Rory Burns believes the injury that curtailed his winter with the Test team may prove “a good thing” for English cricket in the long term.
Burns sustained serious ligament damage when playing football in warm-up the day before the second Test against South Africa. He subsequently underwent surgery and was ruled out of the remaining three Tests in that series and the two upcoming Tests in Sri Lanka. Having just established himself in the team – he had made two Test centuries since August and at least one half-century in four of his previous five Tests – it was a cruel blow both for Burns and for England.
But the injury had further repercussions. As the latest in a saga of football-related injuries – Jonny Bairstow and Joe Denly were among the other members of the England squad to have sustained injuries in a similar manner – it led to the England management banning football in warm-ups. Several of the first-class counties are understood to have taken similar decisions ahead of the 2020 season.
Now, as Burns contemplates his comeback, he admits he will not be playing football again. And he reflects that Ashley Giles, a long-term critic of the idea of playing football as a warm-up activity, was probably right all along. Giles is the director of England’s men’s teams.
“Have I ruined it [playing football] for everyone?” Burns says with a smile. “I think I have ruined it for the county circuit. The majority of it, anyway, and certainly the England boys. But I don’t think there’s too many arguments from too many places.
“While I am still a professional cricketer I probably won’t play football again. It’s taken four months out of a career and the stage I had got myself to where I was playing quite nicely.
“It was an avoidable setback and when you get something that’s avoidable like that you probably re-evaluate whether you want to waste your time doing four months in a gym rehabbing or being on a plane to Sri Lanka.
“Was Giles right all along? Potentially. It’s probably taken something like this to re-evaluate it; something like this to put it into perspective. It shows what the downsides of football are, I suppose. There are obviously a lot of plus points to football but I don’t think I will be playing it any time again soon.
“It was a bit freakish. Most people roll their ankle on the outside; I did going over to the inside. I think my studs got caught in the floor. But if that’s the catalyst to put things right and maybe say you don’t need it and keep the boys on the park it’s probably a good thing in a weird way.
“If none of those guys get injured moving forward because football has been moved out of it then I think that’s a positive thing for English cricket.”
The good news for Burns is that he looks on course to be fit for the start of the county season. While he hasn’t picked up a bat as yet, he will go on Surrey’s pre-season tour to the UAE from March 17 and is expected to return to their team for their opening Championship fixture against Somerset at The Oval starting on April 19. Barring a significant dip in form, it would be a surprise if he did not return to the Test team when England host West Indies from the start of June.
As a player who has had his fair share of ups and downs in the game, Burns was a natural choice to address the 50 or so young players attending the PCA’s rookie camp earlier this week. Among other things, he spoke of the need for persistence – it took him five successive seasons of scoring 1,000 first-class runs to convince the selectors to pick him – and the dangers of social media.
In particular, he looks back to the aftermath of the Ireland Test – when he scored 6 in each innings – and the savaging he took from some sections of the media. Mark Waugh memorably said Burns “looked like a nightwatchman” and suggested: “don’t think he’ll be playing the Ashes.” Burns responded with a maiden Test century in the first Ashes Test a few days later.
“The thing that annoyed me about the Ireland game was that people judge you very quickly – be it fans or whatever – on a snapshot of your career,” he says. “I’d had seven years of batting in first-class cricket that was overwritten in seven Tests.
“In the County Championship you don’t get that level of speculation. I don’t avoid social media, but you have to taper it to the voices you want to listen to. I still had it open when I started my Test career and I didn’t read all of it but you can’t help it when it’s at the top of your mentions… Tom Noddy down the road has given his twopence.
“The key is: you’re never as good as you think you are when you’re doing well, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you’re not. You’re always somewhere in the middle and you just bounce along. It’s remembering that. Sticking to the fundamentals of what works for you.”