cricket:image:1433614 [900x506]
cricket:image:1433614 [900x506] (Credit: Getty Images)

Southgate I ll probably quit if England lose Euros

They say moving is one of the most stressful things you can do in life. One imagines replacing James Anderson might rival that.

Dillon Pennington has taken the former in his stride. A switch from Worcestershire to Nottinghamshire has been seamless with 21 wickets across five Division One matches so far. It is a start that puts him on course for his most productive County Championship season.

The latter opportunity, however, has not presented itself just yet. But the manner of Pennington's performances as a six-foot-four quick operating in the mid-eighties has had gums flapping.

Men's managing director Rob Key, having put the word out that England are looking for pace over dismissals from would-be Test quicks, mentioned Pennington when discussing possible debutants this summer in a recent interview with the BBC. Anderson's impending retirement after the first Test against West Indies at Lord's puts a little bit more on Key's namecheck, particularly given that Pennington does not have a central contract.

"My main aim was to get into the Notts team and perform well there," Pennington tells ESPNcricinfo. "I've started okay, but I've got a long way to go. I mean, I'm only five games in.

"It's an exciting time in English cricket. There are opportunities, but there are some fantastic bowlers out there, and I think I've got a long way to go before anything like that happens, and that's completely fair."

One of those "fantastic bowlers" is Josh Tongue, who, along with batter Jack Haynes, joined Pennington in swapping New Road for Trent Bridge. Tongue's setback in his recovery from a pectoral injury has opened the door further for Pennington. As has a recurrence of a lower back stress fracture for Surrey's Jamie Overton.

Pennington's emergence has been steady. His talents have always been earmarked for higher honours, reflected in U19 caps for England, notably at the 2018 World Cup. His cohort contained the likes of Harry Brook, Will Jacks and fellow opening bowler Ethan Bamber, who he calls a mate. "We have a bit of a sounding board after games," he says of their friendship. "If ever either of us are struggling, we pick up the phone and have a chat about it."

Professional debuts across all three formats arrived that summer, as did glowing early reviews from the likes of Morne Morkel and Kane Williamson, who were playing for Surrey and Yorkshire, respectively. But it speaks to where Pennington is at the age of 25 that such flattery does not mean all that much now.

"Those sorts of comments were a long time ago, in 2018," he says. "A lot has gone past. One of the reasons for the move was I almost needed a jump-start. I needed something a little bit different to play higher honours at some point in my career.

"I think I was progressing nicely at Worcestershire. But since those comments and since the Under-19s, I just hadn't kicked on enough for what I wanted and what maybe was projected on me."

That being said, 2022 was a breakthrough season, with Pennington taking 44 of his eventual 140 dismissals at Worcestershire. Work, primarily on lengths, with former head coach Alex Gidman and Alan Richardson (bowling coach at the time before replacing Gidman in 2022) paid dividends. It was the result of their guidance, Pennington's hard work and the opportunities to learn while doing.

"I had so many playing opportunities at Worcestershire, which was amazing, and it makes you learn very quick about how you need to perform. I've gradually got better just by playing and learning against different batters and different counties.

"Over the years, that's got better and better. I think I've just got more acclimatised to first-class cricket, really. There are some great people there. Playing under Leachy (Joe Leach) and Dolly (Brett D'Oliveira) was really good - they gave me a lot of confidence."

The switch to Peter Moores' Nottinghamshire was by no means a straightforward decision. "Of course, it's daunting," Pennington says. "There are loads of things in your mind that are pros and cons about doing it.

"But I think when your ambitions are to play international cricket, you are going to face difficult times and decisions anyway."

The sweetener was Kevin Shine's presence on the Nottinghamshire staff. Pennington had some dealings previously with him through the pathway during Shine's time as the ECB's lead bowling coach, a role that involved Shine travelling the counties to keep tabs on the next crop of quicks.

As such, Pennington decided to spend the winter at home, as much to get to know his new teammates as begin working with Shine. The pair sat down in October and devised a plan to build on Pennington's work at Worcestershire and evolve him as a bowler to make the step up to international cricket. "Any changes he (Shine) wanted to make, I just opened up to him and allowed him to crack on."

Top of the list were increasing pace and improving stamina to maintain that pace throughout a day's play and over the course of the match. To achieve that, Pennington worked on getting more flow into his action by changing his gather, ensuring he held onto the ball for longer. That, in turn, buys him more time to assume a stronger position and ensure better alignment at the crease, at the point of delivery.

It was a tweak Stuart Broad made, under Shine's guidance, that allowed him to sign off a glittering career in style. Having workshopped a new gather over the 2022-23 winter and start of the 2023 County summer - even boasting about a new outswinger - Broad finished the Ashes as England's leading wicket-taker with 22.

"It's more with my action - just try and create a bit more flow. I've changed my load-up a tiny bit, but it's actually going back to when I was 18 - I had a similar thing. So we've basically gone back in time, but with the strength work I've done and the bits I've done at Worcester, all that has combined.

"It's helped with my engine - I'm able to go for a bit longer and the consistency of pace has got better."

The results, so far, are clear for all to see. Batters have been undone by combinations of pace and bounce, all while Pennington continues to seek improvements on the whole.

He returns to where it all began this week as New Road hosts its first match of the summer. The awkwardness of coming up against former teammates was taken care of in the second round of the season in Nottingham. Pennington took 3 for 76 with the Kookaburra ball in a rain-affected affair.

He'll no doubt be given a warm reception and have more attention on his performance in this final round of Championship cricket before the Vitality Blast takes over. By the time it returns at the end of June, Pennington may have a better gauge of whether he is in the mix for that first Test on July 10. He has had no contact with the ECB about it just yet - which is fine by him.

"There's no point for me putting pressure on myself. I need to cement myself in a team that's really good, I've got a new coaching staff to impress. The hope is that all of that will result in a better me."