Josh Tongue to make England debut after battling back from injury hell which left him considering retirement

Josh Tongue probably didn’t expect to be on the brink of an England Test debut at Lord’s.

Certainly not during a 15-month shoulder-injury lay-off between 2021 and 2022 during which he contemplated retirement, and perhaps not even after being a late addition to the squad to face Ireland from Thursday following issues for James Anderson (groin) and Ollie Robinson (ankle).

When Chris Woakes did media rounds on Tuesday lunchtime it seemed that he would edge out Tongue for a place in the pace attack but come the evening the news Tongue had received from England head coach Brendon McCullum earlier that afternoon was made public. Hey was in, Woakes was out.

Thursday 1st June 10:00am

The Worcestershire bowler will now become the first from his county to debut for the England men’s Test team since Moeen Ali in 2014.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Tongue, whose 162 wickets in 42 first-class games have come at an average 26.04. “I’m speechless really, even from when I got the first call up to be in the squad. Now being in the actual team, it’s just a dream come true.

“I was going in with no expectations to be playing at all, just bowling at high-class players at the nets was good for me. I must have bowled fairly well to get selected.

“It’s going to be a massive thing for Worcester. Playing there from the age of six, going through the age groups to getting my first professional contract, there are a lot of people at Worcester who have influenced my career. I’m just thankful to all those who have helped me on my journey.”

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England captain Ben Stokes says Worcestershire seamer Tongue can bring the ‘x-factor’ against Ireland

Tongue’s form for the New Road county this season has not been spectacular, with his 11 wickets coming at an average of 41.45. But this England management team don’t care about stats, they care about impact and meaningful contributions. That’s the main reason Zak Crawley still plays for them.

Tongue certainly made an impact against Sussex in early May, pinning Australia beating Steve Smith lbw. Now he might be one good performance away from giving himself a chance of another duel with Smith, this time in the cauldron of Ashes cricket. “I’m the sort of person to stay in the present. I try not to think too much ahead of myself. Those things [The Ashes] will come, hopefully.”

For now, though, Tongue’s focus is on Ireland. England captain Ben Stokes said the decision to pick him came down to wanting to assess his character and unleash his “x-factor”.

“Tonguey possesses a bit more pace than most of the guys who are next in line and has started off well this season,” Stokes told reporters.

“Having someone who is able to bowl at that extra pace and can come on and change where the game is going, have that x-factor, is great to have in your side.

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We revisit the moment Tongue dismissed Australia batter Steve Smith lbw while playing for Worcestershire against Sussex

“It was a good opportunity for Josh to show what he can do and to see what his character is like and how he can influence the game in a role I see him playing if he did play a few more games this summer.”

sky cricket pundit Michael Atherton added: “I think England see a high ceiling. He is a strong lad, quite lively, hits the pitch hard. That is the type of bowler they are looking for. There are five Ashes Tests in about seven weeks so England might need the strength in depth that they have talked about.

“What they wouldn’t want would be to get to a critical Ashes Test and then thrust someone like Tongue in for a debut. I think that’s why they have given him a go here. It’s a great opportunity for him and a good story. “

It’s a remarkable story, really. Tongue required two operations and Botox injections to fix the nerve problem in his right shoulder.

After feeling like he may be at the point of no return, the Worcestershire quick will now be the point of difference in an England bowling attack shorn of the express pace of Jofra Archer (elbow), Olly Stone (hamstring) and Mark Wood (paternity leave).

Josh Tongue (Getty Images)
Tongue will be the first Worcestershire player to make his England men’s Test debut since Moeen Ali in 2014

“I’m proud of myself and how I held in there. I was very close to retiring. I was in a really dark place. I don’t think there’s that many bowlers who have been in the same situation as me.”

Tongue impressed on his England Lions debut against Sri Lanka A in February, with his eight wickets in the match at Galle including a first-innings five-for.

He’d love similar returns on his senior England bow but for now he’s just savoring a “dream come true” selection that at one stage seemed the most distant of ambitions.

Watch Josh Tongue make his England debut in the four-day Test against Ireland, live on Sky Sports Cricket. Coverage begins at 10am on Thursday ahead of the first ball at 11am.