Until Stuart Broad came along, not since the days of deadly duo Harold Larwood and Bill Voce had Nottinghamshire CCC unearthed fast bowlers capable of mixing it for England in the Test match arena.
Nuncargate-born Larwood and Annesley Woodhouse-born Voce terrorised the Aussies et al way back in the 1930s, including on the famous ‘Bodyline’ tour Down Under, while Broad is firmly established as one of the best bowlers in Test history.
Now Jake Ball, illustrious son of Welbeck and Warsop, is hoping he can emulate the legendary trio after making his Test debut, and taking his maiden Test wicket, for England at Lord’s this week.
The home of cricket, in front of a capacity crowd, represents a far cry from his younger days at Meden School in Warsop and on the playing fields of Welbeck Colliery. But that is where it all began for the 25-year-old Ball. That is where his cricketing talent was nurtured, helped by Uncle Bruce, the brilliant former Notts stumper Bruce French, who claimed almost 1,000 dismissals in the first-class game, won 16 Test caps himself and is now England’s wicketkeeping coach.
French had four brothers. But he also had one sister, and when she gave birth to a son, Jacob Timothy Ball, just a couple of miles from Welbeck’s Sookholme ground on March 14, 1991, it was inevitable that he would inherit the family’s love for cricket.
“Originally, he was a hard-hitting all-rounder,” said French. “As a batsman, he didn’t play many defensive shots! And his bowling didn’t take off until he grew taller, about the age of 15. He was a slow burner.”
It wasn’t long before Ball was playing for Welbeck in the Notts Premier League, where they remain a major force, having been runners-up five times since 1999.
His big break came when the ex-Notts and Surrey batsman Darren Bicknell, who was Welbeck’s professional-cum coach at the time, spotted Ball’s potential and recommended him to coaches at Trent Bridge.
As an 18-year-old, Ball made his county debut in a one-day match against Sussex in 2009. And the following summer, he played a couple of Youth Tests for England U19s against Sri Lanka.
Not until the following summer did Ball play for Notts in a first-class match, and his progress seemed slow as he gained experience and knowledge. But impressive performances in the white-ball game could not go unnoticed and by the start of this term, he was one of the first names on Notts’s teamsheet in County Championship cricket.
Fittingly, French presented him with his cap at Lord’s. Minutes later, captain Alastair Cook presented him with the new ball, and suddenly, Jake Ball was following in the foosteps of Larwood and Voce.