He may have had a nightmare winter, but Jake Ball is enjoying a dream start to his county summer.
Incessant rain has largely wrecked the first part of the County Championship season but Ball himself has been destroying batting line-ups for Nottinghamshire, bowling with the kind of pace and verve that should ensure he returns to England’s bowling line-up sooner rather than later this summer.
Ball has taken 21 wickets in three matches as Notts have got off to a flyer in their return to the top flight. The table toppers meet Hampshire at Trent Bridge this week, having won two out of their first three matches in Division One.
And the performances of Ball have played a huge part in the Trent Bridge resurgence.
It’s all a far cry from the winter, when Ball cut a forlorn figure after being dropped following a single appearance in Brisbane.
Match figures of 1-115 suggest that the 27-year-old endured a baptism of fire in his opening Ashes Test but they also fail to tell the full story, with Ball struggling with injury in the run-up to the match and England turning up woefully under-cooked at the Gabba.
That Ashes pasting, though, is rapidly becoming a distant memory following his blistering start to the season. Although it’s not the only thing that has faded.
“The Ashes tan has gone,” he laughs. “It has become a red, cold glow now, I reckon. Although the weather has been pretty awful, I don’t think the pitches have been terrible, there has just been something in the wickets if you have put it in the right place.
“Obviously Worcester was under water until a couple of weeks ago so they did amazingly well just to get the pitch playable. It has been an interesting start in a lot of ways.
“We took a lot of confidence from what happened last year. We got off to a great start last year with Broady (Stuart Broad), Patto (James Pattinson) and myself and we’ve done the same this season.
“We took a lot of confidence from the two white-ball trophies we won last season as well and winning has become a good habit here. We’ve carried that on this year and the boys are in a really good spot.
“Now we’ve got our first home game of the year, which we’re all looking forward to. It will be nice to come back to some home comforts.”
Those were sadly lacking on an Ashes tour that saw England soundly trounced by the home side. After his opening foray in Brisbane, Ball never appeared close to regaining his place in the England team, with Craig Overton and then Tom Curran coming in for him in the remaining four Tests of the series.
It was hardly the Ashes tour that Ball had dreamed of when he got the call at the end of last season. His current Test record of three wickets at a cost of 114 from four matches suggests that he still has some way to go to establish himself in this England side.
But the man himself is confident that he can put his Ashes experience to good use – and bring his county form to the international arena should the call come this month.
“It was a frustrating one, obviously taking a lot of criticism after that first Test and then not getting another chance to do anything about it for four or five months was something that was quite hard,” he says.
“I haven’t really had to deal with stuff like that before and it was a tough time mentally. But I feel like I’m in a good spot now, I’ve got back here and I’m really enjoying my cricket with Notts and, hopefully, that’s showing on the field.
“I don’t think the attention you get during an Ashes tour is something you can ever really properly prepare yourself for. I’m obviously quite close with Stuart Broad and he has probably copped it more than anyone in the past ten years.
“Going into it I had prepared myself for it but after the first Test I knew that I hadn’t bowled as well as I had wanted to. But in the back of my mind I also knew that the way I was used wasn’t my natural way of going about things.
“I had also come back off an injury so taking all those things into account I was pretty pleased that I had got through the game unscathed. The ball was coming out of my hand quite nicely, but not as quickly as I would have liked it to. With a game under my belt I felt like I would have been in a much better position going into the Adelaide Test.”
As it was, Ball was jettisoned from the side as England opted for the more prosaic qualities of Overton. When the chance arose later in the series, England then plumped for Surrey’s Curran, leaving Ball as little more than a glorified net bowler.
A solitary one-day appearance in Perth, when he went wicketless in 10 overs, did little to ease the frustration.
Ball, though, has used that experience to great effect since returning to his county and goes into the match against Hampshire on his home patch enjoying the kind of form that may make him impossible to ignore when England name their first Test squad of the summer.
Bowling with good pace and nipping the ball around at will, Ball will pose a formidable test to Hampshire’s batting line-up, arguably one of the strongest in Division One.
Another win for Notts and his Ashes disappointments will be one step further away. The title, meanwhile, will be one little step closer.
“To win the Championship in September would be amazing but we’re breaking the season up into chunks,” he says. “The opening matches have been treated a bit like a Test series and it seems to be working. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and the lads are enjoying the kind of cricket we’re playing.”
The tan may have gone, but the smile has most definitely returned to Ball’s face.
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