Eric Hollies and that googly that dismissed Bradman.
TW: And are there any at that second team level at Edgbaston about whom you can say: “They are going to make it?”
JP: Yes, there’s a few but especially [England under-19 batsman] Aaron Thomason. He’s so young and some of the stuff he’s done already makes you think he’s got a future in the game.
TW: How would you describe your own ambitions?
JP: When I was 18, I was way behind everyone else, so my ambition was just to get a contract somewhere and then re-evaluate from there. At that stage, it seemed a very unrealistic goal. But now, my next ambition is to play for England, though I know it’s a long way off and there’s a lot of things I’ve got to do before that.
The way in may be through T20 but if you’re working hard, you can stake a claim in all forms of the game. We’re talking maybe five, maybe ten years down the line. You need to be working towards something, even if it’s very ambitious.
TW: Josh, many thanks for talking to me. We wish you well in your career – only another 2322 wickets to equal Eric Hollies!