Dawson made his Test debut on the 2016 tour of India, adding just two further appearances against South Africa in 2017, but is likely to be considered by selectors in the new year following his stellar displays with bat and ball for Hampshire this summer. His left-arm spin took 49 Division One wickets at an average of 20.00 with four five-wicket hauls, while he cemented his all-round credentials with 840 first-class runs at 40.00, including three centuries – the last of which, in the penultimate round at Chelmsford, set up a thrilling win over Essex that all but ended the title race in Surrey’s favour.
With Moeen Ali’s retirement and Adil Rashid exclusively playing white-ball cricket, England are short of spinning options to accompany Jack Leach, who is currently recovering from a back stress fracture. And while Dawson is a prime candidate to fill one of those spots, a pre-signed deal with Sunrisers Eastern Cape complicates matters.
His contract with the franchise is understood to be in the region of £150,000, more than he would earn for playing all five Test matches, which would net him approximately £100,000. The dates of the SA20 – January 10 to February 10 – clash with the first two Tests in Hyderabad and Vizag.
Dawson is still part of England’s limited-overs plans, though has only made 17 appearances to date. He was a non-playing member of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad, and is one of the non-travelling reserves for the upcoming 50-over tournament, which begins on Thursday against New Zealand in Ahmedabad.
Speaking at the Professional Cricketers’ Association Awards in London on Monday night, where he was presented with the men’s Domestic Overall MVP award, Dawson was non-committal on whether or not he would join Ben Stokes’ touring party, if selected.
Asked if accepting a Test call-up would be a straightforward decision, he replied: “To be honest, probably no. I am 33 now. I am very realistic that I am not always going to play for England. At the minute I am going to South Africa, but if things change I will have to make a decision.
“The game is changing massively and everybody that is involved in the game understands that. Financially it is something at my age that I will have to consider, that will be a big decision.
“I have no idea if I’m in the mix for it. I have already signed in South Africa for the SA20, so that is my plan at the minute. If something changes, that is a decision I am going to have to think about.”
Dawson revealed he had no contact with England over the summer following the injury that Leach sustained during the Ireland Test, which resulted in Moeen reversing his retirement from 2021 to play in the Ashes. Despite his outstanding county form, Dawson had not expected to be in the reckoning given the six-year absence from the format, and believes his success for Hampshire is linked to not worrying about international honours.
“I don’t think about playing for England at all now,” Dawson said. “I think that does help and that’s how I’ll continue to play my cricket.
“You know, that’s the ambition isn’t it? To go and play for England. When you’re young and you’re desperate to do that, that’s rightly so. But for me, now I’m older, more experienced, [there are] a lot of franchise leagues and just by playing cricket, I know that if you’re always striving to do as best as you can and then play for England, sometimes that isn’t the best for your game. I’m very at peace with where I am and, yeah, I enjoy it.”
If is to be three caps and done, Dawson harbours no resentment at how they played out. The final two at the start of the 2017 season against South Africa came in unusual circumstances. He was thrust into the side as the lead spinner, ostensibly to take the pressure off Moeen, who then responded with 87 runs and a ten-wicket haul in an emphatic win at Lord’s. Dawson himself claimed four wickets (and a pair) in the same game, then a further 18 runs and a single wicket in the second at Trent Bridge.
Those performances, while far from an accurate reflection of Dawson’s talents, are not ones he takes to heart.
“I see myself as a genuine allrounder. In T20 I am more of a bowler, but in red-ball I am a genuine allrounder. Not sure if pigeonholed is the right word – if you play for England, you have to take your opportunities.
“When I played those Tests a few years ago, I probably wasn’t ready as No. 1 spinner, and didn’t take the opportunity. That is professional sport.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo