500 poles and counting!

Journalist and Somerset supporter, Sam Dalling is a regular contributor to this website.

Today, he looks back on the remarkable career to date of Lewis Gregory.

500 poles and counting. Although Lewis Gregory isn’t, that’s not his style.

Shahid Afridi got him up and running back in September 2010. A further 498 came in Somerset colours during the decade plus before Laurie Evans miscued on a balmy Tuesday evening at the Oval.  Up went the ball, down came the ball, and there it was; landmark reached.

Gregory is a multi-functional, multi-format cricketer. For Somerset, his 298 red-ball victims have cost 25.86 runs each. 14 times he has snared five in an innings, twice claiming 10 in a match.  A further 89 have fallen in List A cricket at 27.91 a pop. Finally, there are those blasted out in the shortest format: 113 at 24, with a strike-rate of 16.

A further 58 wickets have come elsewhere, plus there is the small matter of more than 6,500 runs. Gregory is some boy.

Gregory’s formative cricket years were spent at Plympton CC, Plymouth, while also turning out for Devon youths. “To be completely honest, I didn’t really follow First Class cricket,” he admits. “I just watched all the international stuff on TV. The first game I would have watched would have been after a training session with the Academy. But what year that was, I couldn’t tell you.”

Aside from the superstar names then, he was oblivious to his new Taunton contemporaries: “The only person I really knew was Matt Wood. Devon U15s go on a tour to South Africa every year and Woody did some coaching all that winter.  He was the only one I knew other than the ‘big dogs’ at the time.”

A 2nd XI debut came in 2008 against the MCC Young Cricketers, with 2009 spent acclimatising to the rigours of professional cricket. Then came the big one: a List A debut, against the touring Pakistanis.

The visitors would triumph by eight runs, but Gregory enjoyed a day out: 10 – 1 – 49 – 4. Boom, boom, Afridi fell first, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal making up the quartet.  “I remember quite a few were caught on the boundary,” he laughs when asked to recall that day. “It was pretty special. I was probably pretty scared the whole time I was bowling to be honest with you.

“But when you’re a young cricketer you don’t have any baggage. You’ve got so much freedom as a youngster. You come in almost a little bit naïve to the game, and the mental demands of it, and how those tricky periods impact you. To come out of that match the way that I did gave me a lot of confidence. It was pretty sweet.”

Unbeknownst to many, Gregory had not long picked up bowling seriously. Youth cricket he says was largely played as a batter: even for the Devon age group sides he barely trundled. That changed during a stint with England U19s in 2010: “Azeem Rafiq was captain and literally came up to me and said, ‘you bowl don’t you?’  Being a confident 18-year-old, I was like ‘yeah, I do’.

“The very first day of the Test against Sri Lanka we bowled, and I ended up with 3 for 60 odd off 16 or 17 overs (Gregory has done himself a disservice – it was, in fact, 3 for 39 off 17). That was comfortably the first time I’d bowled that many overs in a day. I came out of the series really well and started bowling more in the 2nd XI.”

Current skipper Tom Abell – two years Gregory’s junior – remembers those days: “We used to have Academy sessions in the evenings… wow… I can think back and remember how talented he was.  Back then he was more of a batter but was supremely talented in both facets. A serious batter, and obviously then his bowling came on leaps and bounds. He’s become quite the all-rounder.

“One of my first memories is travelling to a 2nd XI away game aged 17.  I remember being as nervous as anything travelling up with Lewis. You want to make a good impression when you are spending a few hours in the car with one of the pros, but he took me under his wing and has been a great influence on my career.”

The following summer, Gregory’s pace lit up the T20 competition. His 18 wickets cost just 17, with one falling every two overs. Those contributions helped Somerset to the final where, for the third consecutive season, they fell at the last.

“At that stage, I was just like ‘this is awesome,’” Gregory recalls. “I was having the time of my life, running in trying to bowl as quickly as I could. There wasn’t a huge amount of skill or nous to what I was doing. It came off but obviously gave me a few issues injury-wise later. But I just enjoyed playing. I’d come from club cricket into men’s professional cricket – playing in front of 10,000 people was awesome.”

