Day after day, with the occasional evening thrown in, Stu Whittingham devoted himself to one drill after another, even to the point where repetition threatened to sap his will.
Cracking county cricket, with the many chasing few jobs, requires dedication but this was devotion above the norm. A fast bowling action is laden with mechanical parts and then infused with power. The complexities require careful nurturing and even unstinting practice does not always make perfect.
Progressing through each of the age groups at Sussex, he was never so prodigious as to be indispensable. “I’d have one year very involved and another not in their plans,” the now 23-year-old recounts. The summer after spending Scotland’s stint at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup in the UAE as an unused spectator, he found himself with a rare chance to impress in the Second XI in the company of an old hand.
Jon Lewis, he of a solitary England Test cap and an unlucky 13 ODI appearances, was playing out the dying embers of his career but saw something that piqued his interest. “This guy is very raw, he’s not played much cricket but he’s got potential,” he advised the coaching staff at Hove.
“He told me to do everything he said and even if it was a long shot, we’d make a go of it,” Whittingham reveals. “So over the next 18 months, I worked hard and it helped me get a junior pro contract. And then last year, it was time to repay their faith and when I got picked in the first team, it was great I did well. It was just a shame that I picked up a disc bulge injury in my back half-way through the season. But hopefully, this year, I’ll get a proper run.”
So far, so promising. Enough that he is clutching at a regular first-choice place with Sussex, a spell interrupted by a long-awaited senior call-up by the Scots for two 50-over contests against Sri Lanka, the first of which takes place today at the neutral setting of Kent’s Beckenham ground.
The accent does not make him an obvious Caledonian recruit. Born in Derby, he has lived near the south coast for much of his life and childhood visits to the faraway north were few and far between.
“My granddad and his brother both got jobs in Derby so everyone in the family had gone [from Scotland],” he says. “But I felt very Scottish. My granddad and nan both had strong Glasgow accents and they always told me I couldn’t forget about that side of me. And when my Dad was in the army, he was in a Scottish regiment, the Queen’s Own Highlanders. So he had his kilt.”
It was a matter of family pride when he got the summons for the national squad at junior level. Enough to cement ties but insufficient to make himself quite at home. “At an impressionable age, that taught me a lot,” he says. “It made me understand you can’t always get picked and that’s helped me not to overreact or have a strop if I’m dropped.”
With Con deLange leading Scotland out this morning before Kyle Coetzer reassumes the captaincy tomorrow, their team will look to make the most of a rare crack at a Test nation. The farcical nature of international cricket dictates the fixtures hold no official status, relegated to mere friendlies as the tourists tune up for the Champions Trophy.
The incentives, for the near-locals, are no less for such quirks. “I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do,” says Whittingham. “I wasn’t too worried about the ODI status. It’s Scotland playing Sri Lanka. It’s a great opportunity for us.”