Stoneman relishes his 'step into the unknown'

'Hasn't quite sunk in yet' (1:22)

Mark Stoneman reflects on a long journey and years of hardwork that have culminated in a call-up to England's Test squad to face West Indies (1:22)

He might be the oldest specialist batsman picked by England this century, but Mark Stoneman has never given up on his life-long dream of playing Test cricket.

It has been his ambition for as long as he can remember; since those earliest memories running around the boundary edge with a plastic bat and ball while his dad played league cricket in the North East.

It remained his ambition throughout the early days of his career at Durham when, on desperately tough surfaces for top-order batsmen, he averaged just 24.84 over his first four seasons in the first-class game.

And it remained his ambition even after he was continuously over-looked for Lions recognition - a situation described as "astounding" by his coach and long-time mentor, Michael Di Venuto - and as he was compiling more than 1,000 first-class runs in each of the last five seasons.

As it transpired, he had to wait until June - just a few days short of his 30th birthday - before he gained a first Lions cap (he made half-centuries in both innings). And, after he was told he was next in line, having missed out on the first Test squad of the summer - the England management informed Surrey that he would have been included had the first Test squad contained 13 rather than 12 names - he had the strength of character to score a century in the Lord's final the next day. Then, when it transpired he was not next in line after all - Tom Westley was next to win a top-order call-up - he was able to shrug it off and maintain his consistent form for Surrey.

"The dream was always alive," Stoneman said as he reflected on his call-up. "It's what gets you up on a winter's morning when you have to get to the gym to put the work in.

"It's been a long road and there have been a lot of ups and downs. There have been times when I've had to think long and hard.

"But I stuck with it and I never gave up. There's inspiration all around the world with guys who have blossomed late on with good experience behind them: the likes of Chris Rogers and Mike Hussey in the Australian team. They were behind some fantastic players. Hopefully I can be like them.

"You can't give up and this is testament to that. If you keep trying and the chance comes along, you have to take it with both hands."

It may be relevant that, on the day he was selected, he was top-scorer for them against Somerset. While some other players - notably Scott Borthwick last year - lost form after their name was connected with an England call-up (proof, some suggested, that he may not be able to withstand the intensity of international cricket), Stoneman has remained as apparently calm and consistent as ever. His last three Championship innings are 57, 47, 67 and, knowing he was close to a call-up, he continued to net against the red ball throughout the window for domestic T20 cricket.

"I tried to keep things simple and ensure my name was in the right area of the batting charts at the right time," he said. "And just not get ahead of myself.

"I realised there were a lot of good players out there and I had to keep putting performances in."

This phlegmatic attitude may, in part, have been instilled by his early experiences in the game. Starting his career on capricious surfaces in Durham - "they were character-building," he laughs now - he learned to shrug off the odd jaffa that life must send his way and, whether he nicked it or missed it, forget about it and focus on the next ball. Those early experiences ("I had a new opening partner each half of the season," Di Venuto recalls, "as they were shot after a few games") also explain his relatively modest career average of 34.76. Over the last five seasons, he is averaging just over 40. This season, at Surrey, that has risen to 59.14

"It was about three-thirty by the time my phone went," he says. "I knew they were picking the side today and I was beginning to think it wasn't to be. But then I saw Mr Whitaker's name on my phone and thought this was a call I really had to take. He has called once or twice to say I was close, but this time he said straight away he had brilliant news for me."

The first thing Stoneman did when he received the call from James Whitaker - "Mr Whitaker," as he refers to him - was call his parents, his sister and his wife. It was the conversation with his dad, Ian, that was the most emotional.

"He's a typical northern bloke," Stoneman says. "So he kept his emotions in check during the call. But I bet he shed a tear or two but it was once he put the phone down. He'll be there next week.

"Dad was the one rushing home from a full day's work to take me to training. You don't realise when you're younger: you just think 'I've got training, I need to go there' and you expect it to be done. But he went out of his way so often for me. I can't thank my parents enough for what they've done for me.

"One of my first memories is of having a little plastic bat and ball in my hands. I used to follow my dad around various leagues in the North East. Given that, my left foot apart, I'm not much of a footballer, cricket was always going to be my sport."

Stoneman will become, barring injury in training, Cook's 12th opening partner in Test cricket since the retirement of Andrew Strauss at the end of the 2012 English season. He has little experience of pink-ball cricket - though he did score a century in the 2014 Champions v MCC match in the UAE - and will be older than any of the previous 11 when they started their international careers.

But that need not be a disadvantage. As an experienced batsman who has learned his game inside-out, who has developed the temperament and technique to cope with triumph and disaster and who has, as Di Venuto puts it, "the back-foot game" and "solid character" that provide excellent raw ingredients, he has a better chance than most to adapt to the higher standard - and the pace and pitches of Australia.

If he does make it, he will reflect with gratitude on Di Venuto's influence. He admits he used to copy his opening partner's habits - "subconsciously, I think", he says - including the way he wore his boots and donning a head band at times. But it was more meaningful interventions that may prove key.

"When Di Venuto came to Durham, he told me that, if you're going out of your way to meet the ball, you're increasing your chances of the nicks," Stoneman said. "But if you play the ball later and put a few cuts away, it puts the bowlers under pressure and they come searching for your wicket.

"When that sunk in, I started to have success.

"I don't think moving to Surrey got me picked. But it did allow me to continue my work of the last four years. It allowed me to keep chasing my dream. If I had stayed… we all know what has happened at Durham. I think it would have been very difficult. It would have been a massive distraction.

"I've had 10 years as a professional now. I think I've worked a few things out. I've played on different surfaces and against some good players. This is a step into the unknown and I'm going to treasure every moment of it."