When news broke in March of Jack Brooks being ruled out for six weeks with a calf injury, you would have forgiven Yorkshire fans for throwing their heads back in frustration. Brooks has been Yorkshire’s leading fast bowler in recent times, taking 193 wickets over the last three first-class seasons – of which two have been title-winning campaigns.
Last year was heartbreak for Yorkshire. To have their recent county dominance destroyed by a superb Middlesex side at the last hurdle was tough to take. And although their efforts didn’t have a trophy to show for it, the 2016 season was another in which the high level of cricket with which they are now so accustomed to playing was again on show. Brooks was and still is the heartbeat of that team.
And while Yorkshire have been a victim of their own success, with several of their English stars going away on international duty throughout the summer, Brooks has been ever present in holding together a fast bowling unit that has proven to be thoroughly successful. While he possesses good but not express pace, Brooks’s ability to bowl a tight wicket-to-wicket line and swing the ball both ways has earned him the reputation as one of Division One’s premier pacemen.
So to lose Brooks to injury just before of the start of the 2017 county season was a big blow. Not only did it mean that Yorkshire were unlikely to have the same threat with the new ball, but it badly weakened a bowling attack that can not quite equal the powerful batting lineup that boasts international and domestic stars.
Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and while it would have been easy for new Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale to call upon another overseas player, he decided to look a little closer to home. “We pride ourselves on the time and money we put into the Academy,” said Gale before their third Division One game of the season against Hampshire. “We don’t want to be signing guys from around the country or abroad, we want to back our home-grown players. We will always give them the chance first. The Academy lads can then see a path into the first team, and that gives them hope.”
Therefore, it was of little surprise that Yorkshire decided to give young fast bowler Ben Coad, an Academy graduate, a chance to fill the big boots of Brooks. Coad had already impressed several around the club with his ability to swing the ball with enough accuracy to trouble opposition batsmen. It was in the first Championship match of this season, though, where he really made his impact.
His 6-37 against Hampshire at Headingley was a display rarely seen by such an inexperienced fast bowler at this level. He bowled with impressive control, used the helpful conditions to his advantage and swung the ball consistently. And considering the calibre of players he was getting out – James Vince, Rilee Roussow and Michael Carberry, to name a few – there was a sign that Yorkshire were onto a real winner with a youngster yet again.
Yorkshire lost the match by four wickets and despite the great impression on show, Coad’s consistency of performance was still an asset yet to be seen. So when a 10-wicket match haul followed in the next game against Warwickshire, a match that Yorkshire won by an innings and 88 runs, it was then when people stood up and took note. Again, the players that Coad was dismissing, such as former England duo Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, with his accurate, threatening swing bowling was something hard not to admire.
Yorkshire team-mate Tim Bresnan is a big admirer. “Yeah, he (Coad) is a good little bowler. He’s done really well,” said the former England all-rounder to AllOutCricket in April. “He’s been coming through for the last three or four years, but was seen as being not quite ready. Then over the winter the coaching staff challenged him to improve his skills; they gave him a bit of a steer in what he needed to do and how they saw his role, and he’s gone away and worked on it and he’s improved massively. This pre-season he stuck his hand up and was probably the best bowler out of everyone. Then he got his opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands.”
Coad took another four scalps in the recent drawn Division One match against Hampshire at the AGEAS Bowl, narrowly missing becoming the first Yorkshire bowler since Peter Hartley in 1995 to take at least five wickets in an innings in each of the first three Championship matches of a season. Yet it did mean he now has the most wickets (22) and 5-fors (3) in the division, along with the best bowling average (13.90). His rise has arguably been the story of the county season so far – something that, as Bresnan mentioned, may not have been possible were it not for the help received over the winter.
Gale and new assistant coach Richard Pyrah made it a priority during the off-season to improve the development of Yorkshire’s young fast bowlers.
“We put the programme together in order to really up-skill him and the rest of the young bowlers. It also consisted of an extra strength and conditioning session to get them stronger,” Pyrah explained to the Gazette & Herald. “They’ve all got their own specific technical things they’re working on but as a group we worked on skills, getting them to know their own release points, what’s their stock delivery and advancing their games from there. We’ve made sure everyone’s got a wobble seam delivery and other things like that. It’s worked really well.”
Indeed, Pyrah believes that Coad has found extra pace as a result of the performance programme and is now better equipped to deal with the challenging schedule of the County season. In a way, it is a credit to Yorkshire not only for avoiding the temptation of recruiting abroad and sticking to their talented Academy graduates but also for looking for ways to improve their young bowlers.
Could the decision to give Coad the chance be a defining moment in Yorkshire’s season? Only time will tell. And considering the extra competitive nature of Division One this season, the White Rose will need more excellent displays from the likes of Coad to be in with a shout of another title. Though the early signs are promising, very promising. And it looks like the Yorkshire Academy conveyor belt has produced yet another gem.