Now a teammate, Jack Brooks was at Northants at that point, before joining Yorkshire where he twice won the County Championship. He confirms that Gregory was very much in the opposition’s pre-match planning: “He was a star performer on the circuit. He used to bowl very quickly when he bound onto the stage for someone that wasn’t particularly tall or big. Similar to me really; a pitch up county seamer who looked to nip it around. He had the ability to change games with his batting and he fielded in the slips as well. He was almost like the perfect player in a way!

“He got me out a few times,” Brooks continues. “And I think I’ve gotten him out a few times too over the years. My favourite was at Taunton – I took a five-for in that game that Renshaw got 100 before lunch.  It was nipping around and obviously going to be a low scoring game.

“Lewis took guard and just stood in front of his stumps – I couldn’t see any of them. So, I knew if he missed, he’d be out lbw. I’m thinking ‘I’ll try and run one into him and hopefully he misses it.’

“I’ve done exactly that, and he’s bopped me into the Pavilion for six. I’m thinking ‘hang on a minute, what’s going on here – is this the way he’s going to play?’ I tried that ball again, rattled into his pads, lbw, off you pop son!  Six and out…a very clubby innings. That sums him up.”

Most cricketers have certain grounds, certain opponents, certain players, they either thrive or despair at.  After Nick Compton left Somerset, Gregory enjoyed bowling at his former teammate. But it is the greatest stage of all – Lord’s – that Gregory has made a second home.

Back in August 2013, it was the scene of his maiden first-class fiver-for. “I’d been playing some really good cricket all year,” Gregory says. “I played bits and pieces of white ball cricket but was struggling to break into the red-ball team even though I was performing in the Twos.

“I actually wasn’t meant to play that week. We’d had a few injuries – Tregs (Peter Trego) and Kirbs (Steve Kirby) were out, and I still couldn’t really get a look in, which was frustrating but Dibbs (Adam Dibble) was ill which gave me an opportunity. We had a pretty young team which I think obviously would have made me feel a bit more confident and comfortable.”

Two wickets in Middlesex’s first dig was decent, but with the hosts following on, Gregory came into his own. 16 overs brought 5 for 28, including openers Sam Robson and Chris Rogers.

“I was in between where I started and where I am now,” Gregory says. “I probably had a fraction more of a yard but also a little of the skill that I developed over a few years of trying to look after my back a bit. I got the new ball for the first time in First Class cricket, nicked a few guys off and hit a few shins. That was quite nice.”

Cricketing pairs are often unwelcome, but Gregory helped himself to a more favourable duo; Lord’s was also the scene of his maiden First Class hundred in 2017.

Abell – who was in his first season captaining the club – remembers that match well: “There’s so many Lewis moments you could draw on with the ball, but as is well-documented it was a tricky start for me as captain. We chose to bat at Lord’s on an overcast morning. Having lost our first couple of games, we were staring down the barrel, thinking the worst a little bit.

“Lewis scored the most unbelievable hundred batting with Dean Elgar. It was an extraordinary innings, full of quality. That was a tough time for me in my captaincy tenure. I’ll always be grateful to him. He spared my blushes a little bit.”

Somerset were 80 for five when Gregory meandered to the middle. The following morning, he surpassed his previous First Class best of 73, finishing on 137. “Deano was opening and still at the other end through all the carnage,” Gregory explains. “It was cloudy, there was a bit of rain, and I finished 30 odd not out having ground in a little bit to sneak us through the day.

“I hadn’t really performed how I’d like to with the bat. For some reason I just felt comfortable. Deano was at the other end talking me through it, making sure I didn’t belt one up in the air like I normally do!

“That feeling when I got to my 100…that massive relief of getting there, and it being the first one…it was very long overdue. My girlfriend and her family were there watching – that was sweet. It’s pretty special to say I got my first First Class fiver-for and hundred at Lord’s.”

Six wickets came in the Bob Willis Trophy Final against Essex in 2020, and Gregory was at it again in the opening game of 2021. Five for 68 in the first innings restricted Middlesex to 313, but at 89 for nine in response, an away victory felt improbable.

