IT IS a perishing winter’s day at Headingley and Matthew Fisher is sitting in the warmth of the Carnegie Pavilion, pondering one of cricket’s great questions.
“Watching Steve Smith in the Ashes series, you ask yourself: how would I get him out?” he reflects. “How would I bowl at him? What would I do?”
The Yorkshire pace bowler flashes a smile, relishing the thought of how best to dismiss a man with a Test average second only to Don Bradman.
“I think you just have to be patient,” he goes on, warming to the theme. “I think I’d have some pretty rash fields to him. I’d like to think I could bowl pretty well to him, and I reckon I’d give him a couple of bouncers and then hang it out a bit. Then I’d try and dry him up and get the odd one into his pads to get him out.
“Of course, it’s easier said than done.”
The smile reappears – it is never off Fisher’s face for long – as he contemplates a challenge that England so struggled with during the Ashes, with Smith’s total of 687 runs at an average of 137 a key part in Australia’s 4-0 win.
With English cricket crying out for more talented young pace bowlers on the back of that trouncing, Fisher, 20, may well get the chance to put his theories into practice sooner rather than later, for he is capable of reaching speeds of 90mph and worrying the best with his pace and accuracy.
He is a thinking bowler and a grand lad to boot, with a down-to-earth attitude to go with the skill.
Since that Ashes campaign, when England were blown away not only by Smith but also by the tearaway speed of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, attention is very much on the next English pace bowling cabs off the rank.
The talk is not lost on Fisher, one of a group of potential candidates along with such as George Garton, Tom Helm and Jamie Overton.
I’d love to push the players ahead of me at Yorkshire at the minute and have a full season of Championship cricket.I feel that’s the real test of county cricket, the Championship, and something that I haven’t played a lot of yet.Matthew Fisher
“After the Ashes, everyone has gone into the ‘who’s-the-next-one?’ mode,” says Fisher. “You see it on the TV and the Sky Sports pundits all touting about who’s going to be the next one and so on.”
Did he hear his own name mentioned?
“No, unfortunately,” he smiles once again, “but I think it’s nice to sneak under the radar a bit. I just need to keep working hard at Yorkshire and see where it goes.”
For all his modesty and self-effacing manner, sneaking under the radar has not exactly been a Fisher speciality hitherto.
Indeed, he could barely have attracted more attention when he debuted for Yorkshire than if he had taken out a full page advert in The Yorkshire Post to announce the fact.
Fisher was only 15 when he played his first match, a one-day game against Leicestershire at Scarborough.
It made him the youngest post-war county cricketer and resulted in a whirlwind of national publicity, with the media circus reaching Easingwold School.
Since then, Fisher’s progress has been impressive if hampered by injury. Three hamstring tears in a short space of time played as much with his state of mind as his body.
Only in the middle of last summer, he concedes, did he finally get to the point where he was no longer worrying about the possibility of another frustrating recurrence.
Fisher feels that the problems may have partly stemmed from doing too much strengthening work at a younger age, along with the stressful juggling act for a young teenager of school work and cricketing duties.
But he feels ship-shape now and “stronger than ever”. Having impressed in the final two Championship games of last season, which included a maiden first-class five-wicket haul against Warwickshire at Headingley, it would be an unwise man indeed who bet against Fisher making 2018 a real breakthrough summer on a personal level, in much the same way that county team-mate Ben Coad shone so brightly in 2017.
“I’d love to push the players ahead of me at Yorkshire at the minute and have a full season of Championship cricket,” he says. “I feel that’s the real test of county cricket, the Championship, and something that I haven’t played a lot of yet.
“I want to play all formats, but I’d say that my game is going more towards red-ball and, hopefully, to Test cricket one day. That’s my passion. I was brought up on the longer format and, although to play for England in any format would be great, the 2005 Ashes was the turning point for me when I was a kid, when I knew that I really wanted to do this.
“Just when you come in on the first morning of a Championship game, it’s a real special feeling, and I’d like to think I can be a bit of a breath of fresh air next season – a bit like Coady was last year – and push for a regular place in the team.”
Fisher, who can also wield a bat and says that he wants to put fifties and even hundreds on the board from lower down the order, estimates his current speed at 80-85mph.
Greater exposure and confidence in his body should send the speed gun higher in the coming months and he has been working hard with Yorkshire coach Rich Pyrah in an effort to find the magic formula – “how to get a little bit quicker without tweaking anything major”.
Pace is undoubtedly important, as the Ashes proved, but one must also know how to utilise it and Fisher points to the shining example of James Anderson, operating in the low 80s, but still taking wickets through the most important attribute of all: skill.
Fisher agrees with all the judges who insist that English pitches and conditions do not particularly encourage pace, citing Taunton, The Oval and Yorkshire’s very own Scarborough as exceptions to the rule, and feels that the packed county schedule – and consequent lack of rest and preparation time – puts a heavy load on the fast men in particular.
Fisher, however, is a man who wants to play as often as possible as he seeks to make his mark at Yorkshire and, ultimately, with the national team.
To that effect, his selection last week for the North versus South series of one-day games in Barbados in March is another stepping-stone towards international recognition.
“It’s obviously nice to be recognised and, hopefully, I can put in a good few performances if I get a go and open the eyes of some important people,” he says.
“There’s a lot of coaches round the North-South series who are Lions coaches and England coaches, the likes of Mark Ramprakash and Paul Collingwood, who could potentially even be the England coach in the future. I spent a bit of time with Ramprakash in India with the Under-19s last winter, and he was a really good bloke, and I’ve heard really good things about Collingwood as well.
“If I perform well in those North-South games, and then do well in the summer, then maybe there might be a chance of the Lions squad or whatever, but I don’t want to look too far ahead as, first and foremost, it’s an important season for Yorkshire and I want to help the club achieve success.”
MATTHEW FISHER FACTFILE
Born: November 9, 1997
Role: Right-arm pace bowler, right-hand batsman
First-class record: Matches 5, innings 6, not outs 1, runs 86, average 17.20, highest score 37; wickets 13, average 33.69, best bowling 5-54; catches 1.
List A record: Matches 21, innings 10, not outs 7, runs 116, average 38.66, highest score 36*; wickets 18,average 42.83, best bowling 3-32; catches 5.
T20 record: Matches 16, innings 2, not outs 2, runs 6, average N/A, highest score 6*; wickets 16, average 25.62, best bowling 5-22; catches 6.