Professional Cricketer for Worcestershire CCC & Birmingham Phoenix
After a hugely successful 2021, Scimitar Ambassador Dillon Pennington recently headed out to Australia to play cricket for Adelaide Cricket Club in preparation for a busy 2022 calendar with Worcestershire County Cricket Club.
Dillon tells us about his life in the sport, his aspirations to play for England and what it’s like to play against and alongside some of the best in the world, including England star Moeen Ali and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson.
Dillon Pennington Stats & Facts
- 23 years old (26/02/99)
- Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire
- The fast bowler took 42 wickets for Worcestershire in the 2021 season.
- In the ever-popular T20 format, in 2021, Dillon picked up an impressive 13 wickets at a neat average of just 20. Within those 13 wickets he picked up some huge names on the cricket scene including; the then-world no.1 Test batsman and England captain Joe Root, as well as England internationals Gary Ballance and Adam Lyth (twice), New Zealander Finn Allen and South African Dane Vilas.
- In a single T20 game against Yorkshire, Dillon took an astonishing triple-wicket maiden in his first over – removing England internationals Gary Ballance and Adam Lyth, as well as Jonny Tattersall.
- His form in the T20 Blast saw him earn a call-up to the Birmingham Phoenix squad for the inaugural Hundred competition in 2021.
- In his second five balls bowled in The Hundred, he produced a remarkable two wickets for zero runs in five balls, removing two of England’s finest top-order batsmen in England international Alex Hales and the world’s then no.1 ranked T20 batsman Dawid Malan. His team went on to win and secure a place in the final four of the competition.
- During 2021, in first-class cricket he took 29 wickets, including his first-ever five-wicket haul for Worcestershire against Derbyshire – a match in which he took his best-ever overall first-class figures of 9-76 in 33.4 overs.
- Despite being known for his bowling, 2021 saw Dillon score his maiden first-class fifty with the bat, as he hit 56 in the first game of the season v Essex.
- Despite being dyslexic, Dillon has achieved a degree in Sports Studies. Find out more at Dillon Pennington on life with dyslexia – The PCA.
Tell us about your cricket pathway from when you started up to the professional scene?
I started playing in Shropshire where I was brought up in Shrewsbury. I played a bit of club cricket there and from there I got selected to play some district stuff and moved on into the Shropshire pathway. Shropshire have really good links with both Worcestershire and Warwickshire so I did a bit of trialling at Worcester and with the EPP at Shropshire, Worcester came and had a look at me and I got picked to play for them. I played a lot of age group cricket and played a lot of Worcester county age group cricket at under 17 level and I’ve been there since.
What was your main club growing up?
I played for Shrewsbury Cricket Club and I’m still there now playing in the Birmingham League Premier Division when I’m not playing professionally. I played in the 2nd XI when I was about 15, and after playing a lot of cricket there, that’s where I got picked up.
What made you want to play cricket?
I always loved it and dad was very good. He taught me a lot about it, spending hours and hours batting and bowling and that showed my love for it really. When I got picked for the EPP, my confidence started growing and I started realising my ability to be able to perform against players I thought were a lot better, or players that had quite big names at under 15 and 16 level. The EPP at Shropshire gave me a lot of confidence going forward and getting picked for Worcester from there was sort of the starting moment of when I realised I could try and make it as a career. I always wanted to be a professional cricketer from a young age and that highlighted it.
How did your big breakthrough come about?
I didn’t play quite enough professional cricket to earn a pro contract. I didn’t do enough, I spent a lot of time injured and that’s really a reason why Worcester are so great to me. They put me in the academy to try and get me through those injuries and to get a bit stronger and get me ready for professional cricket. I didn’t quite make the cut to become one – but what they did do was put me on a university scholarship where I got to go to uni but also play cricket a lot with Worcester. Luckily, through injuries to others, in winter 2018 I got picked to go on the U19s tour with England so I spent a lot of time trying to juggle uni and cricket during that period. But I got to visit New Zealand and South Africa which are some amazing places and I spent five weeks in Queenstown. The places were amazing which I got to see, but also the standard of that tournament again, it was that point where I thought I was holding my own a bit and my confidence was growing. When I got back, I was offered a contract, and from the confidence side of it, I got a lot better.
