At last, Spring is here, with the days getting longer, and the flowers coming out. For us cricket lovers, that means one thing: County cricket. The new season gets underway on April the 8th, in just over a month's time. As we all prepare for the season's start, I was delighted to interview Yorkshire seamer Ben Coad, about Covid, his aims for the season and more...
In his first full year for Yorkshire in 2017, Ben Coad took 50 wickets. In his second, he picked up 48. Nearly five years on from his June 2016 debut, Coad's record shows 157 wickets at an average of 19.93. To state the obvious, that is brilliant.
The main question then, is why haven't England come calling?
Coad's professional response, is that: "While I would love for the call-up to happen, I can only control what I do. This means another big year, being fit for the whole summer, and then, hopefully, England take notice".
This year will prove very big. Coad missed three of Yorkshire's five first-class games last summer with a side injury, and with The Hundred being added this year, the schedule is jam-packed with cricket.
Coad though, is not too concerned. He tells me that "the schedule has always been this way" and he's "not worried about it". And he admits, "it helps bowling seam in April, not mid-July!". Although disappointed not to be signed by a team for the ECB's new competition, Coad is also "excited to see The Hundred; hopefully it'll take off".
Last year, things were not so good. Sporting events, including much of the cricket calendar, were cancelled, and eventually rearranged with much of the fixture list gone, as the Covid pandemic took hold. Coad put it best when he said "it was weird".
"Pre-season didn't happen, with 2-3 months lockdown, and the return to training was very different, with only one-to-one sessions". However, Coad, and Yorkshire, "made the best of it. We played really well in the Bob Willis Trophy, only just missing out on the final".
Yorkshire did come very close, finishing top of their group, but Somerset and Essex, the other group winners, had more points then them, meaning the White Rose county just missed out on the Lord's final.
However, when it came to the t20 Blast, it was much more difficult. The Yorkshire Vikings, as the t20 side is known, were "struck down with Covid, [with] four players isolating". They won only three of the 10 games, and did not qualify for Finals Day.
"It was just good to play cricket again."
Heading into this year, the Yorkshire preparations have gone better.
"We've trained through the whole winter in small bubbles, [and] we're in a good place for the new season".
Having "been in transition" since the back-to-back wins of 2014 and 2015, Coad believes that with "the younger core that's come through, and the experience in the side, means we have a good balance. We can challenge for silverware in all formats this year".
Furthermore, with "some fans hopefully back in attendance, we'll feel that buzz again, [which] is what it's all about".
In the quest for silverware, Yorkshire will be aided by New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson, who was been picked up for the t20 Blast. "He's a great signing, with good experience in New Zealand, and all over the world", Coad explained. "I'll pick his brains, and his thoughts on bowling in t20, and red-ball tips", he added.
"McGrath was the best in his period of Test cricket."
Growing up, Coad looked up to the Aussie seamer Glenn McGrath. While Ferguson is an express pace bowler, McGrath, Coad notes, bowls "similar to myself. Not express pace, but he nailed his line and length, seaming it, and nipping it around".
One area where the game has changed since McGrath's days is the new danger of t20 cricket. In 2017, Notts bowler Luke Fletcher suffered a head injury after the ball was belted back at him in a Blast game, and Yorkshire spinner Josh Poysden suffered a fractured skull after being hit on the head bowling in the nets in 2019.
Coad, along with his brother, and the Yorkshire physio, have been working on a prototype of a mask for bowlers who face the danger in t20 cricket.
Coad "came up with the idea in lockdown, with the risk of serious injury something I'd thought about for a while. It's important to be proactive, as we don't want something extremely bad happening".
Coad is speaking to some manufacturers, and while the design will not yet be released while the idea is secured, it will "definitely be available next year", which is brilliant news for the safety of bowlers.
It was brilliant to speak to Coad, who was very generous with his time.