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Guy Williams looks at the young paceman who has been writing headlines with his wicket-taking prowess in the Championship…
Yorkshire’s supporters are cautious by nature, don’t get carried away too much by events unfolding at Headingley and don’t rush to judge players, but it’s fair to say they have been impressed by the repeated success of quick bowler Ben Coad, the 23-year-old from Ripon who’s been frequently destroying opposition batsmen.
So much so that Coad, unheard of nationally before this season, has rightly been grabbing the headlines and is one of the leading pace bowlers in the Championship – 31 wickets at only 14.03 before this week’s game at Lord’s against Middlesex.
While he didn’t appear in Yorkshire’s dramatic three-run victory against Somerset earlier this month because of a slight injury, Coad’s match-winning efforts have contributed significantly to his team’s rise to second in the table.
Coad, who learned to play at the Nidderdale League club, Studley Royal near Ripon, and then developed his bowling in the Yorkshire Premier League at Harrogate and York and, crucially, at the Yorkshire Academy, sensationally ruined Lancashire in the Roses match at Leeds with 6-25 in their first innings – dismissing four batsmen for only six runs in his first 18 balls.
Two wickets followed in the second innings, and in previous Championship clashes Coad’s form had been similarly eye-catching: 6-37 against Hampshire, 5-52 and 5-50 at Edgbaston against Warwickshire and 4-71 in the return game against Hants at Southampton.
So top stuff by Coad who seized his chance to shine in the opening game of the Championship in the absence of senior pacemen Ryan Sidebottom, Jack Brooks, Liam Plunkett and David Willey.
“My success has come as a bit of a surprise and now it’s all about keeping the momentum going,” explains the tall, level-headed seamer, born in Harrogate and educated in Thirsk.
“It’s been difficult breaking in with the talent we’ve got. I’ve been running in harder and worked on a few skills in the winter, such as developing my strength on the new programme Yorkshire have for young, faster bowlers. I’ve always had the knack of swinging the ball, but now it’s more about developing the one that goes the other way and the ball which nips back.
“Ryan, Jack, Tim Bresnan and Steve Patterson have all been massively helpful and having them at mid-off makes it much easier for me.
“The good thing about this squad is that everyone’s pushing for a place and that makes everyone perform that bit better.
“The best performance has been against Lancashire – it’s always the big game. I think the best players I’ve bowled against are Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a very difficult batsman to bowl to, and Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott who’re still very good players.
“Bowling at this level is hard on the body and it’s a tough game, so for me it’s a matter of keeping going.”
Watching approvingly is new captain Gary Ballance who’s also in great form with more than 1,000 runs in all competitions and pressing for an England recall.
He said: “I’m not surprised at how Ben’s bowled. I saw a big improvement over the winter when I came back from India. He’s put on a yard of pace and he’s more skilful. Ben was given the opportunity and has taken it. He keeps taking wickets and that’s all you can ask of a young lad. He’s willing to learn, too.
“Ben’s accuracy has always been there but now he’s got the knack of taking wickets, and when not taking wickets, he’s able to keep it tight. The more he plays, the more he’ll improve and learn to bowl on different types of pitches. Ben’s sensible and won’t get ahead of himself.
“As a batter you have to believe you’ve never got enough runs and if Ben can have that mentality as a bowler – that he’s never got enough wickets – he won’t take anything for granted and he’ll go into each match knowing it’s a new game and you’ve still got to perform.”
Just as Ballance’s new job has been to some extent been made easier by Coad’s success, so has that of Andrew Gale, the former Yorkshire skipper, now in his first season as the county’s coach.
Gale said: “Ben’s had an unbelievable start. He worked hard in the winter and then you need some luck, like injuries to other players. He’s hardly bowled a bad ball and undoubtedly Ben’s one of the best bowlers in the country at the minute.
“To get four five-fors in the first five games of the season is phenomenal. I’m not surprised Ben’s done well but to be one of the leading bowlers has taken us back – him included. To get five wickets in his first game of the season gave him confidence.
“He’s changed his mentality and is reaping the rewards. Now, he isn’t just a bowler who sits in and is happy to go at two runs an over. Ben has a different mind-set and believes he’s a wicket-taker.”
Coad’s rapid progress since making his Championship debut against Durham in June last year confirms the priceless value of the Yorkshire Academy in terms of developing young talent – work overseen by cricket director, Martyn Moxon, the former Yorkshire and England opening batsman. Moxon said: “The signs were looking good last season and then he had injuries. He’s a good pro, he gets on with his work and is a reliable seamer. I’d like to stress the big shift in his mentality.
“Ben’s now much more aggressive. He’s added incision to his accuracy rather than just being economical. He has the belief to take wickets. Ben’s similar to Steve Patterson, but different at the same time.
“Patto bowls naturally into the right hander while Ben moves the ball away. I hope he continues to make progress because if he does he’ll be a regular in the Yorkshire side for the next ten years.”
That may prove the case, but how tough cricket can be at this level, as Coad acknowledges, was seen during Yorkshire’s quarter-final at Headingley against Surrey in the Royal London One- Day Cup which Ballance’s side lost.
After bowling with customary meanness, Coad was hit for more than 20 in an over towards the end of Surrey’s innings – evidence, if any were needed, that it is a cruel game even for those, like Coad, whose success is so deserved.