Not since the Eighties have England selected a frontline Gloucestershire batsman for Test cricket but there is a good chance that statistic will be consigned to history this summer.
James Bracey has quietly made his case for a place in the opening match against New Zealand at Lord’s on June 2, should injuries — Ben Stokes is ruled out and Dom Sibley doubtful — or loss of form dictate.
Bracey, who turns 24 next week, celebrated a fourth half-century in five County Championship innings against Hampshire on Saturday to take his tally for the summer to 334 runs at an average of 83.5: numbers that indicate a readiness to follow in the footsteps of Bill Athey, whose last appearance came in 1988, into England’s top three.
James Bracey has quietly made his case for a place in the first Test against New Zealand
Mentally, he feels ready too. One of the questions posed to players when they are plucked from the county ranks is how they will cope with a new environment.
It is not an unknown for Bracey, though, after he spent swathes of the past 10 months as a reserve in various biosecure bubbles here and in Sri Lanka and India.
‘I’ve had conversations with people in my family and when they’ve asked me how trips have gone, I say that the biggest thing I’ve taken from it all is that — if I’m lucky enough to be selected — I feel I’d be able to stand up and do it,’ Bracey reflected.
‘When you first walk into the England dressing-room there are all sorts of thoughts about what it might be like and you have no real idea of what it takes to be there and whether you’re good enough. But the experiences I’ve had have made me realise I’ve got the game. I’m confident I could do a job, for sure.
‘I wouldn’t say I’m an established member of the set-up because I haven’t played but not a lot of lads get the exposure around the group before they play that I’ve had.
The 24-year-old has scored four half-centuries in five County Championship innings
‘What I’ve learnt is that to be the best takes a lot of hard work. In the England squad, the ones who are considered among the best in the world — Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler — apply themselves to their trade exceptionally. They hit loads of balls, keep themselves really fit and cope with the pressure really well.’
The former Loughborough University player has been at the forefront of the first Gloucestershire team to win their opening two Championship matches since 1931, upsetting Surrey, champions three years ago, and perennial runners-up Somerset, prior to taking on early pacesetters Hampshire.
‘You hear what people say about Craig Overton, Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas, brilliant bowlers, and you see people on the Championship highlights being hit on the pad or nicking off against them,’ Bracey added.
‘They are internationally experienced players and I appreciated the challenge. You only get better and go higher up in the game if you can score runs against these sort of guys.’
Bracey has done so in a methodical manner atypical of the Twenty20 era but one completely in tune with the template England coach Chris Silverwood favours for his Test team. His first-innings 65 at the Ageas Bowl spanned more than three and a half hours.
‘It’s a natural course for a lot of people to play aggressively but I’ve always wanted to put together a good technique and valued a solid defence,’ Bracey said.
Gloucestershire have won their opening two Championship matches for first time since 1931
‘When I first came into first-class cricket maybe I lacked a few shots but it worked for me to bat time, score my runs by accumulating and grinding some people down.’
The ruthless devotion to crease occupation is reminiscent of Kumar Sangakkara, a natural role model for the left-hander as a wicketkeeper who bats at the top of the order. The dual responsibilities have not created an issue with fatigue so far this season, although his feet are being iced daily because of a toe badly bruised when kicking the bed during a middle-of-the-night toilet trip.
It is for his primary suit of batting, however, that he wants to be judged — and it has put him in consideration for selection this summer.