April 13, 2024

English champion Tom Hartley welcomes Mail Sport to his family's garden center on Merseyside to talk greenhouses and India and learn from Nathan Lyon in Lancashire

  • Tom Hartley enjoyed one of his most memorable experiences earlier this year
  • He beat India in the first Test with a brilliant seven for 62 in Hyderabad
  • Mail Sport joined the England spinner at his family's garden center on Merseyside

It's 8am on Easter Monday, and Tom Hartley is wearing his ensemble. Not for the training session Lancashire had planned in preparation for the County Championship season starting on Friday – the wet weather spoiled that – but for the shift in his other job.

His jacket bears the name Hartleys rather than Hartley, and England's most prolific winter bowler had spent several hours around the three-acre family-run nursery on Merseyside by the time Mail Sport caught up with him.

Cricket remains on the agenda later in the day, but the deliveries will be sent out in a homemade net built in the middle of one of the greenhouses a dozen years ago by his father Bill, a champion European athlete in the 1970s, rather than at Old Trafford.

Hartley, 24, made his own mark on the British sporting landscape earlier this year with one of the most memorable debuts in Test history, leading India to a first Test defeat by an impressive seven for 62 in Hyderabad, ending what would become A disciplinary tour of England's Ben Stokes with 22 wickets.

Not that one of the most consistent individuals in county cricket – pun intended – is expected to feature for the Test side this summer, or even for Lancashire in the opening weeks of the Division One Championship given the presence of Jack Leach on the international scene and the Aussie's winter signing. Nathan Lyon respectively.

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Mail Sport joined England player Tom Hartley at his family's garden center on Merseyside

“Bowling is tough in England, especially in April,” says Hartley. 'I am still young. What happened in India was great, but you have to pause and not just expect to be selected again.

“There are people, especially Litchi, who are better than me. As much as it will be fun to play, I know how much I need to learn before I can really move forward.

Hartley's hands-on approach to a sport where he did not make much progress until the age of 21 was revealed in his plans for the opening weeks of the summer.

If he is unable to convince Lancashire to select him as their all-rounder at seven, he will still be around to be mentored by Lyon, a finger-spinner with 530 Test wickets, rather than looking for a loan move.

“He's someone I'll be watching a lot, and from what our coach Dale Benkenstein has told me, he's got quite a few tricks up his sleeve,” Hartley adds. “Hopefully it will allow me to see them and maybe talk to me a little bit. If I play, that's great, but if I don't play, there's someone I can learn a lot from.”

“It's the same for me with cricket in general. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, I'll come and work in the greenhouses. I love the opportunities that cricket and travel bring, but as much as I enjoy that, I enjoy working here too.”

Since the briefest of interrogations by England coach Brendon McCullum after his first winter in England – “The only thing Baz really said was that he was going to take that at the start of the trip and I just agreed with him” – he pushed the spinner with his left arm. He returns himself to home life, drawing on 73-year-old Bill's knowledge to prepare for when he inherits a business that is in its sixth generation from the Hartleys.

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“My father knows everything there is to know, but he keeps it all in his head, so I was trying to get that out of him, and you only learn by doing,” he explains. “Some plants don't like too much water, some like too much sun, and some don't.”

The left-arm spinner has brought himself back into home life, benefiting from his 73-year-old father, Bill (right), and a lifetime of knowledge
Hartley will remain at Lancashire to be mentored by Nathan Lyon (pictured) if he cannot persuade the county to select him as an all-rounder at seven.
Hartley has a practical approach to a sport where he did not achieve much success until the age of 21.

Hartley Sr, a former Commonwealth Games hurdler and relay runner, accelerated his son's cricket journey when – shortly after reading Matthew Syed's book Bounce, which tells how 24/7 facilities In the guise of several world champion table tennis players from two streets in Reading – he set about constructing the concrete floor for the net located a few hundred yards from the front door of the family home.

Some of Hartley's happiest memories are batting and bowling among the bedding plants with his teammates at the local Ormskirk club.

This coincided with Lancashire ignoring him for a place in the academy, a decision that made him even more powerful.

Combined with a lot of love from Stokes, it was a trait that enabled him to bounce back from Yashasvi Jaiswal who hit a couple of sixes on his debut in Test cricket.

“I also have a slightly white ball background, so getting hit is just something you take on the chin,” Hartley says.

These limited overs have made him an outsider for the Twenty20 World Cup next June.

Usually unassuming, as a player who has never played before, he doesn't expect a call. But having dealt with the pressure of England's bowling for a Test win when the heat was on, he is unlikely to be fazed by any tasks thrown his way.

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Normally modest, as an uncapped player, he does not expect a call-up to the Twenty20 World Cup next June.
He stresses that it is important to “take people's names off of it” in order to perform effectively

“Although it was a bit tense when they needed 50-plus to win with three wickets to spare, I always thought we would win,” says Hartley. We've all been in those situations God knows how many times before, whether it's in Ormskirk on Saturday or Test cricket. It's just a little bit higher risk.

“You just have to take people's names from it. Forget that Rohit Sharma is at the other end or that Ben Stokes is accompanying you to the field. The moment you get caught up in their aura, you will be in trouble.”