However, by food time on the final day the equation was simple: 98 runs required, four wickets remaining. Craig Overton had fallen on the stroke of the interval, meaning Gregory was on post-lunch duty. Nervous?  “He was obviously just going to play his way. When it comes off it looks great,” explains Brooks. “I wasn’t there but the boys told me he just said ‘lads, it’s just 15 big ones’. That’s the sort of bloke he is.”

Few reading this will need reminding that Middlesex were beaten, with Gregory making 62 from 72 balls. There were no ‘big ones’ but it was still a remarkable knock.  Later that summer Gregory returned with three-lions on his chest: 40 and three for 44 helped England to a 52-run victory over Pakistan, and with it a series win few had predicted.

Five first-class matches at Lord’s have brought a batting average of 38.57 and 24 wickets at 18.83. “Every time I go there…I don’t know…it’s just one of those places that inspires you,” Gregory says in typically understated fashion.

For four summers Gregory skippered Somerset’s T20 side. Under his leadership came two Finals Days, most recently the defeat to Kent in the 2021 final.  That role has been relinquished now, but that does not diminish Gregory’s importance in the dressing room.

“He’s always been a leader in the side,” says Abell. “He’s got a fantastic cricket brain and he’s certainly someone I’ve leant on in the last couple of years. He’s been a really good aid for me.

“He’s a big kid really – very loud on the field but also such a big character. I think we saw that at the end of last year where, as much as anything, we really missed his leadership within the team.”

“He’s smart with his bowling and fielding,” agrees Brooks. “I like to be able to look around in the ring and have people I can talk to. You know if he’s in the ring he’s as good as anyone to talk to about a plan to a particular player. And, more often than not, he’s right”

Gregory’s pre- and post-match pep talks got some airtime through Behind the Wyvern. “He was very vocal but always very positive,” Brooks said. “They were very short and to the point. He always told people just to have fun.

“Basically, Lewis’ mantra on batting is to go out, entertain and whack it. Just be as relaxed as you can and always take the positive option.  He will leave the changing room and come back in the same way, whether he’s made runs or not. There is no getting angry, throwing kit or sulking. He’s very laid back, comfortable in his own skin and in his own cricket.

2019 was Gregory’s premier summer. 59 First Class wickets came at 17.88 plus 491 runs – his best red-ball output to date – at 27.27.  Brooks had just arrived from Yorkshire and was in awe: “Lewis was unbelievable, unplayable that summer. He just had it on a string. It felt like every time he bowled, he was going to get a wicket.

“It was one of those patches in your career where you let go of it and expect to take a wicket every ball. I nicknamed him ‘Beefy’ – he was a bit awkward, but I said ‘mate, at Taunton getting runs and wickets, what else can I call you?’”

Those of a Kent persuasion will attest to Gregory’s stellar year. eight for 44 in the season opener helped Somerset to a 74-run win at the Cooper Associates County Ground, before an even more extraordinary victory was secured in June’s reverse fixture. Day One was a washout, likewise Day Three. Just 12 overs were possible on Day Two, yet Somerset still managed a 10-wicket triumph.

Gregory’s six for 32 helped dismiss Kent for 139 in 41 overs and – after Somerset made 169 – his five for 21 skittled the hosts for 59 in just 26.1 overs. “That was the most bizarre game,” Gregory says. “I think the whole thing was done in about 120 overs. Most people would have had their bets on it being a draw, but we knew there was quite a bit in the wicket and it I just hit a really good length and they nicked everything really. It was pretty amazing to witness. They didn’t really play and miss.”

The Canterbury clash was his first game since that wonderful Bank Holiday at Lord’s where Somerset lifted the Royal London One-Day Cup. It is little surprise that those memories are cherished: “It’s very easy to go to personal things that you’ve succeeded at,” Gregory begins. “But that was the best moment of my career…what a day that was. I’ve been in countless finals and most of the time we’ve come second.

