Dernbach ready to seize chance
Jade Dernbach’s 25th birthday will surely be his happiest yet if he can take his unexpected shot at World Cup glory with England.
Uncapped Dernbach has flown halfway round the world in the past few days to replace the injured Ajmal Shahzad in a squad preparing to face co-hosts Sri Lanka in Saturday’s quarter-final in Colombo.
Exactly a week later, and on the eve of the Surrey seamer’s quarter-century, Andrew Strauss’ team could yet be involved in the Mumbai final of a competition England have never won in nine previous attempts.
South Africa-born Dernbach appears to have come from nowhere - actually it is from an England Lions tour in the West Indies - to be in with a chance of making his international debut in such high-profile circumstances.
In the absence of injured first choices Shahzad and Stuart Broad, and with James Anderson and Chris Tremlett struggling for form, he is no forlorn hope to be partnering Tim Bresnan in England’s seam contingent at the Premadasa Stadium this weekend.
As he prepared for his first training session - fielding drills under lights - today, Dernbach was still coming to terms with the unlikely turn of events so far.
“I’m over the moon about it. I’ve not really had time for it to sink in. But it’s absolutely wonderful,” he said.
He is vowing to bring with him a fresh energy, as well as plenty of slower-ball variations, if he gets his chance.
“It will be the same as I approach any preparation for a game,” he added. “You’ve got to expect to play at any opportunity.
“I want to make sure all my preparation has been top-drawer, and I’m ready to step in and do a great job for my country.
“I’ve got a lot to offer, a lot of variations, and I’ve got a bit of pace. I enjoy bowling at the death.
“They are all important areas in one-day cricket. So if I get the opportunity I hope I can bring them to the quarter-final.”
England identified Dernbach, ahead of Chris Woakes among the other likely candidates to replace Shahzad, because of his adeptness with changes of pace which they hope will prove invaluable in the knockout stages of this sub-continental World Cup.
“You’ve got to have that sort of variation in general in one-day cricket, no matter what sort of wickets you come across,” he said.
“It’s an integral part of the game, and something every bowler has to have up his sleeve.”
Also up Dernbach’s sleeve is a heavily tattooed arm - and, little known to many away from the Kia Oval, he goes by the unexplained nickname ‘Dirtbag’.
As he gets to know his new team-mates, he has noticed already that, even as they near the end of their arduous Ashes and World Cup winter, they are full of enthusiasm for the significant challenge ahead.
“The boys are in high spirits, we’ve got a quarter-final on Saturday. I want to bring some energy, some excitement, show a bit of myself and give as much as I can to the team," he said.
Dernbach is confident, having experienced Indian conditions with England’s fast-bowling programme in Chennai, that he will be able to adapt quickly to requirements.
He added: “I’m sure it will be a different challenge. But I’ve spent a bit of time over in India, played some cricket out there, and I’m sure some of the pitches we’ve come across on the A tour in the West Indies will be similar to what we’ll get out here.”
His South African roots are shared by a clutch of his new colleagues. But like Strauss and wicketkeeper Matt Prior, Dernbach learned his profession in England.
“I didn’t play any cricket at all really in South Africa. I moved over when I was 14, so all my cricket has been played in England," he said.
"That’s where I call home, and the place that has given me the opportunity to come and play here. I was more of a rugby player, to be honest. Cricket sort of happened by chance.”
In several aspects then, Dernbach’s route to this World Cup has been an unlikely one.
It certainly came as a surprise to his parents when he first told them, long distance from the Caribbean, what had happened.
“I got on the phone to my mum, and she’d just gone to work,” he said. "She could hardly believe it, and was screaming down the phone.”
If the fairytale ends with that perfect birthday present, Dernbach will have good reason to dig out his mobile again.