England in New Zealand: Who is Dom Sibley?
|New Zealand v England: First Test|
|Venue: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui Date: 21-25 November Time: 22:00 GMT (20-24 Nov)|
|Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, Radio 4 LW, online and BBC Sport app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website|
England cricketers no longer share rooms on tour. Dom Sibley's new team-mates are probably quite relieved.
"He would clean up the kitchen if he made a mess. His bedroom was another story," says Will Rhodes, his Warwickshire team-mate and former flatmate.
"Me, Dom and Olly Stone lived together last year. As the eldest, Olly was chief cleaner in the flat. Let's just say, if he needed a helper, he would ask me rather than Sibbers."
It is a theme that runs through Sibley's career.
While playing grade cricket in Australia in 2014-15, he worked in a sports shop two days a week.
"He was hopeless," says Stewart Walters, Sibley's captain at Midland-Guildford in Perth. "He didn't know how to work the vacuum cleaner.
"Like most young kids, he had grown up with everyone doing everything for him. He had no sense of living properly."
Rhodes says Sibley has improved - up to a point. "He might have made fajitas for us a couple of times, but he takes more of a supervisor's role in the kitchen."
It is also probably wise not to leave him in charge of your car keys. Last year Sibley was filmed trying to rescue team-mate Ian Bell's keys after dropping them down a drain.
"He got them out in the end," says Rhodes.
If Sibley's domestic skills leave a little to be desired, his productiveness with the bat is unquestionable.
He scored 1,324 runs in County Championship Division One this summer - no-one else managed 1,000 - at an average of almost 70 and will make his England debut in the first Test in New Zealand starting on Thursday (22:00 GMT, Wednesday).
With two double centuries and three hundreds, Sibley was the stand-out performer in domestic cricket in 2019, but the 24-year-old is far from a household name among England fans.
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The Manchester United fan who rates his dancing
In the words of Rhodes, Sibley is a "football fanatic" who will try to watch every Premier League game that is on TV. He even won the Fantasy Premier League competition at his local cricket club once. "He loves Manchester United and he will try to get to games when he can."
"That's the only cross against his name," says former England captain and Chelsea fan Alec Stewart, who has known Sibley since he was 13 and saw him progress through the Surrey age-group system before he left for Warwickshire in 2017.
"Easygoing", "quietly spoken" and "modest" are common descriptions of Sibley from those who know him.
"He's pretty chilled and doesn't take himself too seriously," says Rhodes, Sibley's partner in the County Championship's most successful opening alliance this summer.
Nick Hill, chairman of Sibley's local club Ashtead, adds: "I've got no stories of him smashing bats against walls.
"He's a sociable guy. He would always stay and have a couple of beers after a game. You wouldn't hear him going around telling people about himself. It was only when people asked him about Surrey that he would talk about it."
Rhodes says Sibley has a dry sense of humour, "good banter" and a taste for R&B and hip hop. "He rates his music - and he rates his dancing. It's not immaculate, but it's better than some lads in the dressing room."
'I can't remember him giving his wicket away once'
As impressive as Sibley's County Championship stats were this season, quite possibly the most important figure the England selectors discussed was the number of balls he faced: 3,024.
It was 50% more than the next most obdurate batsman, former Test captain Alastair Cook - arguably England's greatest and a man who forged a career on being prised from the crease.
Batting for long periods is a skill Sibley has had since childhood, and one which was evident again when he made 100 in England's opening warm-up match against a New Zealand XI.
"He just loves batting. His biggest strength is his appetite for run-scoring," says Surrey director of cricket Stewart.
"You knew he was going to play for England - it was just a question of when."
As head of cricket at Whitgift School for 21 years, David Ward watched many of Sibley's finest innings during a school career in which he averaged 63, 50, 63 and 89 in successive summers.
"He set his stall out just to bat," says former Surrey batsman Ward. "If it was a 25-over game, he would try and bat 25 overs. If it was 50 overs, he would try and bat 50 overs.
