“It was like witnessing a car crash – I knew it was happening but I couldn’t really take it in, It was like a dream.”
Toby Lester will never forget hearing Lancashire Cricket Club coach Ashley Giles utter a few, but life-changing, words: “You’re in the team.”
Just five years ago, the then -17-year-old was playing for Fylde Cricket Club in the Palace Shield. Now he was about to make his Lancashire first team debut against Essex in the LV= County Championship. No wonder it felt so surreal.
“I was just happy to be in the 13 and was fully expecting to be sent off to play with the seconds at Headingley,” says the left-arm paceman.
“So when Ashley told me I was playing I couldn’t register it at first. It was really happening.”
And happen it did.
A wicket in his second over and two more in Essex’s first innings, finishing with figures of 16-5-50-3, heralded an impressive start to his first-class career.
Now, just over a week on from his unexpected debut, the former Baines High and Rossall student is in reflective mood as the enormity of his rise begins to sink in.
He was barely into his stride in Lancashire’s second team when he got the nod to make his senior debut at Old Trafford. Not that he was expecting to even get a look in.
“All I was thinking about was the game at Headingley,” he says, back at the Poulton home of his proud parents Sue and Jon, who have followed him up and down the country.
“Then Ash rang me on Saturday evening to say I was in the first team squad and he would see me there. I was taken aback but excited too. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the best night’s sleep!”
He was picked up by dad Jon from his brother Adam’s home in Manchester, had a dip in the pool, forced down some breakfast and began to stretch and warm up while he waited. And waited. The two to miss out would be off to Headingley.
His selection would depend on the wicket and Lancashire’s plans for Essex’s batsmen – would a left arm paceman be more valuable than a second spinner? The clock was ticking towards 10am.
And then the words he will never forget. But his wings were about to be clipped. Lancashire won the toss and decided to bat, leaving the number 11 to watch from the balcony as Blackpool’s Steven Croft cracked a 100 in a heavily rain-interrupted first two days.
Lancashire reached their target of 400 and then declared around lunch on day three without needing him to take to the crease.
As Essex went out to bat, standing at fine leg during the first over delivered by Kyle Jarvis, team plans for each batsmen were racing through his head. A reasonable crowd was now inside Old Trafford ready to see what this new upstart could do.
“Once I had the ball in my hand I was fine, the adrenaline was pumping and I was ready to go. The feeling when I got my first wicket was just unreal.”
He didn’t have to wait too long for that – cutting Jaik Mickleburgh in half to send his middle stump cartwheeling out of the ground.
His reaction sparked jubilant scenes at the crease as players rushed to congratulate him, and friends and family took to Facebook to share his moment in the sun.
Liam Dawson was his next victim, again stumps shattered, before he returned later to claim the scalp of Essex dangerman Graham Napier.
“I was walking up the stairs after the third day and Ash said to me, ‘Not a bad first day for you there, lad’”, recalls Toby, eloquent and unwaveringly polite.
“I bowled five overs in the second innings but Essex played for the draw and the rain cost us really. I was just happy to have been able to show what I could do and help the team and feel part of it.
“The next game is at Colwyn Bay against Glamorgan on Sunday, but no, I’ve not been given any indication I’ll be in the team.
“We’ve got a week of training and I should find out Friday or Saturday.
“Of course I’d be disappointed not to be in the side but it depends on the opposition and the wicket. I just want to keep doing it now because I loved every minute of it.”
He returned to his former stomping ground on Saturday to watch Fylde CC take on BAC/EE Preston in the Palace Shield premier division, greeted by his proud former team-mates. His rise from Moorland Road in Poulton, where he played alongside brothers Adam, 26 and Ben, 27, top sportsmen in their own right, to county prominence is an unusual one for this ‘late developer’.
As a youngster, he spent hours playing driveway cricket with his big brothers and family holidays to Cornwall would be dominated by beach cricket “from dawn to dusk”, even in his late-teen years.
He played at Fylde before earning a scholarship at Rossall School and then went on to study Sport Science at Loughborough University, where his talents shone. He notched up 114 wickets, a university record.
Crucially, one match was in front of a watching Glenn Chapple.
“Lancashire had come down for a tour game,” he recalls. “And in my first spell I took 3-18. Glenn Chapple went round to our coach and asked for me to put back on again to see how I did with the ball as it got older.”
It was a defining moment. Impressed, Chapple signed him up for Lancashire seconds towards the end of last season. With a scholarship contract in the bag, he has notched up 18 wickets this term, including nine against Northants at Todmorden, to earn his call-up.
He is now hoping to secure a professional contract but is just happy to be “living the dream”.
“I’ve not really thought too far ahead. It’s all still a blur but I’d love one day to play for my country,” he said.
“Left arm seam is quite rare in this country but I have lots of stepping stones ahead of me.
“I’m so proud to play for Lancashire, and if you told me a few years ago that I would be playing county cricket now I would have thought you were mad.
“It’s been a whirlwind and I don’t want it to end.”