It all started in a driveway in Norwich. Olly Stone's rise into the senior England ranks last winter was fuelled by a brilliant 2018 season for Warwickshire. His 43 championship wickets at 12.21 runs apiece came courtesy of bowling of genuine and perfectly-targeted pace.
It was thrilling to watch and confirmed both the high opinion of Stone that good judges had had for some years and that surgery to correct a serious knee injury he sustained three years ago was a total success.
Since arriving at Edgbaston from Northamptonshire in 2016, when still early in recovery from that injury, Stone’s career has developed, he admits, like a dream come true.
I always dreamed about playing cricket for England and I knew if I didn’t do the work to get fit again that wouldn’t happen.Olly Stone
Now fit again following a back injury which ruled him out of the first half of this season, the 25-year-old this week rejoined the England squad ahead of the inaugural Test match with Ireland at Lord’s.
For Stone, as gentle and likeable off the field as he is hostile on it, it has been quite a journey – and it all started in that driveway.
“I started down the side of our driveway at home in Norwich with my brothers Ben and Joe,” he recalls. “It was Joe who taught me how to bowl fast and he ended up on the receiving end. It was always entertaining down the side of the house because they would bounce me and then I would return the favour. There was no restriction on short-pitched bowling!
“However we had to bowl the right length because the pitch went from concrete to gravel halfway down. If you hit the gravel the ball would just roll along the floor. It got to the stage, as we grew older and bigger, that the pitch wasn’t quite long enough so we asked Dad to extend it and he extended it another metre for us.”
So the seeds of a pace-career were sown in Norfolk, but it was a few years later in Northamptonshire, when his professional career was in its infancy and stuttering a little, that Stone decided it was time to get serious about bowling fast.
“A few lads I played against growing up always said I was quite quick at Under 11s and 12s but I never thought I was,” he said. “Then I had a few injuries and it probably wasn’t until I was 19 that I started thinking seriously about it.
“I got to a stage where I was in and out of the Northants side and was worried about getting dropped. In the end, I thought ‘look, there’s no point in going out there and worrying – just go out there and let it go.’ I got a bit more confident and felt there was a bit more pace in there, and it was from there that I realised that I had a bit more in the tank that I was showing – and that I could actually do it consistently.
“I had a few winters on the England fast-bowling programme and that bulked me up a little bit and I got to know my body more. That was when I thought ‘this is what I need to do.’
“I broke into the Northants side when there were a few injuries but as a young lad you are a bit nervous and tentative. A couple of times I was left out and a bit disappointed so in the end I went back to the nets and into the second team and just thought ‘I’ll let it go and see how it comes out.’
Thankfully it came out quite nicely and then I worked quite a bit with Phil Rowe at Northants to get my body ready which was vital.”
Then came the move to Warwickshire which began with the best part of a year in rehab from knee surgery. And, never mind the natural ability which has elevated Stone into England’s squads, it was the mental strength and discipline that he showed at this time, when facing up to a potentially career-threatening injury, that impressed all who dealt with him.
“I remember the day I had my operation – June 12, 2016, though it seems like yesterday – and I was snapping at mum and dad,” he said. “But I always dreamed about playing cricket for England and I knew if I didn’t do the work to get fit again that wouldn’t happen.
“So that was a big incentive and the support I had from Warwickshire was amazing and one of the reasons I got through it all. I was very lucky that the club took me on and backed me even though the first year of my contract was going to be pretty much non-existent. To have that sort of backing was brilliant. I can’t thank them enough and am so thankful for the time they have put into me and the expertise of Gerhard Mostert, Chris Armstrong and Jack Murfin and also the rehab facilities which we are lucky enough to tap into at Aston Villa.
“Then it went really well for me in 2018. The consistency side of it was very pleasing because I had worked very hard on that. I was just glad to be back out on the field. It was very disappointing to then get injured again right at the start of the West Indies tour but I am fit again now, it was great to get back on the field with the Bears in the last few weeks and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
At the start of this year, Stone underlined his commitment to the Bears by signing a new four-year contract up to 2022.
“It was great to sign the new deal,” Stone said. “It’s something I was always looking to do and I am just looking forward to an exciting next four years with the Bears. It has been a crazy two years but the hard work is paying off. To break into the England side is a dream come true and hopefully I can keep fulfilling it and take a lot of wickets for England and the Bears.”