Worcestershire CCC spinner Josh Baker is on a learning curve after a superb start to his senior career at New Road – and admits the experiences on the pitch helped him to dispose of another set of L-plates!
For the 18-year-old passed his driving test at the first attempt and says having to handle the pressure of playing at places like Lord’s stood him in good stead for the challenges of behind the wheel next to his examiner.
Baker can reflect on what he describes as an “incredible” journey from the Worcestershire CCC Academy, via completing his education at Malvern College, to becoming a first team regular in the space of a three months.
A second team hat-trick against Nottinghamshire, in front of the then Club Captain Joe Leach, led to him being handed a LV=Insurance County Championship debut against Warwickshire.
Baker remained in the side for the five remaining Championship games and seven in the Royal London Cup and the slow left armer demonstrated his potential on many occasions.
He also showed his capabilities with the bat in the RLC as well as hitting an unbeaten 61 against Middlesex in the County Championship at the Home Of Cricket before going onto gain his full driving licence.
Baker said: “Three amazing months? It has been incredible. Myself and my parents sat down when the season had finished and looked back and thought it was probably one of the best summers I could ever have and what I had dreamt for really.
“It was incredible, from not being on the Academy just over 12 months ago to now being a full-time professional cricketer. It has been quite a crazy journey and a journey I have really enjoyed.m
“When I finished at Malvern College, I wanted to try and play as many Seconds games as possible and try and do well.
“I was kind of thinking I would probably stay on the Academy for another year and then try and go to University. I never dreamt of getting a professional contract.”
Baker’s first team career came to fruition after the hat-trick for the Seconds at Nottingham.
He said: “I remember after the game that Joe (Leach) came up to me and said ‘I’ve just come off the phone with Alex (Gidman) and we are going to add you to the squad for the Warwickshire game.
“I went ‘wow, what an opportunity this is’ but expected not to play and to just run the drinks on (as 12th man).
“I turned up for training the day before and Joe (Leach) came up to me again and said ‘you are going to make your first class debut tomorrow’ with a smile on his face, and I was buzzing.
“I remember phoning my mum and dad and telling them, and they were in tears, and it was pretty special.
“I think I learnt more in that Warwickshire four-day game than I did in my whole cricketing career.
“The standard is so high and it was a really good learning curve and then, going into white ball as well, that was the biggest learning, with just how hard the batsmen come at you.
“I sort of knew that, from playing junior cricket at such a young age, playing at Astwood Bank. You’re the young kid who bowls spin so they are going to try and whack you.
“I knew that they were going to come at me but I just tried to do what I do best and backed my ability. “
Leach showed his faith in Baker by handing him the penultimate over of a closely fought RLC game at Bristol and he only conceded four runs.
He said: “I was surprised. I expected just to field but then he gave me that ball and it just filled me with a lot of confidence and, when someone does that, it makes you perform to the best of your ability and luckily it came off.”
Baker appears unfazed and enjoying the challenges of first team cricket.
He said: “That is what I was just trying to be, just confident, if I’m down at all about my bowling, try not to let the batsman feel like they were on top, have a swagger about me.
“That stood me in good stead, especially when I had my driving test last week and I passed at the first attempt.
“I wasn’t that nervous because, if I can play at Lord’s in front of a couple of thousand people, then I can show one person that I can drive.
“It was a good life experience as well.”
Baker admits he learnt a lot from his brief spell as a team-mate of Moeen Ali in a Seconds game and also facing international batsmen like Alastair Cook (Essex) and Sam Billings (Kent).
He said: “Playing in the second team game with Moeen Ali was pretty special. I remember he came up and said hallo. I sort of mumbled my name because I was star struck really.
“But I learnt a lot from him, especially when people try to sweep or reverse sweep you, just try and vary my pace and change my line a little bit.
“Bowling to Alastair Cook at Essex was pretty special because I’ve seen him on the TV, I’ve got signed shirts and bats from him. He was one of my big heroes.
“Then bowling to Sam Billings and getting him out was quite special as well, my first international scalp.”
Baker played some splendid strokes in his unbeaten 61 at Lord’s to follow on from some useful late order knocks in the RLC.
He said: “It was really special. My grandparents were there. Unfortunately my parents had left. They came on the Sunday but they were in the car and mum had the live stream on and they were both watching.
“Doing it at Lord’s, I don’t think I could wish for anything better. Myself and Dillon (Pennington) were just trying to get the scores level and anything after that was a bonus.
“When I got to fifty, I waved my bat to one stand and up to the lads on the balcony. It was a bizarre moment. I didn’t really expect to be in that position. It is not something I dreamt of the night before!”
Baker has also quickly adapted to the demands of fielding in first team cricket.
He said: “I feel like the environment brings you up as well, just knowing you’ve got to be on it every single ball.
“The way the lads train, people like Brett (D’Oliveira), you just learn so much off them and the energy they bring to fielding, is just incredible and that picks you up as well.
“I’ve always backed my fielding ability. If the ball is hit to me, I back myself to catch it so I was a little disappointed to drop two this season but I was happy to grab a couple against Sussex.”