Did you have your eyes set on any other careers?
I never had my sights set on anything intellectual! It was always sport. I love sport, I played a lot of rugby when I was younger. I think I was a little bit bigger than a couple of the other kids but I probably wasn’t quite good enough and it came to a point where I kept getting smashed, everyone else was growing and they were probably a bit better than me. I kept coming home sore and with broken noses and mum was like: “You should probably stop that and concentrate on your cricket!”. The Worcester academy coaches also suggested I quit rugby so I stopped and that was about the only other thing I wanted to do. However, I’m not sure I could’ve taken car crashes for 80 minutes every weekend – that wasn’t for me!
What sacrifices have you had to make on your journey to becoming a professional?
The Worcester academy was several nights in the week and a long day on Sunday which meant I had to sacrifice a lot of my time. I spent all day at school (Wrekin College) and then I’d have to get dad to drive me to Worcester so I wouldn’t get back till 11.30pm three nights a week – and then I’d have to go again all day Sunday which meant probably no house parties and things like that! I spent a lot of time at school saying no to things. Yes, I had a brilliant time and got to do some cool stuff, but looking back, that was probably the hardest thing. Even though I loved cricket and I said I wanted to be a professional cricketer, there were a few times where I turned round to my dad and said: “I cant go, I’m too tired.” But he made me go and it was for the better.
What have you noticed to be the biggest differences from amateur to professional cricket?
Throughout, you always go a step at a time so I went from Shropshire age-group to EPP and then EPP to the academy, and at each point the players got far better. Consistency of players is what improves – the bowling is a lot quicker and a lot more challenging for a longer period of time. In the Birmingham League, as a bowler you get let off sometimes from bowling bad balls but as you step up you realise your margins for error get a lot smaller. My step from Shrewsbury to the second-team, I went from playing 50-over cricket to full days of cricket and I just remember it being a real struggle because I was bowling bad balls and each one was getting hit for four and I probably wasn’t so used to that. It’s the same from second-team cricket to first-team cricket, it’s that next step of consistency and something I’ve learned from The Hundred is that consistency is massive. The people who are the best at their game are just consistent for long periods of time. Batsmen are better, they hit bad balls, and bowlers have to hit a penny all day or you go for plenty of runs – which I’m used to!
2021 was a great season for you, taking 42 wickets across both the T20 Blast and County Championship, as well as reaching the final of The Hundred with Birmingham Phoenix, surely your targets must be to play for England one day?
I hope so. I’ve got to keep getting better and keep working on different aspects of my game and getting that consistency, then hopefully it will come. It’s just a case of keep improving and developing those skills and hopefully it’ll take care of itself.
Who do you liken yourself to as a bowler?
I’d relate myself to Stuart Broad. My idol and the way he played was Freddie Flintoff but Broad – the way he goes about his business, he’s still an unbelievable athlete and he’s still going at 35, taking tons of Test wickets. I aspire to take a similar career path to him really. He got picked for England a little younger but we’re similar bowlers in some sorts of ways so hopefully I can try and keep going with the skills I have which are similar to what he gets wickets with and follow on from that.
What was it like to play in the inaugural Hundred competition?
It was amazing. I wasn’t expecting the call-up. It was an incredible experience playing in front of some huge crowds and playing alongside and against some hugely talented players – it wasn’t something I expected at the start of the season! Being able to learn off people like (New Zealand internationals) Adam Milne and Kane Williamson was just incredible. To be able to speak to them as a player, and not as a fan, was a great experience. Having those guys around benefits me hugely as I’m a massive cricket badger! I talked to them a lot and questioned them lots. Kane Williamson and everyone in the Birmingham Phoenix dressing room really, were great. Being around normal people with an incredible amount of skill, it was good to be able to pick his brains, and Moeen Ali too. They’re great people to work with and you count yourself lucky when you’ve got players like them who are willing to pass on their words of wisdom. I got to utilise that with the likes of Adam Milne in the bowling department and Kane Williamson in general and it was great for me.