“It was the day after my birthday. We snuck through the group stages, having got off to a flyer before having a bit of a stinker. We won a game against Glamorgan by one run where Lukas Carey belted one at Azhar Ali and we got over the line. We had to go the long route through the quarter finals, the semi and obviously into the final. It was just an unbelievable feeling to be top of the tree in that format.”

Asked what changed that summer, Gregory answers instantly and with a chuckle: “I had a fresh spine! I’d had surgery at the end of 2017 on my back, and then basically 2018 was about giving it some time to re-bed in. 2019 was the first time in a long while I could run in without worrying about my back. I just let things happen.

Those poles against Kent set me up for a brilliant year. I felt I had complete control over what I was trying to do. Whether that was trying to swing the ball away, to bowl the wobble seam nip backer…it felt like every time I tried something it came off.”

There are times when Gregory is mesmeric. He may not have that extreme speed anymore, but, as Brooks puts it: “He’s slippery enough and has a quick bouncer. He’s not bowling rockets, but he doesn’t need to with his skill.

“There’s nothing like it when he’s got his tail up and taking wickets,” agrees Abell.  “You see the passion, the celebrations when he gets wickets for Somerset. That is something that really sticks in my mind when I think of Lewis – there’s a real competitor within him.

“He’s a very attacking bowler. Very aggressive, very skilful. He swings the ball away and has that nip-backer on tap…he’s taken so many wickets with that one. Standing in the slips you really do see what a quality performer he is. Well…I’m just glad he is on our side.”

True, back injuries have plagued Gregory, and arguably cost him a few more international caps. But there are positives to draw too: “We’ve had to do a lot of work action wise to get it into a place where it’s safer and there’s less stress on my back,” Gregory explains. “Even to this day, we’re always still making slight modifications or tweaking it.

“It’s changed the way I bowl, but I’m a miles better bowler now than I was at the start – obviously very different. I’ve had to create some skill level and work on different things to be successful.

“Not many people start bowling 90mph and do that throughout their whole career. It’s a very demanding activity on the body. Everyone must adapt and maybe I had to do that slightly earlier than I’d have liked, but there’s no doubt it’s made me a much better bowler.”

Gregory hits the sweet spot for many Somerset supporters. All players are equal, but some are more equal than others. Fans have their favourites and Gregory is the Tancock’s man.

Steve – who runs the Somerset North supporters blog, providing widespread coverage of the Club – says the Gregory adoration runs in the family: “Dad’s health had been fading for a while and he passed away in early May 2015. He only made it to the ground a few times in those last few years, but from those occasional visits and TV coverage, he immediately saw something he liked about the way Lewis approached his cricket.

“‘He’s the future of Somerset cricket right there’ Dad said, and how right he was. Perhaps it was something about Lewis being from Plymouth. Mum was born on the banks of the River Tamar; Dad and I made great capital out of one of her city-folk starring for our team!

“Dad and I rarely agreed on cricket, aside from our passionate love of Somerset, but Lewis was a rare case of ‘like father, like son’. All these years on, there is still that little extra nervous tightness in my stomach when he is batting or bowling.  That emotional attachment, that extra desire for him to succeed…it’s indescribable. Those who have experienced it know what I mean.

“You live their successes vicariously and enjoy them even more. When that favourite player is your late Dad’s last favourite Somerset player too, it’s even more special. Thank you, Lewis.”

There are so many moments that could have been included here – England heroics against Pakistan at Edgbaston, that white-ball hundred against Durham, exploits in franchise leagues around the world – but there simply isn’t space.

No-one has ever really solved the riddle of whether Gregory is a batter who bowls, or a bowler who bats. No one needs to, either. Because at 30, with a fair wind, there are still plenty of Gregory ‘poles’ and ‘bombs’ to come.

Cricket journalist Sam Dalling (@SamJDalling) is a Somerset fan who regularly contributes to The Cricketer and the BBC.

He is also an integral element of our official live stream commentary team. 

Sam grew up a Junior Sabre and is among a small category of Newcastle United season ticket holders that are also Somerset fans. Now based in London, he is trying to write about cricket, and will do so for anyone and everyone that replies to his emails.

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