Tuesday, August 16th, 2022


Ben Gibbon had water on the knee last week. Towards the end of our chat in the press box at Emirates Old Trafford he lifted up the right leg of his track-suit bottoms and pressed against the liquid-filled balloon that surrounded his patella.

Such injuries are a part of his chosen trade, which is that of a professional cricketer. This particular niggle kept him out of action until last Sunday’s Royal London Cup match against Derbyshire at New Road. It cropped up nearly five months into a season in which he has bowled Shan Masood, bowled to Ben Stokes and played his first three games of first-class cricket.

Ben Gibbon on his First-Class debut

“Obviously, I was really happy to make my first-class debut and to get those games under my belt early in the season was nice,” he said. “It’s been enjoyable to play on flat wickets and learn how to bowl in red-ball county cricket.”

It would be daft to suggest that Gibbon has ripped up any trees. At the same time, he has taken seven wickets and gradually begun to belong in an environment which is always different from those in which young cricketers have previously performed.

Talent helps, of course; indeed, it is essential. But most second-team cricketers are talented. The question is whether they can cope against players of comparable talent, far more experience and the sort of streetwise savvy that only comes after a season or so on the circuit. It would be fatuous to suggest that everyone makes it. We know they don’t.

“What I took from the first half of the season was the realisation that the margins are much smaller than in other formats,” said Gibbon. “If you are an inch or two out, you’re going for four. That didn’t surprise me because I knew that would happen in the next level up but there was still the challenge of adapting my game accordingly.”

Gibbon has been helped to make the necessary adjustments by Worcestershire’s bowling coach, Alan Richardson, who manages to mix technical help with the pats on the back and kicks up the bum that any young player will need.

“I’m working on consistency with my new-ball spells and then swinging it as the ball gets a little bit older,” he said “Alan (Richardson) and I have been concentrating on getting my wrist position right and working out a grip that works for me. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to swing the ball without sacrificing accuracy, and that’s an improvement on where I was at the start of the year.”

That’s fine and dandy and very welcome, of course, but there’s very little Gibbon could have done to prepare himself for the task of bowling to Shan Masood when the Derbyshire opener was in magnificent form or of bowling to Ben Stokes when the newly appointed England skipper was in the sort of destructive mood that had cricket writers from national newspapers rounding bends on two wheels to get to New Road.

Gibbon actually bowled Masood, although only when the Pakistani batsman had made 113. And as for facing Stokes, who only hit him for two sixes – not all Worcestershire bowlers were as fortunate – he took the advice of senior colleagues.

“People said it was probably a good idea to take a step back and appreciate what you were watching,” he said, “Even though we were on the receiving end of it, it was pretty special to see someone bat like that. At one stage, we had Stokes on 150 and Bedingham on 130, and we were trying to give the bloke on 130 the strike. Again, though, it reminded me of the margin for error.

“By contrast, Shan Masood can take your best ball for one or two runs. He’s a good runner between the wickets, too, in addition to all the other things he can do. He steals runs.”

Worcestershire Rapids Ben Gibbon in bowling action.
Hampshire v Worcestershire. 5.8.22

However, bowling to Stokes and Masood, however memorable those experiences might have been, filled only two days in what has been a rewardingly hard season. And yes, it has been even tougher for Worcestershire’s team, many of whose games have not gone as they wished.

But when we are assessing summers, we should probably consider that they contain many arcs of achievement. While this does not diminish the prime importance of the team’s results, it should help us to see that even in a year Worcestershire supporters might prefer to forget, younger players have met personal challenges in ways that will enrich the county in future seasons.

And Ben Gibbon’s story is just one example from a county whose Academy is one of its very strongest resources.

“We’ve just been on a trip to Hampshire and then to Scarborough, but it’s not been too bad. You bowl a long spell, and then you wake up the next morning, and you have to go again. I’ve enjoyed that side of it even though it’s been tough. But that’s first-class cricket, and it’s what’s going to make you a better player.