One big thing I learned was just stick to the skills you’re good at when under pressure. I definitely went away from that in The Hundred Final. I was trying things that I don’t practise enough just because I thought it was going to go for another six but it’s just about staying really calm. I didn’t expect to be playing in front of 35,000 screaming and shouting in The Hundred Final – it was a dream come true really, even though the result didn’t go too well. I learnt so much which I can hopefully take back for next season and help Worcestershire in the T20 Blast.
What are your targets with Worcestershire?
My target at the start of 2021 was to get a permanent spot in the team and play a lot of red-ball and white-ball cricket. I’m gradually getting to that point where I feel like I’m really part of the team now. I played a lot of red-ball cricket in 2021 and Worcestershire are awesome at giving younger players like myself that opportunity to be able to go and play – and even if it doesn’t go so well, the opportunities will still come and they back you which is an amazing attribute of the club. So, for me, it’s about continuing to grow and be a permanent part of that Worcester team and that will hopefully lead on to higher honours in years to come.
What’s your best Worcester moment to date?
Last year when I got my first 5-wicket haul. I’d played three seasons and still hadn’t had a 5-wicket haul, which I was a bit stressed about because as a bowler that’s obviously not a great thing! It was nice to get that. But also, although I didn’t play in the actual Finals Day in 2018, my best achievement was being part of the T20 Blast-winning team. It was incredible to be part of that squad and play a few games in that run to the final. To learn in that environment and win a trophy, it was an amazing year.
What impact has Worcestershire bowling coach Alan Richardson had on you?
He’s great, he’s very relaxed. I like simple coaching where things aren’t over-complicated and he is exactly that. That’s exactly what I need in terms of my skillset. There aren’t too many complications with my bowling or my game-plan so to have him do that and tailor my practice towards that, has been really helpful. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do this winter to build on that and a few little skills. He keeps it simple and that brings the best out of me.
What is it like to have Moeen Ali as a teammate and what do you think he has done for the game?
He’s a very relaxed character. He doesn’t have too much to say but when he does, it’s meaningful. He speaks a lot of truth and if he thinks something, he’ll say it. He’s brilliant to have at mid-off in the T20 when things aren’t going too well, he’s unbelievable. In that Hundred Final, I definitely didn’t expect to bowl the last five deliveries but you probably couldn’t have had a more relaxed person stood next to you when you’ve got 35,000 people shouting at you. It was almost like it was just me and him in a quiet room, and I was just bowling at a wall! It was just incredible to know he was there so relaxed and that’s why he’s so good. He’s awesome to play with.
He’s brought so many people into the game. The way he goes about his interviews, the way he plays his cricket – I think everyone aspires to be like Mo. The Hundred was incredible – in terms of the amount of supporters he has – people absolutely love him. He’s very relaxed, the way he just goes out to bat and plays his shots. When a spinner comes on all he wants to do is hit them for six and that’s probably any kid’s dream to bat like that.
What fitness do you get up to in the off-season?
I do a lot of running, a lot of 2kms. That’s one of our fitness challenges and we spend a lot of time in the gym. We have two gym sessions a day in the week and a bit of bowling – it’s a nice lifestyle and keeps us fit. I’m hoping cycling will be in the plan too so I can get into that!
Running is something that I’ve grown into in terms of how important it is – long-distance running is really important for fast bowlers. A long day in the dirt is difficult and there’s no two ways around it – it’s just bowling that keeps you fit. Long-distance running has helped me be able to manage a long day like that and keep performance up all day.
It’s important having premium kit and I’m lucky to be an ambassador for Scimitar and their kit is spot on for what I need for training. It’s really useful and I’m always out wearing the technical shirts and shorts on a run. I also love the leisurewear as I like my Scimitar hoody for just relaxing whether I’m out or about. I’m extremely proud to be an ambassador for them. The clothing is comfortable and great for training and the fact it’s made from recycled plastic bottles is even better for the environment. The fact they are a sustainable sportswear company means a lot to me as I think more companies should be going down this route.
What would your advice be to any youngsters out there wishing to go down the same route?
Keep enjoying it – there’s no point in putting pressure on yourself. Also, there were loads of different sports I loved at school so I’d encourage youngsters to play lots of different sports. When everything for me got a bit more one-way towards cricket, it got difficult to play others. Play as many different sports for as long as you can and enjoy it.
Watch the interview below: