Josh Tongue: From retirement talk to Ashes chance, with the help of Botox jabs

Josh Tongue: From retirement talk to Ashes chance, with the help of Botox jabs

A lot can change in a year – just ask Josh Tongue, who has gone through the emotional gamut of thinking his playing career might be over to providing England’s X-factor in a Lord’s Ashes Test.

Earmarked for success from an early age, Tongue’s accuracy and an extra yard of pace from a high action always attracted nods of appreciation and it seemed only a matter of time before England came calling.

But two years ago, the onset of a shoulder injury put any international dreams on hold in what became a 15-month battle that left him wondering at his lowest ebb whether he was finished at the top level.

Tongue even consulted the Professional Cricketers’ Association about alternative career options given the severity of the problem, which left him unable to feel his entire right arm, much less grip the ball.

Regular bouts of numbness and pins and needles flummoxed a couple of shoulder specialists, with two operations unable to provide any relief, while a third might have involved the removal of a rib.

Tongue acknowledged last month he had a “very rare injury to have as a cricketer”, but, just as all hope seemed lost, a third consultant detected an impingement in his arm artery after an ultrasound.

Rather than go under the knife again, an unorthodox suggestion of a Botox injection to the neck was prescribed, which led to Tongue back bowling again within a couple of months.

The jabs are not a cure – he has already had a second dose to get through the summer – but the initial hit alleviated his thoracic outlet syndrome to the extent he could return to action in August 2022.

Steve Smith, pictured, has already been dismissed by Josh Tongue this year (Mike Egerton/PA)
Steve Smith, pictured, has already been dismissed by Josh Tongue this year (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It was a bad time, but I’m feeling good now and I’m just glad to be back on the park and enjoying my cricket,” he said.

Despite a handful of appearances last year, Tongue was drafted into the England Lions squad to face Sri Lanka and he seized his chance in Galle, collecting an eight-wicket match haul, including a first-innings five for 76, in an unofficial Test on a track renowned for being a graveyard for seam bowlers.

Tongue, who began a lifelong association with Worcestershire aged six when he turned out for their under-10s, then saw his stock skyrocket after he snared the exalted Sussex pair of Steve Smith and Cheteshwar Pujara in an LV= Insurance County Championship Division Two match last month at New Road.

Getting a leg-before verdict over Smith was the feather in Tongue’s cap, even if the suspicion was the ball might have been climbing too high. With no DRS available, an aggrieved Smith had to trudge off.

“I’m calling it a bail-trimmer, it looks nice on the scorecard,” a beaming Tongue said afterwards.

Tongue touched 91mph against Ireland (John Walton/PA)
Tongue touched 91mph against Ireland (John Walton/PA)

He continued to showcase his appetite for the big occasion after answering England’s SOS for the one-off Test against Ireland in the absence of injury concerns James Anderson and Ollie Robinson.

Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes were sufficiently impressed to throw the strapping 25-year-old in at the home of cricket for his international debut, where he touched 91mph and took a second-innings five-for.

While his more experienced colleagues were selected for the Ashes opener at Edgbaston, he seems set to provide the point of difference as England go into the second Test with an all-seam attack at Lord’s.

Preferred to Mark Wood – the Durham man is quicker but concerns remain about his readiness to play a Test for now – Tongue will be hoping his success against Smith in particular was no one-off.

But he would be forgiven if he took a brief moment at some point this week to reflect with some satisfaction on just how far he has come in such a short space of time.