Dom Sibley has come a long way from the little lad who followed his dad and granddad into the team at Ashtead CC in leafy south-west London.
Sibley played his first cricket at the village club close to the magnificent Surrey Hills and went into the Surrey system aged eight. His ability as a player with the technique and temperament to bat for a long time was always clear. In his third game for Surrey, aged just 18, he batted for ten hours to make 242 against Yorkshire at The Oval.
Seven years on from that, he is established at the top of the order in England’s Test team. Sibley’s career trajectory remains very much upward and the catalyst for that, he admits, was “the toughest decision I have ever had to make.”
That decision…whether to leave his native county. Should he leave to prevent his career stalling? Should he stay or should he go? When you face the toughest decision of your life, it’s rather important that you get it right. Dom did.
In the summer of 2017, he joined Warwickshire. Two years later he was a Test cricketer.
“It has all turned out really well, but it was the toughest decision I have ever had to make. When you have grown up at a club, it is a huge decision to leave.Dom Sibley
“I played for Surrey as an eight-year-old and had a brilliant cricket education both there and at Whitgift School. I went to Whitgift for the cricket really, I left my prep school earlier than usual to go there and was really lucky that, in my first two years, we went to Barbados and Perth, Australia, on tours. I was 12 and 13 so that was pretty cool to do.
“At Surrey I was very lucky to be under some great coaches. What stood out for me there was that, as a youngster, you knew it was a massive club with a great history but, when we used to train with the academy down at the George Abbott School, there was no mention of what the first team used to do. It was all about building for the future. I enjoyed that aspect of it and the idea of trying to make our own mark. The academy training with Gareth Townsend and Neil Stewart was unbelievable. All the evenings I spent down there after school shaped the cricketer that I’ve become for sure.
“I owe Surrey a lot but definitely felt it was the right decision for me to move. Even though I wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and no-one was saying I was going to play for England, that was always my ambition and I knew the opportunity was going to be at the top of the order. So when Surrey signed Mark Stoneman, and I was batting at four or five in the championship, I knew it wasn’t doing my chances any good. I wanted to bat at the top of the order and was very lucky to get that opportunity at Warwickshire.”
The move has worked out perfectly. For both the Bears and England, he has flourished, after coming through a sticky period at the start of his first full season at Edgbaston.
“When I came initially on loan in 2017, I did well in the T20s and scored a couple of 90s in the championship, but when I came back in 2018 at first I was a bit too eager,” he said. “I was desperate to prove I was a good player and probably tried a bit too hard and put pressure on myself.
“So I worked really hard and made a few technical changes and they worked well. I finished the season with four hundreds as we won Division Two and it was great to be part of that team triumph. Then I managed to see that form into 2019 which was really pleasing.”
The 2019 season saw Sibley not so much knock on the Test team door as batter it down. His 1,344 championship runs included two double centuries, three centuries and five half-centuries and earned his selection for the winters tours to New Zealand and South Africa.
A match-shaping maiden Test ton in a stunning victory for England at Newlands truly announced Sibley’s arrival on the Test stage. Now, with 12 Tests behind him and an average of 38.11 with two centuries, he is established as the rock at the top of the order, ahead of the Test tours to Sri Lanka and India early next year.
“If you offered me those stats at the start I probably would have taken them,” he said, “but, at the same time, I think I have missed a few opportunities to get big scores.
“It is still early days. I have played only 12 Tests. I feel settled in the England side in terms of being part of the group, because they are a great group to go into and we have managed to win a fair few games while I’ve been involved which has been amazing. But I know I have to keep scoring runs. I just want to prove myself over and over again.”
Test duty will reduce Sibley’s input to Warwickshire for the foreseeable future, but just like England team-mate Chris Woakes, any time Dom comes back to the Bears he will be bursting to help bring success to the side.
He has already banked plenty of runs and good memories at Edgbaston…though none stem from his first appearance there. Sibley’s third championship match for Surrey brought him a record-breaking 242 – his second, against the Bears at Edgbaston, brought him an ‘lbw Barker 0.’
“I remember facing Woakesy in the first over,” Sibley recalls. “Hashim Amla was playing and he had faced Woakesy in international cricket and said ‘he’s decent pace but not rapid’. I faced the first over and thought ‘blimey…and Woakesy’s not rapid!’
“I survived the first over but then in the next Barks swung one into my pads and that was that. That was the game that relegated us from Division One so they weren’t great first memories of Edgbaston for me – a duck and relegation! Luckily, I’ve got a few better ones now.
“I love playing at Edgbaston and while, of course, I want to have a long international career, I really want to be part of success with the Bears too and we are definitely going in the right direction with some really good players coming through. I batted a lot with Rob Yates in 2019 and he did brilliantly against some strong attacks and then last year Dan Mousley did really well when his chances came along. There are a lot of good players coming through the system and I think we can become a really good side.”Dom Sibley
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