Interview with James Rew: I’m not going to be a Bazballer, I know what my strengths are

Somerset’s James Rew sees himself as more of an Alastair Cook type than a swashbuckling baseballer – Harry Trump / Getty Images

Growing up, James Rew recalls: “Jos Butler was probably my biggest idol.” Rew seamlessly followed Buttler’s path from King’s College, Taunton to becoming a Somerset keeper; he might well follow Buttler into international cricket as well.

But, for all the similarities to Buttler’s journey into the professional game, Rew plays very differently. He admires another left-hander: “Alastair Cook’s grit and the way he goes about his guts – that’s what I like to watch.”

Although he only turned 20 in January, Rew’s five Championship years last summer begged the question of whether he will become England’s longest-serving Test keeper. But if other candidates of the new generation – Durham’s Ollie Robinson, Surrey’s Jamie Smith and Lancashire’s Phil Salt – bat in a style naturally suited to England’s Ben Stokes, Rew prefers delayed gratification. His Championship strike rate last year was a run of 50: pretty quick by normal standards, but a level below England’s average strike rate of 76 since Brendan McCullum took over as coach.

“I don’t really have that ability yet – I want to be able to do that,” reflects Rew. “I feel the best way for me to help the team and the biggest way for me to run the most runs is to go in and work hard through my first 30, 40 balls.”

Although Stokes said last year that there would be no place for a young Cook in his Test team, Rew has no plans to abandon his method. “If it gives Somerset a chance to win games, I probably won’t go away from that. My goal is to help Somerset win their first Championship title and so for that, I just want to keep doing what helps the team the most. And I’m probably playing the way I do.

James Rew plays a front-foot defenderJames Rew plays a front-foot defender

James Rew is likely to keep a wicket and bat at six for Somerset this season despite being used as a specialist batsman on the Lions’ tour of India – Harry Trump / Getty Images

“I can always develop my game, I’m still young. But for now it’s just a matter of keeping it the same and trying to do the best I can for the team.”

Last summer, Rew did very well indeed: only two men in Division One scored more County Championship runs than his 1,086 runs at 57.15. Most of these were done while also keeping wicket: a remarkable result for a player who had only played half a season in the All-Ireland Championship before.

“It happened so fast. I remember at the beginning of the season getting a few low scores in the first few games and then suddenly halfway through the season, I had hundreds.”

To Rew, he emphasizes what he considers among his most important attributes: staying balanced, no matter what he does on the field. He laughs when asked if he is a used bat.

“I’m very chilled. I always walk out and take off my pad. I can’t really be angry – just try and stay on the level. Don’t let the highs get you too high and the lows get you down too.

“I always feel it’s about how well I start and don’t quit because I’ve always been a slow starter. Whether I have runs or not, it’s always going to be hard for me to get out in the middle and start my guts.”

A winter tour with the English Lions to India confirmed Rew’s status among up-and-coming English cricketers. Although Rew’s returns were modest in the three first-class matches – playing as a batsman, he averaged 21.8 – he believes he will become a better player after observing India’s approach.

“The way they go about playing spin and how simple they keep it – they all seem to score so quickly but without effort. They don’t go about it like Bazball, so to speak, but they always seem to hit almost 100 by respecting the good ball and they are so good that they can put that bad ball away so quickly.

“That gave me a bit of confidence that I can continue to play the way I do: stay patient and make sure you put every slightly nasty ball out to the boundary.”

Selection by the Lions gave Rew the opportunity to work with Andrew Flintoff, who was the squad’s mentor.

“He hates looking at technical stuff. It’s all about how you can score runs, whether it’s an aggressive way of batting or one’s personal style. But how can you go about removing the opposition bowlers and scoring runs?

“He kept it so clear and made everything so simple. I think you can see why it was so successful. He didn’t let anything clutter his brain and didn’t really think about anything too technical. He just thought how he was going to score runs against whoever he was playing against.”

In a very different way, as Rew. He was talented at hockey and squash at school, and benefited from the never-ending relationship between King’s College and Somerset: “I would leave lessons at five to four and be in academic training at four o’clock .”

His qualities have long been respected in the path of England. After turning 17 for a county select XI in 2021, Rew realized he could have a career in the game. The following year, he had a fine U-19 World Cup, hitting 95 as India won the final.

Rew in the glovesRew in the gloves

Rew hopes to build on his white-ball success with England Under-19s by putting pressure on Somerset’s Blast side – Harry Trump/Getty Images

That innings came as a specialist batsman at No 4. But although batting is the most advanced aspect of Rew’s game, he is still committed to the journey behind the stumps that began when, aged 11, nobody wanted to keep in a club game.

“Mum bought me a pair of Kookaburra gloves from Sports Direct or something. I gave it a try and never really looked back,” recalls Rew. “I really enjoyed being stuck in and trying to take every opportunity.” His development as a keeper should be accelerated with Shoaib Bashir and Jack Leach bowling alongside Somerset.

This summer, Rew hopes to remain as a keeper-batsman at No 6, but has ambitions to move up the order. “Even if I got hit by four I’d probably be happy to keep going.” He also hopes defending champions Somerset can find a slot for him in their T20 Blast side.

“My T20 cricket is not where I want it to be at the moment. But I will work on that and try to get as good as I can in white ball cricket, which would definitely help my red ball.”

For all the common refrain that keeping can damage a player’s output with the bat, Rew takes a different view. “Keeping, you’re in the game, you see exactly what’s going on. I think it probably helps my batting to be able to see what’s going on at the wicket,” he says. “I see myself as a batsman but then I would say that I train as much as a keeper would. There will certainly be plenty of time to do both.” And there’s still plenty of time, Rew is sure, for batsmen who tackle first-class cricket at a more traditional pace.

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