For Tymal Mills, the past decade has been unlike any seen in cricket before.
Since taking up leather and willow as a 14-year-old in 2007, he has ditched a journalism course at university, been on the periphery of an Ashes tour, moved between two English counties, feared for his career and life, gone freelance, represented England and most recently netted a cool Dhs6.3 million (£1.4m) deal in the IPL.
To say it’s been a rollercoaster career is an understatement; Mills has already crammed a 20-plus year career of peaks and troughs into just the six years that have followed his first-class debut.
He is still only 24, but the congenital back disease that saw Mills call time on his first-class and 50-over career two years ago means his future is shaped by T20 cricket.
Thanks to the success of the format and its variety of franchise tournaments around the globe, Mills has been able to carve out a career in cricket when it had looked impossible.
Instead of touring these competitions at the tail-end of his career, earning some final big bucks from playing and bringing some star power to burgeoning leagues a la Brendon McCullum, Kevin Pietersen and Chris Gayle, Mills’ specialism will define him as a cricketer.
He, his county and his country have been denied Mills tearing in for long, fearsome spells and instead must be content with four overs in a day.
They will always be viewed with a tinge of regret, the most fleeting glimpses of what might have been for the longer formats.
But, considering what Mills has gone through, he is more than happy with his lot and the money recently shelled out by Royal Challengers Bangalore is both justification and reward for the Yorkshireman.
“I didn’t expect to get this amount of money or anywhere near this amount of money in this auction,” Mills told Sport360 in Dubai after being signed by RCB. “All the gigs I’ve played for this winter, I’ve gone in at pretty minimal price, just to try and get my face out there, play cricket and get my profile up.
“I went in at Bangladesh at one of the lower brackets, the same for this competition, and then now this auction has one crazy but this amount of money will change my life, for sure. I can buy a property, I won’t have a mortgage on my house and that’s one thing that sets you up for life. I can sort my mum and my little sister out now, I can help them out, which is great.
“I’m really grateful and it’s definitely not real until you’ve actually received it but it will change my life and even if the worse happens in the next couple of years; if I get through the next two months let’s say, it definitely sets me up for the rest of my life.
“The winter couldn’t have gone any better, I had a great summer with Sussex, I made my England debut which was great and tried to play as much cricket as I could while still being sensible.”
You imagine it would be hard to be sensible having turned into a millionaire overnight in your early twenties, but Mills’ hardship makes him an incredibly switched on young man.
Nothing is taken for granted and, with the support of his county Sussex and the England and Wales Cricket Board, every detail relating to Mills’ wellbeing is meticulously planned out.
Mills is still contracted to Sussex year-round and his rise into the England T20 setup means that both club and country provide the sort of continuity, security and advice that most gallivanting cricketers in the era of T20 cricket are without. Just ask Pietersen.
It wasn’t meant to be like this for Mills, however.
The precocious talent moved to Sussex in 2014 with the world at his feet. He had already shown he could bowl 90-plus mph before he moved to Sussex and was on England’s radar before he sent Graeme Swann to hospital after hitting the England spinner in Australian nets ahead of the 2013-14 Ashes series.
Mills was meant to be England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson and Sussex’s spearhead to challenging domestically; fortunately for all parties the loyalty to each other is mutual and now looks to be paying dividends.
“Sussex has been great, as have the ECB,” said Mills of his more permanent agreements. “I’m still contracted 12 months of the year with Sussex so they actually have the say, I have to get my NOC for all of these competitions from Sussex. That was kind of part of the deal that for 12 months of the year I have some security with them.
“They’ve been brilliant ever since I joined them even though I joined them to play all forms of cricket and it quickly ended up not working out that way. But they’ve been great giving me support.
“Even when I’m finished here and before I go to the IPL, I’ll have a couple of weeks off and then be in for pre-season with Sussex and see the boys and I call that my home so it’s always nice to go back there.
“It’s the same with the ECB as well. They’ve been in contact with the physios I have out here and with every team I’ve linked up with, the ECB and the Sussex physios have updated my new physio with what I need to do and what I need from them. Sussex and England have been great, allowing me to go and do my own thing but still giving me any support and security that I need.”
Every aspect of Mills’ freelancing is new ground, the left-arm quick doubling up as T20 cricket’s guinea pig trailblazing specialist.
The onus is on him to manage workloads, communicate his medical situation when he reports for duty, constantly embed into new cultures on and off the pitch and learn a skill set that remains within the bounds of T20 cricket, not beyond its realms.
Mills is charming, relaxed and down to earth, a world away from what one might expect from the latest addition to the cricket millionaire’s club.
An enormously talented cricketer enjoying the fruits of his labour, Mills is a realist, well aware of how he may be perceived by his peers and how fortunate he is to have recovered from his misfortune.
“It’s been amazing so far. I’ve not been home for four months and I’m actually looking forward to going home for a few weeks after this tournament but it’s been great,” reflected Mills, who admits that being single has made the journey all that easier so far.
“It could be tough down the line as I get a family, but I’m single at the moment so I’ve got no ties in the UK as such. That could be an obstacle if I was married and with kids or whatever, but it’s been great.
“I’ve got to travel to so many different countries in just the last four months and got to meet and work with so many different people and some really, really cool people to meet. You just enjoy it and try not to take it for granted. I think us cricketers we often do take it for granted.
“You know, flying business class flights, just for example, you take that for granted and they’re a lot of money. Every so often we have to try and remember how lucky we are and just enjoy that I’m still able to play cricket and hopefully things will continue to go up.”
Bangladesh - New Zealand - Australia - India - Dubai. Awesome way to spend 4 months! pic.twitter.com/isCYAxK2um— Tymal Mills (@tmills15) March 1, 2017
Nothing is guaranteed and Mills serves as a reminder of that to his fellow professionals, who may ponder life as a T20 freelancer with more sincerity considering the upwards trajectory of Mills’ career over the past six months.
With the Kolpak influx from South Africa and West Indies currently underway in England, young domestic players there will be thinking long and hard about their futures.
Add to that Pietersen saying his PSL team-mate at Quetta Gladiators’ move to RCB was a “slap in the face for Test cricket”, and there are real concerns for the future of the longer formats of the game.
But none of this should be placed at Mills’ door, as he is simply making the most of the lot handed to him, delighted that he can still forge a career in cricket and on his own terms.
As we finish the interview, discussion moves to UK grime artist Stormzy, another ‘yout’ dictating his own destiny after a period of polar highs and lows.
And, just like Mr. Skeng, Mills will certainly not be getting too big for his boots any time soon.
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