The future of England’s seam attack has been the cause of a certain amount of hand-wringing among the cricketing public in recent seasons. James Anderson and Stuart Broad have spearheaded England’s Test attack for the best part of a decade, but with both players now in their thirties the end of an era appears close at hand.
Recent experimentation has provided little comfort for those looking for signs that England will be able to fill the shoes of their two great fast bowlers. Indeed, few of Anderson and Broad’s likely replacements have managed to perform with any great consistency at Test level. Mark Wood’s impressive displays have been punctuated by long periods of injury, Jake Ball remains a work in progress and Steven Finn continues to follow great peaks with equally significant troughs.
The fear that England are running out of time to find long-term partners for Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes in a four-man seam attack is understandable. However, last week’s opening round of County Championship fixtures showed that the cupboard is not as bare as might have been assumed. From Chelmsford to Leeds, a series of excellent performances by young English fast bowlers – the children of the T20 revolution – provided an exciting glimpse of a promising future.
As Headingley bathed in Friday’s late-evening sunshine, 23-year-old Ben Coad laid waste to Hampshire’s top order with a remarkable spell of bowling. Taking 6-37 including 5-18 in eight overs, Coad’s fast action, probing line and late swing saw him give Yorkshire an early advantage in the game.
Despite having made his first-team debut back in 2015, the strength and experience of Yorkshire’s seam attack has seen the Harrogate-born Coad forced to play the majority of his cricket in the second XI. However, after making obvious strides over the winter and with the likes of Ryan Sidebottom and Tim Bresnan in the autumn of their careers, Coad could be set to feature more prominently this season.
After taking the prized wickets of Michael Carberry and James Vince in both innings at Headingley, it is clear that Coad has the skills required to trouble even the most accomplished Division One batsmen. If he can establish himself as a regular frontline bowler in the Championship, then Coad will be a player to watch as he continues to develop his talent and refine the raw materials he already possesses.
200 miles south of Headingley, Essex’s Aaron Beard enjoyed an encouraging start to the season during his side’s draw with Lancashire at Chelmsford.
Born and raised in Essex, the 19-year-old Beard first came to national attention in May 2016 when he claimed 4-62 in a warm-up match against the touring Sri Lankans. Judging by his performance against Lancashire, Beard is poised to become a mainstay of the Essex attack this season.
Fresh from wintering in India with England U19s, Beard claimed the Lancastrian wickets of Liam Livingstone (twice), Haseeb Hameed and Dane Vilas as he posted impressive match figures of 5-92. A technically correct right-arm bowler with a beautifully repeatable action, Beard is a significant threat with the swinging ball and appears to be more than comfortable playing Division One cricket.
Benefitting from Alastair Cook’s presence at Essex and bowling alongside veterans such as Neil Wagner, Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, Beard is in an ideal situation for a young fast bowler. If he can maintain his place in the side and learn from those around him, then Beard’s progression from the England U19s to the Lions looks a near-certainty.
At The Oval, where Surrey hosted Warwickshire, the Curran brothers – Tom and Sam – picked up from where they left off last season. Two of the most promising young players in English cricket, the brothers’ combined haul of 60 wickets at 37.43 and 899 runs at 24.29 in 2016 established them as an exciting pair of bowling all-rounders.
Aged just 22 (Tom) and 18 (Sam), both have performed strongly for the England Lions and – if Tom’s call-up to the senior squad as cover during the tour of the West Indies is any measure – appear to be a major part of the ECB’s plans for the future. As dynamic players who have quickly become regulars in a strong Surrey side, there looks to be a good chance of the Currans featuring heavily at both domestic and international level over the course of the next decade.
Opening the bowling together against Warwickshire last week, Tom and Sam took eight wickets between them as Surrey swaggered to a innings victory. A fast away-swing bowler, Tom shone during the second innings as he dismantled the middle and lower order with a healthy 4-88. Sam, an aggressive left-arm quick (and the more impressive batsman of the two), chipped in with match figures of 3-98 as Surrey enjoyed an ideal start to the campaign.
Together with the more experienced duo of Mark Footitt and Jade Dernbach, the brothers are a key part of an excellent bowling unit that has the potential to lead Surrey into the upper reaches of the County Championship table this season. Their progress will surely be followed closely by those within the ECB.
Anderson and Broad are far from finished at the highest level, but both have their peak years behind them and it would be prudent for England to start scouring the county game for possible long-term replacements.
Directly replacing two players with a combined 835 Test wickets is a near-impossible task, but county cricket continues to prove its worth as a talent production line for the English game. The early signs from this season are that the Championship abounds with young bowlers who are rich in both ability and potential.