Three years ago, England were in a pickle. Wary of the threat of Kuldeep Yadav in the upcoming Test series against India, they wanted to call up a left-arm wrist-spinner from the county game who could replicate Kuldeep’s unusual style in the nets. The problem: there weren’t any. In fact, left-arm wrist-spinners are so rare in English cricket that it has been more than half a century – since the days of Johnny Wardle and Donald Carr – since this country produced one of any repute. That is, until now.
Three years ago, Jake Lintott was being released by Gloucestershire and wondering if his last chance as a professional cricketer had come and gone. Making it as a spinner in county cricket is hard enough, but try being a 25-year-old unorthodox spinner bowling a style not seen in this country since Harold Wilson was in Downing Street. With a steady job coaching cricket at Queen’s College in Taunton, few could have blamed Lintott for giving up on his dream.
But Lintott did not give up. He earned himself a trial at Warwickshire, forced his way into their Twenty20 side after the pandemic, and now – at the age of 28 – has been picked up by Southern Brave in the Hundred as their wildcard draft pick. From the unloved fringes to the city franchise in just a few short months: in many ways, Lintott is cricket’s overnight star factory made flesh.
And now, here he is: the sole custodian of a tradition that was essentially lost to English cricket for decades, only to be dramatically resurrected by T20. “It’s been a crazy year, pretty surreal,” he admits. “This time last year, I didn’t have a contract. So to be rubbing shoulders with the best players in the world is a dream. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now.”
Lintott’s unusual route to the big time begins at the Somerset academy, where by his own admission he was “a short little fat lad trying to bowl seam, not very quick”. But his coach Paul Lawrence noticed that he had the ability to bowl a natural leg-cutter, and suggested he take up wrist-spin.
It was a gift that for a long time must have felt like a curse. The rejections piled up. Trials came and went. “The big problem is that the [county] system doesn’t allow leg-spinners to develop later,” he argues. “Coaches take the safe option. Once you reach 20, you’re in the bin. Now, the mindset’s flipped. Most T20 sides get a leg-spinner in at any opportunity. Lots of young leg-spinners are getting opportunities who would have slipped through the net.”
Like Kuldeep, South Africa’s Tabraiz Shamsi and the Afghan prodigy Noor Ahmad – probably the foremost left-arm wrist-spinners in world cricket – Lintott relies on his ability to take the ball away from the right-hander, and depending on the batsman will often bowl as many googlies as leg-spinners.
His arm is quick through the air, which makes it tough to read the ball out of the hand. “I’m just trying to be unpredictable,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to make batters look silly, to take wickets and be different. And it gets people talking.”
Clearly Lintott’s novelty helped him at first. But his repeated success this summer – 15 Blast wickets with an economy of 6.97 – suggests there is a sustainable formula at work.
“Obviously when I first came on the scene, people didn’t know anything about me,” he says. “But as time has gone on, I’ve had to be really proactive. I do a lot of homework on opposition batters, spend a lot of time on the laptop.”
Above all, Lintott is determined to grab this chance with both hands. The coaching will take a back seat next year when he intends to go full-time. There has already been some tentative interest from overseas franchises, and it is no exaggeration to posit that the next few weeks could change his life forever. “The money is irrelevant,” he insists. “It’s the opportunity. I’m determined to go as far as I can, and I don’t really see any limits on where I can get to.”
To thrive as a spinner in English cricket has always required a certain cussedness, the sort of inner steel that helps you negotiate a game that feels like it has been designed to break you. But in daring to be different, Lintott has also had to swim against the tide of history: the challenge of mastering an entirely alien art form, one in which the only specialist coach is himself. “There’s always been doubters, and there’s always been people trying to put me off,” he says. “But I kept going because it’s different. And I knew that if I stuck at it, doors could open up.”