"What made him the player he is today is the basic will to bat time. We see very, very few lads coming through at school level who are prepared to do that."
Hill says: "Some of the players in our league, if they have a Surrey contract, they might not treat it that seriously. It does not seem as important to them.
"Not with Dom - I can't remember him giving his wicket away once."
From double centuries to Surrey farewell
At first glance, Sibley's route to the top appears well trodden: precocious youngster scores mountains of runs for school; signs professional contract at 17; represents England Under-19s; scores heavily in county cricket; makes Test debut.
However, there were moments of extraordinary brilliance - and the occasional mishap - along the way.
As a 15-year-old, Sibley scored a double century for Ashtead in the Surrey Premier League, only the fourth player to achieve the feat.
Six balls into his senior Surrey debut in 2013, he was carried off on a stretcher after injuring himself diving to complete a run.
The following month, aged 18 and playing only his third first-class match, he made 242 against a Yorkshire side containing seven current or future Test cricketers, becoming the youngest player to score a double hundred in the County Championship. Only WG Grace has scored a maiden first-class century in England at a younger age.
However, Sibley never came close to matching those feats in subsequent seasons with the county, and spent half a season on loan at Warwickshire in 2017 before turning down a new Surrey contract to move to Edgbaston on a permanent basis in search of more opportunities at the top of the order.
"As much as I did not want him to leave, I respected him for his decision," says Stewart, who lives close to and remains friends with the Sibley family.
"Well done for making that tough call. That speaks volumes for him as a character."
The blocker who 'came out of his shell'
Sibley's averages were more eye-catching than his strokeplay in his early years.
"I don't remember one particular innings or season," says Ward. "It was more like 'Dom got runs again' after every game. That was what was extraordinary."
Walters, who captained Sibley in two of his four winters in Australia from 2014 to 2018, says: "He was really defensive when he first came over. He didn't have that many shots."
Sibley's game was transformed by Neil 'Noddy' Holder, whom Walters describes as "the best batting coach in the world" and who worked with former Australia players Justin Langer and Mike Hussey and India's Gautam Gambhir.
"Noddy simplified everything for Dom," says Walters. "It was a mental thing - he made him believe he could do it. He came out of his shell."
After a barren run in 2018, Sibley spent time with Gary Palmer, one of Cook's former coaches, and adopted a more front-on stance. The result: six centuries in six first-class matches across 2018 and 2019.
Nowadays, according to Warwickshire coach Jim Troughton, Sibley "can pull, he can cut, he can play inside out off the spinners - he's got the shots".
The penultimate game of last season against Nottinghamshire summed up Sibley's progress. He batted for nine hours in carrying his bat for 215, then hit a brilliant 109 as Warwickshire chased 271 in 55 overs to win on the final evening.
Can Sibley solve England's opening problems?
"We are looking for people at the top of the order who can bat a serious amount of time," England director of cricket Ashley Giles said when Sibley was named in the England squad.
England have never found a reliable replacement for Andrew Strauss, who retired in 2012 - a week after Sibley got his GCSE results.
He is the latest in a long line of players who will attempt to solve a problem that has been made more acute by England's tendency to collapse in recent years.
"What Dom has done, through sheer weight of runs, is to smash the door down, to say 'you cannot not select me'," says Troughton.
"Once he got mentioned in columns and on TV, his game actually went up a level. It didn't faze him. That shows that he thrived on it."
Stewart, who played 133 Tests for England from 1990 to 2003, says: "You need mental strength, ability, technique - and you have got to be run-hungry. Dom has all the credentials."
Sibley looks set to walk out to bat for England alongside Rory Burns, his opening partner at Whitgift and also when he made his second XI and first-class debuts for Surrey.
"They are good mates. They used to live five minutes from each other," says Stewart. "Sibley and Burns could be England's opening partnership for a while to come.
"Just like Dom has patience, I hope England have the patience to give him a run in the team."