Matt Milnes will never forget one of his more recent trips to Headingley, but Yorkshire’s new fast bowler is hoping to make his more permanent stay just as memorable.
Milnes is preparing to start life with his third county club in the next fortnight having joined from Kent on a three-year contract alongside fellow new recruit Ben Mike.
The 28-year-old arrives in God’s Own County on the back foot in terms of fitness, given he is in the initial stages of a recovery from a stress fracture of his back. But it won’t be long before the Nottingham-born quick is on the front foot and playing an integral part in the push for promotion and limited overs honours in 2023.
Milnes has an impressive career record against Yorkshire in LV= Insurance County Championship cricket; 18 wickets in five matches – one for Nottinghamshire and four for Kent – added to 183 runs down the order.
His best hauls are 5-87 in the first innings of a Kent win at Headingley right at the end of 2019 and 78 as a nightwatchman in a defeat at Canterbury in early 2021.
The former was the game Darren Stevens dominated with 237 in the first innings before adding seven wickets. Milnes’ first-innings five-for plus twin centuries for Sam Billings largely went under the radar in a 433-run win victory due to the brilliance of Stevens.
“What a game! I don’t think I’ll ever forget that week,” admitted Milnes.
“The ridiculousness of Darren that day was freakish. He just put everything in the stands for about two hours.”
Clearly Milnes enjoyed his trip to LS6 that week, but he always has done – a significant part of his decision to up sticks after a “great four years at Kent”.
“When I’ve played at Headingley, I’ve always enjoyed bowling there,” he said.
“If you put the ball in the right place, there’s always a bit in it. It’s a good cricket wicket because if you get it wrong as a bowler, you’ll go the journey.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be joining Yorkshire.
“Obviously it’s a huge club, one of the biggest in the country. So that was a massive part of my decision.
“I had a great four years at Kent, I absolutely loved my time there. But I just felt I needed a bit of a change.
“I’d got a bit frustrated at times in the last year with the pitches at Canterbury. We were in the field 150 overs week in and week out, and it was quite literally back-breaking as it ended up.
“I felt I wanted to play at a Test venue in order to push my case for further honours.
“When a massive club like Yorkshire come to you and says, ‘We want you as part of our attack’ and you get to play alongside some high-class performers, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn my back on.
“I’m also closer to family as well. My parents and brother still live in Notts, and he’s got young kids now. It’s nice to be much closer to them.”
Yorkshire coach Ottis Gibson has spoken of his excitement at the arrival of Milnes, a wicket-taking bowler with extra pace who struck 34 times in all cricket last summer.
His current first-class record stands at 140 wickets in 45 appearances since debuting for Durham University in 2014, while he has taken 64 wickets in 59 limited overs appearances. He was the second leading wicket-taker in the 2021 Vitality Blast with 22.
“I see myself as a wicket-taker in both formats, but certainly a bit of an impact bowler in red ball cricket,” he continued.
“In white ball, hopefully I can bowl in the powerplay and come back at the death.”
Milnes notes 2019 as his breakthrough year, when he claimed 55 Championship wickets (58 first-class).
“I feel like 2019 couldn’t have gone any better. In red ball, I took my game to a new level,” he reflected.
“I was under the leadership of Allan Donald at Kent, and there were a couple of technical things I changed which elevated my game. I was closing myself off in my delivery stride, and I worked harder to get a lot more things going at the batter.
“I made some changes halfway through the year. I had to work hard on them, but I felt they made me a much better bowler during the second half of that season.
“I’m quite happy with where my red ball game’s at now.
“With regards to the white ball stuff, in 2020 we had that behind doors Covid summer. And, for me, it was my first taste of it. But I felt it helped me being behind closed doors because it felt a bit like second-team cricket. That helped me bed in.
“Then, in 2021, I was nearly leading wicket-taker in the tournament. I started to find my feet and developed a slower ball, which I was really confident with. I’d got to know my game a bit better.
“In T20 you’ve always got to be evolving, so that’s the next step for me. In fairness, that’s the case with both formats.
“Having the coaching staff at Yorkshire is extremely exciting.
“Ottis as head coach was a big draw card. I spoke with him quite a bit throughout my decision-making period. Himself and the rest of the coaching staff can certainly help take my game to the next level.”
Milnes has previously played with Will Fraine at Durham Uni and Notts and travelled to Headingley towards the end of the most recent summer to meet his other new team-mates and staff.
He is planning to relocate to the county in the next fortnight, though joked that there won’t be any heavy lifting given his injury situation: “Good timing, isn’t it!” he chuckled.
So, what about the injury, which came to a head during an early September Championship game against Essex at Canterbury?
“Since the start of September, I’ve not done anything physical,” he said.
“The specialist said to me, ‘The less you do now, the better things will be in two or three months’.
“I’ve just started to get back in touch with Ed, the physio at Yorkshire, in the last week or so. He’s given me some real low level exercises to get started with.
“I’m due to be having a second scan next week or the week after, and hopefully that will show that the bone’s healed and I can step up my rehab, which would be great because I just want to get cracking. I’m hoping to start training the week after the lads have started, around November 14.
“In the August, my number of overs went down because we were playing the Hundred.
“I had a bit of an awareness in my lower back, but I didn’t think too much of it. It was one of those where if I’d stopped because of it, I’d never bowl a ball again. I just cracked on. It came and went as a bit of a niggle.
“But once the Championship started again, I bowled 10 overs on the first day of the first game back and felt real pain in my first spell.
“I told the captain, stayed on the field and said, ‘Let me try and get another spell out at the back end of the day’. In hindsight, that wasn’t a great option. I got five overs out. They were accurate, but there wasn’t much on it.
“I knew at that point that I was struggling a bit, and I came back in the morning to warm up and could hardly get the ball to the other end. It hurt a lot.
“So I went for a scan and found out the news that evening.
“I was absolutely gutted; one because I felt I owed it to myself and Kent to finish off my chapter there in a good way and two because I’d just signed for a new club.
“This winter, I’d love to be able to hit the ground running with Yorkshire. It’s not ideal, but I’m sure that come February and March time I’ll be able to do that.”
If there is a silver-lining to the injury, it’s the timing. If all goes to plan, Milnes won’t miss any cricket and won’t be isolated in the Headingley gym through the winter.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I only had a taste of what Matt Fisher went through with missing two weeks of cricket, and I was losing my mind. Full credit to Fish and other guys who have been through this during the season.
“I’ve spoken to Fish a bit, and he was one of the first people to message me once he’d found out about the injury. That was really nice of him.
“In a selfish way, it’s nice to see he’s been through it and come out the other side.
“You never want anyone to get injured, and he’s a lovely lad, but it’s reassuring for me because it shows what can be done and that the Yorkshire medics and coaches are brilliant at what they do.”
Clearly, relegation to Division Two of the Championship in September was a huge frustration to everyone at the club, including Milnes.
But that frustration has now turned to determination to ensure it is only a brief stay in the second tier.
“It’s a fresh start and we have to put it behind us,” he added.
“We have a squad very capable of challenging for promotion and making sure that in 2024 we’re back in Division One.
“I’ve not experienced what the lads experienced last year, and I want to make sure that I’m a bit of new energy around the changing rooms that can hopefully give the lads a lift.
“I can’t wait to start winning games for the county and get us back to where we belong.”