Jake Ball admitted that he almost threw up a chocolate tart over chief selector, James Whitaker, when he received his first England call-up last summer – now the Nottinghamshire seamer is hoping to serve up some serious food for thought for opposition batsman this summer.
Picked for England’s one-day series against Ireland, which starts at Bristol on Friday, and June’s Champions Trophy campaign, Ball find himself at the start of a 2017 season brimming with opportunity.
Star-turns in 50 over cricket could see the 26-year-old force his way into England’s Test plans, with an Ashes series in Australia beckoning this winter.
His eight wickets in two County Championship matches this season represent a decent platform for Ball - who is thriving alongside Aussie James Pattinson and Stuart Broad for his county – to achieve that ambition.
For the next two months, though, it’s white ball rather than red ball cricket that will occupy his thoughts and after taking 5-51 on his ODI debut against Bangladesh back in October, he has already given ample notice of his priceless knack of taking crucial wickets at the death.
“That was amazing, especially on debut,” he says. “It was a hot sticky night in Dhaka and the team weren’t in a great position. To come on and change a game in my first match gave me a massive boost and a massive amount of confidence going into this summer.
“Bowling in one-day cricket can be a fairly thankless task but bowling at the death is something I’ve always enjoyed doing. It’s not often that a bowler has the chance to put his mark on a one-day game. I think it’s an area where you can make an impact.”
That performance in Dhaka would have made coach Trevor Bayliss sit up and take notice, just months after he failed to recognise Ball following his first call-up.
That series win against a vastly-improved Bangladesh side is just one reason why England’s white ball side are favourites to win their first major 50-over trophy on home soil this summer. All of which would represent quite some turnaround for a side that slunk out of the World Cup in Australia at a near all-time low just two years ago.
Ball impressed in Bangladesh last October ( Getty)
The timidity that cloaked that England team, however, is a world away from the brash effervescence that has now come to typify Eoin Morgan’s side.
“The confidence is high, full stop, in the dressing room at the moment,” he says. “You only have to sit in there and look around at the talent that’s in there and how long the team could be together.
“It’s a young team and a very exciting team and one that I’ve loved being around. There’s so much energy in that team and all the players get on so well. In the West Indies, everyone was going out for meals and I think everyone just enjoys each other’s company. It makes it a lot easier to come into the dressing room. From the second you walk in, you’re made to feel very welcome and one of the team.
“As soon as you get onto the pitch and into the game environment it’s still relaxed and enjoyable. You’re given the freedom to go out and play the way that has got you into the team in the first place.”
Past England one-day sides have often been accused of playing with fear and freezing in tough situations. With Ball playing alongside the likes of Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, that accusation now looks as dated as the safety-first approach employed by England at the last World Cup.
But while it’s inevitable that the batsmen receive the plaudits for smiting mighty sixes and increasingly rapid hundreds, it’s the ability of the bowlers to take wickets that often makes the difference in 50 over cricket.
“You just have to be confident, you can quite easily bowl the perfect Yorker and batsman can get down and ramp it but you have to put that to the back of your mind,” says Ball.
“All you can do is execute your skill. One of the things I’ve worked on in recent years is my mindset. You’re going to get hit for four and you’re going to get hit for sixes, that’s just the nature of the game. It’s all about regathering yourself and ensuring that the next ball you bowl is as good as the last one and try to restrict the batter or try to get him out.”
Ball’s learning curve has been rapid since his first meeting with Whitaker and Bayliss last summer. His death bowling could breathe further life into England’s one-day trophy quest in the coming months.