Dom Sibley was greeted with a “Hello, Fridge” from Joe Root when he first joined the England setup last winter. But now a more slimline version of the Warwickshire opener heads into his first Test on home soil after shedding 12kg during lockdown.
Sibley has never found his bulky 6ft 3in frame to be a hindrance when it comes to run-scoring and bar this nickname around the squad – a likely nod to William Perry, the former American footballer – it has scarcely been mentioned in dispatches.
A maiden Test century compiled over eight hours in Cape Town during January certainly proved as much, but when Sibley was in Sri Lanka for England’s aborted tour two months later he decided to make a change that will become more obvious when he takes to the field against West Indies on Wednesday.
“For the first time I felt a little bit self-conscious about my physique and my weight,” the 24-year-old said. “You look at the guys who have been in the system a long time … Ben Stokes is a bit of a freak when it comes to training. It was after seeing him, Root and Jos Buttler running in after a session in Colombo.
“I remember being absolutely spent, especially with the heat, so that was a real eye-opener. The graft those guys put in to stay at this level, for the amount of time they have done [in the team], is something that I want to do. That was part of my motivation. I just remember sitting on the plane home thinking: ‘I need to do something,’ especially during lockdown when we couldn’t improve anything cricket-related. It was an opportunity for me and I’m glad to have been able to stick to it.”
Sibley admits to coasting in that regard previously, compared with more assiduous work on his batting, and believes it may help his agility in the field and prevent injury. Had he not made the most of the enforced time off, he said, he would have gone into the delayed summer with a few regrets.
The 18 first-class counties have agreed to play both red-ball and white-ball cricket during this summer's shortened domestic season.
A majority vote was reached at a meeting of county chairmen on Tuesday. The agreement will now be passed on for approval from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), after which a new fixture schedule will be drawn up and announced.
County cricket has been given the go-ahead to start on 1 August, having been on hold since April due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ECB insists health matters are of paramount importance and says counties will face further assessments to ensure it is safe for play to resume.
"The safety and wellbeing of all players, staff and officials remains the priority of the ECB," read a statement. "All first-class counties will undergo further medical risk assessments and venue compliance approval as planning progresses to ensure safe environments for the start of the men's domestic season."
The men's County Championship was initially scheduled to start on 12 April. PA Media
It is a shame he and Zak Crawley, another to make his debut during the winter, will not experience a home crowd this year. England have now confirmed dates for the Tests in August against Pakistan, which will similarly be behind closed doors at the two biosecure venues, the Rose Bowl and Old Trafford.
As a patient accumulator of runs, the lack of crowd atmosphere to give flagging opposition bowlers an energy boost could play into Sibley’s hands, but he knows he must be on alert: his front-on technique has driven many a county attack to distraction but international bowlers are starting to explore potential chinks in its armour.
South Africa brought in a leg-slip and began aiming for the ribs, a tactic Jofra Archer deployed successfully during last week’s three‑day intra‑squad warm-up match. Sibley – drafted into the side to help deploy England’s bat-long approach under the head coach, Chris Silverwood – knows the West Indies quicks will ask similar questions.
“It’s somewhere I’ve scored a lot of runs in county cricket. That’s the great thing about Test cricket, you’ve always got new challenges and suddenly my strength is being turned into a way to get me out. That’s just another thing for me to overcome. You’ve got to find ways to deal with it.
ODIs v Ireland (all 2pm)
1st ODI Thu 30 July, Ageas Bowl
2nd ODI Sat 1 Aug, Ageas Bowl
3rd ODI Tue 4 Aug, Ageas Bowl
Tests v Pakistan (all 11am)
1st Test 5-9 Aug, Emirates Old Trafford
2nd Test 13-17 Aug, Ageas Bowl
3rd Test 21-25 Aug, Ageas Bowl
T20 series v Pakistan
1st T20 Fri 28 Aug, Emirates Old Trafford (6pm)
2nd T20 Sun 30 Aug, Emirates Old Trafford (2.30pm)
3rd T20 Tue 1 Sept, Emirates Old Trafford (6pm)
“I’ve played the pull shot since a young age, but in South Africa, with the bouncy wickets, I didn’t feel in control, so I chose to get out of the way. But in that area – around the nipple to hip – it’s a case of being in control, choosing when to play and when not to play. It’s going to be a case of me managing those risks.”
Risk-management is very much the hallmark of a series being staged in such alien conditions during a global pandemic. For Sibley, who has shown discipline through his recent battle with the fridge, it tends to result in runs.