Ben Cox has come a long way since being hauled out of lessons at the tender age of 17 to make his first-class debut. The wicketkeeper, still only 24, has become one of the more experienced members of a young and promising Worcestershire side. He spoke to Chris Thornley about his development with bat and gloves, his international aspirations and the mood at New Road.
Worcestershire are one of the favourites to get promoted this year, have you approached games differently in Division Two?
Not really, but given that we missed the game against Kent due to the weather it’s going to be more difficult. Everybody is playing catch-up with Essex after their two early wins and they’re miles ahead of everyone else. In terms of the squad, nothing changes, but this year is the first time we’ve gone down to Division Two and been one of the favourites to go up. I think that’s right, we’ve earned that, because as a side we always punch above our weight, we’ve got no real big names other than Mo [Moeen Ali]. We’ve got no big name signings – we’ve got Clarkey [Joe Clarke] and Ross [Whiteley] who’ve been part of the England Lions – but we haven’t got those big ego players. Promotion is definitely the main aim. Given what’s going on in terms of the structure we want to be in Division One next season. That’s the number one goal for us, to go back up this year and not next year.
You made a crucial contribution in the draw with Gloucestershire, how pleased were you with that?
When I went in we were 160-5 and 120 behind the follow-on, so we were in a bit of trouble really. Those are the knocks you feel most pleased about, when the team needs you. It suited me really – the wicket and the bounce played into my pulling and cutting game, so I was pleased to be able to get some runs and help the team out.
When you first came into the side you batted as low as No.9, but you’ve risen up the order. What are your aspirations with the bat?
I was very young when I started and on my debut I batted at No.8, but in my eyes a keeper should bat at No.6. You want to be in the side as a batsman, not just solely for keeping, and you want to do the best job you can with both aspects of the game. For me, in terms of where I started, I’ve always seen myself as a batsman and I think where I was batting was just purely down to how young I was when I started, I potentially wasn’t quite ready when I started. I’m happy with where I’m batting now, No.6 or No.7, and I’m happy to help the team wherever I’m needed.
Celebrating a County Championship ton in 2015
You had a good year with the bat last year in Division One. Have you set yourself any targets this season?
Last year I averaged 36. I set myself high standards and at the end of the day I want to play for England, so I want to average above 40. My keeping should take care of itself but in my eyes, 800 runs in Division One at No.7 is a good, solid achievement, particularly as sometimes you find yourself batting with and managing the tail. You don’t always get the opportunity that the top order get – you have to play differently, you have to play more aggressively and that suits me as a player but on the flip side it affects the amount of chances you get to make a hundred. This season I want at least two hundreds, but I think consistency is the main goal. Last year I did quite well in Division One and I want to do the same thing if not more in Division Two, so that means 40 and getting as close to 1,000 runs as possible.
You mention your keeping… a couple of years ago James Foster said you were one of the best young keepers he’d ever seen. How much do you value feedback like that?
For me, that’s the best compliment anyone’s ever given me. For someone like him, with his stature and the reputation he has as one of the best glovemen in the country, to say that about me was amazing. At that time it was a big year for me. It was my first year full-time in the first team and I was just trying to prove myself and show what I could do, so it meant a lot for him to say that. We’ll have a catch up when we see each other this season and I’ll ask him for any drills that he has and if he sees anything in my keeping game that he could suggest to do. He’s always been very friendly and very open to help.
In one-day cricket the role of the keeper has changed and last season we saw you on the edge of the circle with the gloves off, was that something you’d worked on?
That doesn’t come from me that comes from Bumps (Steve Rhodes). He basically tries pushing laws to see what we can find to help save any runs here and there. Obviously you’ve only got five fielders out in T20 so if the keeper goes out from their normal position it gives you an extra fielder in the ring. It’s particularly useful for spinners when you have three out on the leg side. You’ve got no box man so the keeper being back gives you the ability to have one and therefore try and stop the two and build some pressure while still having three players out on the fence. It’s pushing the rules, but it’s a run-saving tactic to try and put the pressure back onto the opposition. Against Northants it worked because Afridi skied one and then Josh Cobb skied one as well so it got us two wickets, but against Warwickshire it didn’t do us any favours because the ball went for four byes down the leg side and I couldn’t get it. It works for some it doesn’t for others. It was just basically playing around and seeing what we could do.
You’re only a young guy but you’re one of Worcestershire’s more experienced players, how do you enjoy that role?
It’s weird! I’m 24 and I’m one of the oldest! It’s not good! It’s an extremely exciting time for Worcester this year and next year can be even better. If we keep the core of the players we have now together for the next four or five years we are going to be a serious side, without doubt. Obviously we’ve got Felly [Tom Fell] to come back, as well. He’s sadly undergoing chemotherapy at the minute but when he returns the side will be even stronger.
Moeen Ali’s demonstrated that you can play for England even while being at a ‘smaller’ county, does that give all of you hope?
Of course. And it’s not just Mo. Obviously he’s the one playing for England at the minute but you’ve got Clarkey too, and Ross Whiteley, involved with the Lions. From a personal point of view, I work really hard on my keeping. That should take care of itself, and I feel comfortable. I set out to be the best wicketkeeper in the country and I will continue to do that. If I can bat and score hundreds and score runs when the team need me in situations that are tough, that’s what gets you noticed and that’s what gets you on Lions tours. You can’t look too far ahead, you’ve got to take care of the processes. I want to score runs for Worcestershire, keep well for Worcestershire and just hope someone’s there when I’m doing that but to be honest I just worry about my job and just turning up each and every day to do my best.