Waiting game pays off for Coles
Matt Coles is an imposing figure on the cricket field but it was not always that way. "I used to be a bit of a midget when I was younger," he said. "So I didn't get much of a chance with bat or ball."
That has all changed now. At the age of 21, and with just 30 first-class matches for Kent under his belt, Coles is part of the England Lions set up facing West Indies in Northampton where he claimed Shivnarine Chanderpaul as a notable first wicket. He had his first taste of the Lions earlier this year as part of the Performance Programme in Sri Lanka before being elevated to the shadow squad when Stuart Meaker was injured.
And he has now started the 2012 season in fine style. A hundred at No. 9 in the opening Championship game against Yorkshire was followed by nine wickets against Northamptonshire - including a haul of 6 for 51 - then two more four-wicket hauls against Gloucestershire and the return fixture with Yorkshire. To cap off a productive first month of the summer he claimed 6 for 32 in a televised CB40 match at Headingley.
"I wasn't expecting the Lions to come round so soon; it's a great opportunity to be noticed and hopefully I can show what I can do," he said. "I've had the perfect start to the year. Now it's a case of maintaining that and hoping more performances can come. No doubt there will be low points in the year; it's just about keeping them to a minimum."
During his days in the playground he was not top of the list for the school yard games. "I wasn't last pick but certainly wasn't first pick." Then, however, as he reached teen-age he started to work his way through the Kent age-group sides where he represented them at Under-13, 15 and 17 level. Still, that was not without setbacks. Coles was dropped when he was 15 but the following season soon worked his way back into the set-up.
At school, Coles had his dad as his PE teacher. A child having a parent as a teacher is not always the easiest of situations, but Coles did not find it too bad. "He taught be some tough lessons and pushed me hard to do well in one sport."
Coles made his first-class debut against Loughborough UCCE in 2009 but a little like the schoolyard, did not bat or bowl in a match ruined by the weather. He did get a chance to bowl on his Championship debut at the tail end of that season but is honest about how it went. "I didn't do amazingly…in fact I did shockingly now I look back on it," he said, reflecting on figures of 2 for 130 from 17 overs against Gloucestershire.
In many ways Coles was one of a number of young players who could either sink or swim due to Kent's problems of building a sizeable squad with their financial constraints. He started to gain a regular place over the 2010 season, taking 27 wickets, as Kent were forced to make the most of their academy set-up rather than buying in talent. "With the squad being so small over the previous two years it's basically been the same 13-14 players who played all year and some get chucked in at the deep end."
Ahead of this season Kent recruited smartly, within their limitations, with the likes of Michael Powell, Brendan Nash, Ben Harmison and Charlie Shreck adding bulk to the squad. They also have a new coach in Jimmy Adams while Robert Key remains as captain and he is someone Coles credits with a huge amount of his success.
"It's been hard for Kent but this year we have a bit more of a squad and we couldn't have asked for much more at the start of the season," he said. "It's a good environment to be around. Keysey is a brilliant captain. He's been a massive influence on the younger players."
Coles has certainly flourished and those days of being down the pecking order are a fading memory.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo