Sussex youngster James Coles says spin development is key ahead of potential England winter
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Coles, who is still just 19 years of age, made a big impact in Hove this summer by scoring 849 runs in the County Championship alongside spells in the T20 Blast and One-Day Cup teams. Building on that form, the batting all-rounder is set to challenge himself on the India tour, which has not yet been announced for the Lions but is widely expected to go ahead.
“My plans are to hopefully get onto the Lions trip this winter,” said Coles. “I’ve heard a little bit from the [Sussex] coaches saying that it’s likely, but we’ll see what happens.”
With only one teenager – Somerset wicketkeeper James Rew – scoring more First-Class runs than Coles this summer, the youngster’s batting development has fast-tracked him onto England’s radar. While those skills will stand him in great stead if selected for the Lions, Coles was clear that he wanted to develop his spin bowling as well. “I think that would be the main reason [for going],” said Coles.
“Earlier this year, I went and bowled with the Test squad during the Ashes and that was an instant eye-opener of where I saw myself in comparison to where they’re all at. I think it would be a big factor of what I’m working on in India.”
Sussex fans will be aware of the importance of Coles’ spin already, as he has served as a second-choice slow bowler for much of the season behind Jack Carson. The 19-year-old’s slow left-arm orthodox bowling struggled to produce starring statistics, however, with just five wickets at an average of 106.00 in the County Championship, and four wickets at 90.25 in the One-Day Cup.
He was also a secondary option behind Shadab Khan in the T20 Blast, but failed to combine with the Pakistan international as he contributed just one wicket across 11 matches.
“I know I’ve been a bit disappointing with the ball this year, so that’s something to work on this winter,” said Coles.
“I think in honest reflection, I probably spent more time with my batting and the way I practiced with my bowling wasn’t quite as hard and as focused as it should have been. There’s something for next year to look into and have a bit more purpose with it and see more results.”
Despite struggles with the ball, Coles’ all-round performances have seen him nail down a spot in the Sussex side. Having started the season in competition with Delray Rawlins, Danial Ibrahim and Archie Lenham for an all-rounder role, the Oxfordshire academy graduate had to work hard to prove his skills – and even to be recognised by head coach Paul Farbrace.
“It was funny actually; our first interaction was in the marquee and I went over and shook his hand, and then he told me later on that he had no idea who I was,” Coles said.
“From then until now, it’s a complete difference. It’s done me the world of good getting the backing [from Farbrace].”
Coles also spoke of how a chat before the final rounds of County Championship action inspired a match-winning knock of 128 against Gloucestershire.
“[Farbrace] said to me at the end of the 50-over comp, ‘you’re gonna get a full run of games in this last three’ and he said ‘you’re gonna get a hundred in these last three games’, so it’s quite nice to follow up and do what he said I’d do,” said Coles.
With his contributions including a career-high score of 180 against Derbyshire that won him Men’s Performance of the Year at Sussex’s end-of-season awards evening, Coles exceeded many expectations this year.
Most importantly, the all-rounder beat his own targets for the campaign, doing so at an incredible rate.
“I set goals this year and met them pretty quickly, so I guess I’ve got to set some pretty aspiring ones for next [year] to keep me pushing,” said Coles.
“[The goals were] to play one T20 game, and I ended up playing the majority of the competition, and then score a First-Class hundred, which I did pretty early again.
“I think for next season, I’m gonna have to set some maybe even unobtainable goals, but it will keep me driven.”
All this comes at an exciting time for young English cricketers, with the ability to play in four different domestic competitions and to break into a national team that are world champions in two formats and blazing a trail in Test cricket.
Given his obvious talent, Coles will continue to be spoken about as a future England international, but for now it is just a case of taking things as they come.
“I had a long chat with the psychologist earlier this week and was pretty honest saying I want a good career, and if it isn’t going how I want it, I want to try and fix that as soon as possible,” Coles said.
“I want it to be one of those careers that’s memorable.
“I’ve set pretty high standards of where I want to be at in the next five years, but it’s just trying to set standards early.”
Coles will set his sights on India next, and if that does not work out, a winter in Sri Lanka and South Africa working on his all-round skills.
All that will build on a fantastic summer with Sussex that finished in the best way possible.
“There’s been moments where it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, but luckily I’ve always felt confident throughout the season that I’m in pretty good nick, and it’s a nice way to finish,” said Coles.