Phillips leads way for Essex
As the Friends Life t20 season got under way, Tim Phillips may not have been the name most expected to be heading the wicket-taking columns.
Perhaps Dirk Nannes, the leading wicket-taker in t20 history? Or maybe one of the array of international spinners plying their trade in the competition this year, such as Imran Tahir or the great Muttiah Muralitharan?
However, this year the 30-year-old Essex spinner has romped past an impressive list of bowlers straight to the top of the pile.
With 26 wickets at a tad over 12, and an economy rate under seven, it has been an impressive year for the Essex man. However, Phillips is happy to underplay his success, and believes simplicity has proven key when it comes to bowling in the pressure cooker that is t20.
“We have a game plan and I just try to stick to that game plan and get the ball in the right place,” he told ecb.co.uk.
Indeed, the ball has rarely been in the wrong place from Phillips this year and he has been a shining model of consistency for Essex in what has been a frustratingly inconsistent season.
What has marked Phillips out from other spinners has been his ability to pick up three or four wickets in just a four-over spell. This, as Phillips rightly points out, keeps an opposing team in check far more than simply bowling economically.
“The way we’ve managed to win games is by containing teams to slow rates by picking up wickets,” he added.
This has been Phillips’ finest season to date, and it is clear that he is enjoying the added responsibility given to him since the departure of Pakistan Test player Danish Kaneria last season.
“Obviously for a long while, I was playing second fiddle to Danish, who is a world class leg-spinner,” he said.
“So yes, this year’s come with added pressure, but that’s only in a good way, and everyone wants to play to the highest standard that they can. Obviously I’ve had a lot more opportunity to do that, which I’ve really enjoyed.”
It is certainly the case that, without the wickets of Phillips, Essex would already be well out of contention for a quarter-final berth.
When wickets have been needed to strangle a side, Phillips has generally been the man to do it. This has helped Essex recover from their early losses, to launch a late assault on qualification, with five wins from their past seven games.
Despite this, Phillips admits his team, who made it to finals day at the Rose Bowl last year and were among the favourites for this year’s competition, have flattered to deceive at times.
“Collectively, we probably feel a little bit below par to how we believe we should have played and performed this year,” he conceded.
“We’ve been up and down and our results have been a little bit inconsistent by the standards we set ourselves.
"Everyone has highs and lows in performances but I think, generally, it’s the way of Twenty20 cricket, particularly that you can be on the wrong end of a result and there might have been a tight game and a couple of washouts which the summer can throw at you. We probably lacked a bit of confidence after losing our first couple of games."
However, Essex are still in with an outside chance of qualification, thanks to wins in recent weeks against Glamorgan, Middlesex, Somerset, and table toppers Hampshire, in which Phillips claimed 4-29.
The win at Bath against Somerset was particularly impressive, as a formidable batting order was blown away. Once again, it was Phillips who led the way and, after opening the bowling and dismissing county cricket’s main destroyer Marcus Trescothick within two balls, he proceeded to return 4-22 from four overs, as Somerset fell woefully short of their target.
It is notable that Essex’s other three wins came at Chelmsford, and Phillips recognises the effect that the home crowd can have.
"We’re very lucky. We’re very well supported at Chelmsford and we do sell out pretty much every Twenty20 game,” he said.
“It does come with pressure, but, being the home side, it’s great for us to have all the support that we have there and we love performing in front of those crowds.
“I guess that there’s a bit more pressure on the opposition who probably find it quite a tough place to come and play.”
It is no surprise, therefore, that Phillips is positive about Friday’s clash with Kent at Chelmsford.
“We’ve certainly gathered momentum as the tournament has gone on. We’ve got a lot to play for on Friday and hopefully we can continue the momentum that we’ve built up,” he continued.
“Hopefully a good performance on Friday night can see us through to the quarter-finals and we can get better from there.”
Phillips’ performance in the t20 this year evokes memories of Chris Schofield’s oustanding season in 2007, which earned him international recognition. However, Phillips is pragmatic about the future.
“Everyone wants to do well for their county and if international honours follow, then that’s great. But right now I’m just focussing on doing well for Essex,” he said.