Twenty20 cricket has given a platform for many players to carve out successful careers but few owe as much to the format as England fast bowler Tymal Mills.
Without the 20-overs-per-side game, the 29-year-old left-arm quick might already be well into his retirement after numerous and serious injury problems.
Prior to the advent of T20 cricket, a congenital back condition would probably have ended Mills’ career.
But bowlers in cricket’s shortest international format are restricted to a maximum of four overs, meaning they do not have to put their bodies through the strain of a 10-over spell in 50-over cricket, let alone face the demands of the first-class game.
Mills played his last first-class match at the age of 22, forgoing the chance of a Test cap, switching his focus to T20 cricket.
But even then things were far from straightforward. Last year he suffered a stress fracture that meant he had to wear a back brace for three months and this year a hamstring injury cut short his Indian Premier League stint.
Yet English domestic cricket’s inaugural Hundred competition — an even briefer format than T20 — allowed him to showcase his skills this season.
He took eight wickets at an average of 26 for eventual men’s champions Southern Brave, with an impressive economy rate, and England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan talked up his England chances even before the tournament started.
That is despite the fact that Mills has played just five T20 internationals and last played for England in 2017.
“He is an outstanding bowler, and we’ve always been in communication with him, wanting him to get fit, play as much cricket as possible, and leave him alone until the World Cup comes,” said Morgan.
Mills also took 17 wickets in nine Twenty20 matches — one every 10.5 deliveries — for Sussex as the south coast club reached the semi-finals of the English domestic Blast competition.
In Mills, England have a genuinely express left-arm quick, all the more valuable in light of the absence at the T20 World Cup through injury of fellow speed merchant Jofra Archer.
“I think you just need a bit of luck sometimes,” Mills told the Cricketer website.
“I’ve never really doubted my ability, cricket-wise. It has just been a case of being able to train consistently, which is probably where I’ve missed out the most.”
Mills, however, is optimistic about his fitness ahead of England’s T20 World Cup opener against the West Indies in Dubai on October 23.
“Since my stress fracture last winter, which we gave a long time to get right, we’ve done a bit of remedial work on my run-up and my action,” he said.
“This summer, I’ve got no doubt that I’ve bowled a lot more balls in the last six months than in any other six-month period.”
And while his England selection is far from guaranteed, Mills, a renowned “death” bowler at the end of the innings, believes he is also a smarter operator than when he made his name.
“Do I believe I’m a better cricketer than I was then? One hundred percent,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot more control. I’ve played a lot more games, I’ve got that experience under my belt.
“This is going to be another step up — playing in a World Cup is as high a level of competition as you’re going to get.”