Competition keeps Coles burning
Matt Coles could be forgiven for wishing there was less competition for international places among English seamers.
The 21-year-old Kent bowler, the only uncapped member of the England Lions squad to face West Indies next week at Northampton, is the latest in a burgeoning group to press for England honours.
The 12-man party includes limited-overs internationals Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker plus Lion Jack Brooks, a trio of seamers already challenging their senior England counterparts.
With 21 LV= County Championship wickets in seven innings making him the leading wicket-taker in either division, Coles is entitled to be vying for a Lions debut at Wantage Road.
Despite the illustrious names ahead of him, Coles does not mind having a fight on his hands for selection.
“I think a bit of competition for places is brilliant,” he told ecb.co.uk. “If things were just given to people, it doesn’t really make it as special.
“Working hard for it is brilliant; it can only be good for English cricket that there’s so many coming through at the minute.”
Although he is leading the way among county bowlers and Kent are top of Division Two after four games, Coles did not see his Lions squad place coming.
“I was over the moon that I’d been selected to be in it. I was a little bit surprised that it’s come so soon. Hopefully I can get a go and do well,” he added.
Coles, in fact, has retained a place in the Lions squad, which in early February he joined as an injury replacement for the latter stages of the trip to Sri Lanka.
While away Coles worked with ECB lead fast bowling coach Kevin Shine, who suggested improvements to his game.
“They were brilliant experiences, to be asked to join up with them out in Sri Lanka for the last two games of their tour and then go to Abu Dhabi,” Coles said.
“It was a brilliant experience to get around the set-up and see how it’s done in that next level.
“I worked hard with Kevin Shine. It definitely helped my game, just being around and seeing some other ways they train and a few of their theories on what I can do to improve a bit more.
“It was a great opportunity to be given. Hopefully I can stay there for a little bit longer in this fold.”
It is not only Coles’ bowling that has benefited, but his batting too.
His first championship innings of the year was a career-best 103 not out from number eight against Yorkshire at Headingley Carnegie.
With two first-class fifties to his name, a century was one of Coles’ targets for this campaign.
“I wasn’t expecting the run part to be so soon in the season,” he admitted.
“It was one of my goals to try and get that this year and hopefully I can just build from that now and keep moving forward with the batting.
“On the bowling front, I started off a bit ropey in the first game against Yorkshire in the first innings. And then in the second innings I found my feet a little bit and from there I’ve got a lot more confident.”
That confidence is in part from the backing Coles has from Kent captain Rob Key, who has predicted great things for the youngster.
“It’s brilliant to have Keysey; he’s behind every one of his players at Kent. It’s brilliant that he says it,” Coles said.
“I don’t try to take it on too much. I just try to keep it to the side and not to think ‘this is just going to happen’, but also work hard to get there.
“I think that’s the best way I can look at it, working hard to get there. This winter’s been brilliant for helping that happen.”
Key is not only a vital source of enthusiasm but also advice for Coles, along with the likes of fellow former England player Geraint Jones.
“Some of the senior players in the Kent team have been in the England set-up, like Key and Jones; it’s all knowledge that I can take from them,” Coles added.
“I’d be over the moon to get a go in this game (for the Lions) and hopefully I can do well.”