County Championship 2021
Finding Franky: Why Worrall is switching allegiance
South Australia seamer Daniel 'Franky' Worrall's decision to move to the UK permanently caused a stir, but for the 30-year-old it's about much more than just cricket
It was in May 2019, just months out from what was meant to be the highest point of Daniel Worrall's cricket career, that he slumped to his lowest ebb.
For several years, Worrall had targeted Australia's Ashes tour, in conditions that best suited an old-school swing bowler like him, as his time to finally graduate from dominant domestic performer to Test cricketer.
The previous 12 months had been a proverbial rollercoaster. In between lay-offs for a serious foot injury, a hamstring problem and back soreness (twice), he'd taken 36 first-class wickets at an average of just 19, leading both Mitchell Johnson and Jason Gillespie to call for his Ashes inclusion.
But just as his dream was on the verge of being realised, it came crashing down.
A stress fracture in Worrall's back not only ruined his Ashes hopes but threatened to end his career completely.
He was just 27; if cricket was over – and there was a very real possibility it was – he faced a challenging reality he hadn't previously fully considered. Without the game, he didn't know what he was going to do, where he was going to go, even who he really was.
Mercifully, his diagnosis eventually improved and he was able to return to the cricket field, but that terrifying feeling of having nothing but uncertainty ahead of him left an indelible mark.
"When you're 21 to 25 and you've got the world at your feet, playing cricket and travelling all around the world, it's pretty easy to get ahead of yourself," he tells cricket.com.au.
"But after that lightbulb moment I thought, 'OK, I've got to get this sorted' and make sure that when I do leave the game, which everyone will eventually, there's something I can do.
"I wanted to find a reason to leave, rather than having to leave. I think that's important."
Worrall's choice of clothing for our Zoom interview is both cheeky and deliberate.
Born and raised in Australia to an English father and an Irish mother, he is proudly clad in an England football shirt from the 1998 World Cup, and with a wide grin on his face, he holds the Three Lions crest up to the camera.
It's a bold move; he knows the questions are coming about his shock decision last month to do a U-turn on his Ashes ambition and set his sights on playing for England, Australia's oldest and fiercest rival.
Having played three one-day internationals for Australia back in 2016, earning an England cap would make Worrall just the sixth man in 144 years to play for both countries, and the first since the late 19th century.
But he feels comfortable enough to be playful about it because this life-altering decision, which he sealed last month by signing a three-year deal to play with Surrey as a local player, is not just about cricket.
It's about life.
More than two years after he'd been forced to stare down his cricketing mortality, Worrall has wrestled back control.
A decade after he started, he's finally finished his finance degree at university and is now partway through another, a Master's in Applied Finance, which he hopes will lead to a new and exciting career once cricket does finally come to an end.
Having long spoken about it, he and his partner Hayley have decided to do what thousands of young Australians have done for decades – move to London to live, work and travel.
Worrall acknowledges that as painful and scary as that wake-up call two years ago was, he wouldn't have made this decision without it.
"Without doubt, it was the best and worst thing that's happened in my career," he says.
"It's given me the freedom to go out and play without any fear of consequence, really. But it also made me think, 'If I wasn't doing this, how am I going to survive?'. So it did wake me up and got me to finish my studies and be more proactive off the field.
"I've always wanted to come and work over in England, whether it was cricket or not. Studying finance and being a 30-year-old and thinking about the rest of my life, it's a great opportunity to live in London, experience something new and hopefully do some other work experience or just meet some people that I wouldn't have if I was living in Adelaide.
"It is a huge decision to make (and) that's why it's taken so long. But with a lot of decisions that people make in their lives, once you've made them, it's almost like a gut feel on whether you've done the right thing or not. And I think the way I feel about that decision now … my gut's telling me I've done the right thing.
"It's a great life experience that I don't think many 30-year-olds are able to do, to just pick up and live on the other side of the world and work and have a bit of fun while we're still young.
"I wanted to shape a life experience. (It's) more than just a cricket decision."
His permanent move abroad next year, after one final season with South Australia and the Adelaide Strikers this summer, is also about committing to the culture that helped him fall back in love with the game.
An unexpected consequence of that seminal moment two years ago was the way his passion for and commitment to the game wavered, especially when he returned to the lifeless pitches and draining heat in Australia. They're brutal conditions for any fast bowler, but especially so for one whose strengths are skill and guile more than express pace and brute force.
Worrall has always known the nuances of the county game suit him best; the swing of the Dukes ball, the subtle changes in conditions from venue to venue, and the strategies needed to exploit them.
"When I play county cricket, I actually genuinely love the game," he says. "Being part of the English system or attitudes or whatever it is, it's just really taught me to love the game again. So that's another part of my reason to move over – to just be able to play with a smile on my face all the time."
The road from Australian Shield workhorse to English county seamer is a well-trodden one, with Worrall following the likes of Martin McCague, Darren Pattinson, Michael Hogan, Steve Magoffin and Ryan Sidebottom in taking advantage of a British passport and making the move.
But having been born and raised in Melbourne, having worn the green and gold at the highest level, having held a burning ambition as recently as two years ago to wear the Baggy Green, does Worrall really want to play for England?
"Why not?" he replies, acknowledging he wouldn't be eligible to do so until after his third year with Surrey in 2025, by which time he'd be 33.
"I'm going all in on moving over to England and I'm all in with Surrey, so why not try and get the best out of myself and play for England?
"I just love proving people wrong or just showing that things can actually be done. I'm excited to come over and improve, get better and play for England.
"It's still three years off, at least. My goal is just to be a senior player and a high performer for Surrey and we'll deal with that stuff in three or four years' time, if we ever do.
"I know I'm probably a fair way off playing for the Australian team in the current climate, but it honestly didn't come into my decision-making process at all. (It) was about being proactive and finding a way for me to go and love my career again.
"I'm playing as an English player for the rest of my career, which is exciting. Professionally, it's a new challenge.
"I feel like a 21-year-old with a fresh mindset and attitude and everything to prove over here. So that's an exciting thing to be able to experience as a 30-year-old."
History tells us the prospect of an Australian playing cricket for England is a media storm waiting to happen, but while Worrall acknowledges such a move would "ruffle a few feathers", he's unfazed by any potential blowback.
He's not on social media, and the conversations he's had with those in the South Australian system so far – including captain Travis Head and coach Jason Gillespie – have been broadly supportive, albeit tinged with disappointment that the Redbacks will soon lose one of their best players.
"No-one really cares about your career as much as you do," he says.
Ultimately, this new chapter is not about who Worrall plays for, how many wickets he takes, or how many games he wins.
It's about living.
"When you do have that lightbulb moment where you think, 'Oh no, this could end tomorrow', it just enables you to play with freedom," he says.
"Now, whether I do badly or whether I do really well, I still go home, and no-one really cares that much. As much as everyone lives and dies by the sword when they're playing and it's so competitive and so cut-throat in professional cricket, it's just being able to have the freedom of, 'It's OK to do really well, or not'.
"One of my lessons from 2019, from being injured and having that Ashes series as such a big focus of mine, is when you look too far ahead, you miss out on the moment.
"Even looking to the next English summer is disregarding the parts that I've got in between. This deal has been done and I'm looking forward to that.
"But I'm just going to play for now."