As a Warwickshire fast bowler Olly Stone has a lot to live up to and he has taken a leaf out of the great Bob Willis’s book in forging his own international career.
Like the late Willis, the newest England paceman out of Edgbaston has turned to hypnotherapy to prepare him for matches and believes the benefits could be recognised in an impressive second Test appearance of his career in Chennai over the winter.
Stone, 27, emerged from a catalogue of injuries to claim match figures of four for 68 in the second match of the series defeat by India, impressing with his sustained hostility in unhelpful conditions.
Olly Stone, 27, has revealed he uses hypnotherapy to improve himself as a fast bowler
‘With my battles with injury, I’ve worked quite hard on the mental side of the game, just in terms of being able to relax. I’ve always enjoyed playing but you work so hard to get fit and then when you get out there and stuff doesn’t go your way you can feel in a negative state,’ said Stone.
‘Also, there are times on the field when the beans are going and you get in the battle as a fast bowler, then you lose that concentration and don’t stick to what has worked for you in the past. So being able to go out on the pitch and treat an international as any other game rather than big it up is important.’
Stone began working with therapist Peter Marshall last year and continued weekly chats via Zoom throughout England’s bubble life in Southampton and the winter tours in Asia.
‘I have sessions in which I just chill out for a half-hour and others which are more cricket-focused, in which we go through a script of scenarios around how it feels when you bowl your best ball. So when you arrive at the top of your mark for the first time, it doesn’t feel like it’s the start of your spell but your third or fourth over,’ he said.
Stone said the hypnotherapy ‘has helped a lot’ in his preparation, as has working on his action
‘I feel it’s something that’s helped a lot so it would be stupid to throw it away now just because I have had a winter of consistent cricket. It would be wrong for me to think that I’ve nailed everything.’
Stone also credits a couple of technical changes made by his county bowling coach and England’s winter locum, Graeme Welch, for improvement.
A regular training drill in which he releases the ball from within two sets of seven-foot poles discourages the collapse of his action in delivery, while they have also countered a tendency to lean back and put pressure on his spine. A by-product of the work to streamline and keep him upright has been improved seam position.
It has contributed to a genuine excitement for the 2021 domestic season, which begins a week behind his Warwickshire colleagues. These days, due to his ECB bowling contract, Stone’s schedule is dictated centrally and so he will make his season debut against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on April 15, playing four of the six County Championship matches before the first Test of the summer against New Zealand.
With Chris Woakes and Sam Curran out of the equation for Lord’s on June 2 due to Indian Premier League commitments and uncertainty over Jofra Archer’s availability, Stone should be in the mix.
Stone (left) has a strong chance of featuring in England’s first test against New Zealand in June
‘Selfishly it’s better for me that they’re away because it’s less competition but I also feel that, if I can put some performances together, even if they did happen to be around I could warrant my place in the side,’ said Stone.
‘I told myself that playing a Test over the winter was a tick in the box but after performing like I did it was frustrating not to play one of the following two Tests. It’s made me even more determined to get back in the England side.’
One of the challenges for a bowler whose ability to hit the 90-mile-per-hour mark has earmarked him for a role in next winter’s Ashes is to prove his body is now robust enough to cope with the rigours of regular first-class matches after featuring in just five over the past two and a half years.
Since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament jumping to celebrate his dismissal of Moeen Ali – his final act as a Northamptonshire player – a man who prides himself on ‘giving 100 per cent all the time’ has been sidelined by two stress fractures in his back, a side strain, and a hamstring problem.
But the last few months have provided confidence that his name can feature among the out-and-out quick bowlers England take down under next winter.
‘That’s the tool that has got me here. I know you have to have the skill and the control, but the pace factor is always a good thing to have,’ he added.
‘Even this winter, on turning pitches, having the ability to unsettle the batsmen can give you a point of difference.
‘As fast bowlers, we all have a sneaky look at the big screen when the speeds are shown, I am not going to lie, but the nature of it is that sometimes you will eke out a few more miles an hour than others.’