A professional career that has spanned two decades and 12 international, county, and franchise teams are to have another exciting chapter. Liam Plunkett is off to the United States of America. For good, this time. Over the last 12 years, the former England international has spent time as a cricketer on one side of the Atlantic and a doting boyfriend and, since October 2018, husband to his wife Emeleah on the other. Following an early release from his contract with Surrey, he will move across to the States and do both.
Plunkett will start this new stage of his career in season two of the Minor League Cricket Championship (MiLC), a 27-team competition split across four Eastern, Central, Southern, and Western conferences. He has committed to a three-year deal in which he will play for the Philadelphians in this competition before being assigned to one of the six franchises in the Major League Cricket (MLC), slated for its inaugural season.
He was first sounded out about the project at the end of 2019, before more official conversations over the last 18 months. He can still play domestically in England as a local and wants to feature in 2022’s Twenty20 Blast and The Hundred, where he is contracted to Welsh Fire. The options of the franchise T20 circuit are also open to him. However, he has no intention of qualifying for the United States. “Even if I did,” he stresses, “I’m 36 now – I’d be 39 or 40 when qualified. Who says I’m good enough?” This is the end of his career as an international cricketer but not one outright.
There’s a principle to this stance given part of his day-to-day duties will be as a coach in the academies USA Cricket is establishing. Plunkett will operate across two facilities: one outside of Philadelphia, and another to be built near Princeton University. “You want to develop people from the States. I’m a big fan of American sports and I believe there must be some hidden gems there. It won’t exactly be my role to find them, but I’m excited to share my experience with up-and-coming talent.”
He mentored at Surrey and was asked to stay on at Welsh Fire by coach Gary Kirsten to do the same when he tweaked his calf. “I still need to learn to be a good coach,” he admits, and will also lean on his interest in strength and conditioning. The desire to play remains strong after a disrupted three years at Surrey. The 2019 World Cup was the focus that first season, before Covid-19 scuppered most of 2020. This year he was restricted to one competitive appearance, for Welsh Fire. Having read journals on the work done by NBA star LeBron James, Plunkett reckons he can lose 12kgs to reduce the stress on his body.
Few can argue with his accomplishments and longevity – a testament to an evolving skillset. He came through the ranks at Durham, making his first-class debut in 2003, before joining Yorkshire for the 2013 summer, winning County Championship titles with both. A move to the Kia Oval in south London came in 2018. The fascination, though, will always be an anomaly of an international career. It began in 2005, included a period between the summers of 2007 and 2014 where he did not make a Test appearance, and saw him assume a variety of roles, from the speedster, enforcer to the controller. He represented his country in 13 Tests (41 wickets), 89 ODIs (135), and 22 T20is (25).
That maiden cap came on a Pakistan Test tour as a replacement for Simon Jones after one of the most momentous summers in English cricket’s history. He was involved in another 14 years later. ”One moment, I was watching the 2005 Ashes series, then I was on a plane to Pakistan next to KP (Kevin Pietersen), the man who had made it all possible.” “I got the biggest buzz when I’m going to see my wife, or she’s with me when I’m getting a flight to go to America. That’s when I’m happiest.”
There is no great sadness from Plunkett that his time in England has come to an end, just optimism as to what is to come. He will always be an England cricketer, underrated yet revered by fans, and adored by countless teammates. This is not so much about English cricket’s loss, but, all being well, American cricket’s gain.