The concentration machine: Dom Sibley has been picked by England as he bats big and he bats long
The man dubbed the 'concentration machine' will be handed his debut in New Zealand in November as England re-evaluate their approach to Test cricket.
Of all the qualities Dominic Sibley possesses as an opening batsman, patience is chief among them. He has outscored the field in English domestic cricket by outlasting them.
Nobody in the world can match the six first-class hundreds the 24-year-old Warwickshire batsman has struck this year, and only Marnus Labuschagne — with 1,530 runs for Glamorgan and Australia — is in the same ballpark as his overall tally of 1,575 across the 2019 domestic season.
Dominic Sibley looks set to open the batting for England when the side go to New Zealand
Sibley is known as the 'concentration machine' for his patient approach to the art of batting
No other Division One player reached four figures, but Sibley hit 1,324. The secret to such a hefty compilation? The number of first-class balls he has absorbed —some 3,587 of them — more than twice the tally of fellow winter tourist Zak Crawley, of Kent, whose 974 runs came from 1,628 balls.
'England have looked for a number of years now to unearth opening batsmen to follow Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook,' says Warwickshire first-team coach Jim Troughton. 'But county cricket is there to create players who can play Test cricket. Give him a chance, back him and I am sure he will repay the faith.
'What Cook showed throughout his career was that he might have a little run when things didn't work but when he went big he went very big and became very greedy. Dom's got similar attributes.'
It is this ability to focus for hours — combatting not only highly skilled new-ball adversaries and challenging conditions but also fatigue — that led one former player to come up with the 'concentration machine' line.
'His performance against Nottinghamshire recently was really special,' says Troughton. 'They had scored 498, our batsmen were under pressure and he went straight back out, scored a double hundred, batted right through the innings, and then changed his method with a run chase on the final day that was timed to perfection,'
Dismissed for an up-tempo 109 second time round at Trent Bridge, Sibley had been on the field for all but 35 minutes of the match.
Only Australia and Glamorgan batsman Marnus Labuschagne has come close to Sibley's runs
This is nothing new. Friday marked six years since Sibley, then 18, became the youngest player to score a double hundred in the County Championship — an innings of 242 for Surrey, constructed over 10 hours, off a Yorkshire bowling attack that would spearhead consecutive title wins in 2014 and 2015.
'For a young lad to come in and show that level of patience and composure was really impressive,' recalls ex-Yorkshire seamer Jack Brooks.
'It was a typically flat, end-of-season Oval pitch but he tucked in and what was obvious was that he had a real hunger for batting.'
Brooks, who dismissed Sibley for nought and nine in Somerset's win over Warwickshire last month, observes that there are elements of Jonathan Trott in the way he plays off his legs.
Striking the ball to the on-side has become easier following two technical changes implemented after working with freelance batting consultant Gary Palmer in 2018. Struggling for form in his first full season at Edgbaston, it was to Sibley's credit that he listened to an external voice.
Sibley's patience has been likened to England greats Alastair Cook (L) and Andrew Strauss (R)
He now keeps his left leg on the line of leg stump in his trigger movement — like Australia's Steve Smith — allowing him to access straight deliveries without playing around his front pad. The work came at a critical juncture. Sibley, averaging 19.66 in 11 Division Two fixtures, faced the axe. Troughton, as coach, cast the decisive vote to keep him in. Hundreds followed against Leicestershire, Sussex and Kent. He began this season with three more.
Only Ernest Tyldesley, Donald Bradman and Bill Ponsford have bettered this sequence. Make Sibley feel wanted, and he rewards you with runs. Tactically, that is what Warwickshire did in their pitch to prise him away from Surrey in 2017. They took Ian Bell, one of Sibley's childhood heroes, when they met for talks.
Ashley Giles, then Warwickshire's sport director, promised him an extended run in the top three. Sibley had found himself as low as five that year at his boyhood club. As six rival counties circled, Surrey upped their offer but Sibley, as with his batting, would not be rushed.
He opted to move out of his comfort zone and headed for the Midlands — an acrimonious split incorporating a loan spell before a three-year deal kicked in.
Things have been smoothed over and there will be genuine warmth from the Surrey hierarchy if Sibley makes good on their former coach Ali Brown's prediction that he'd be a Test cricketer by 25.
England have long been searching for someone to fill the void left by Alastair Cook
'Dom's mentally strong and plays the short ball effortlessly,' says Brown. 'When you 'claw' (use side-arm bowling aid) to a 20-year-old and he plays the ball with ease, you know he'll be comfortable with the pace that Test cricket brings. That and the ability to play quality spin are the two main qualities to make the jump to the Test arena.'
However, he's not infallible. In Sibley's final days as an academy player, the pair headed to the Oval's indoor school, the bowling machine cranked up to between 85-90mph for a bouncer barrage.
'The second ball kicked up and poleaxed him. We had to pull him up off the floor. He was out for about three weeks with a couple of busted ribs. He always blames me for not giving him any sighters,' chuckles Surrey's academy director Gareth Townsend.
Sibley went to Whitgift School, also the alma mater of Rory Burns, and the renewal of old acquaintances in England shirts would represent another victory for substance over style. The 6ft 3in batsman is not necessarily pleasing on the eye. More so on the scoreboard.
One of departing England coach Trevor Bayliss's favourite sayings on batting is 'it's not how long, it's how many'. The hope is that Sibley is the man to make a happy alliance of the two.