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Vithushan Ehantharajah at New Road
June 9, 2014
Hampshire 10 for 1 trail Worcestershire 402 for 9 dec (Cox 104, Kervezee 80) by 392 runs
Ben Cox scored his maiden first-class hundred to help Worcestershire beyond par and to a useful first-innings score on a two-paced pitch. At 22, he is young enough to be heralded as a prospect, even if, by his own admission, this score has been a long time coming. To his credit, his batting here looked like he had done it many times before.
The day started, eventually, at 2.15pm. Then, Cox was expected to play back-up to Alexei Kervezee, who was set overnight on 65 and thought to hold the key to a competitive total. He could only add 15 runs to his score before he thumped a juicy short ball into the palms of a surprised James Vince at short midwicket.
From that point - 199 for 5 - Cox played the lead role with great conviction. With Kervezee, he had grown in confidence, punching down the ground to bring up their fifty partnership after using James Tomlinson's pace and angle to drop his back knee and drive him behind point for four.
Patience is a nuisance for any young man. Since signing a four-year contract at the end of the 2009 season, Cox's position as first choice behind the stumps has been far from certain.
He put in an accomplished display on Championship debut at the end of the 2009 season, scoring 61 in his maiden innings against an experienced Somerset attack. But upon completing his A levels in 2010, Cox struggled to make the position his own, averaging 18 and then 12 in successive seasons, ceding the gloves to Ben Scott in the process.
With his contract expiring at the end of 2013, he would be forgiven for wondering if that was it, with Worcestershire bringing in Western Australian keeper Michael Johnson at the start of the season. Abject performances from Johnson - 184 runs at 14.15 - meant Cox was given six appearances. Again, his return was modest but it was enough to earn him another year at New Road.
Two half-centuries already this summer hinted at a renewed sense of belief with the bat. Certainly his keeping has come on leaps and bounds, earning high praise from Essex captain James Foster, who described him as "one of the best young keepers" he had ever seen. The numbers alone tell a story - he already has more first-class runs now than he managed in the entirety of previous campaigns.
He was composed throughout, certainly to the onlooker, until the nineties when he had to constantly remind himself that he couldn't just throw the bat at the ball to get to his century. "I was a nervous wreck," he said afterwards, almost taking himself back to that period he spent either facing up and yearning to swing or looking over at the scoreboard.
He went back to his routines and tried to get the nerves out of him. Within four, he talked himself out of throwing his hands at one. "Thankfully, I got it through midwicket," he said of the ball he received on 99, which he worked away for three runs.
There were two punches of the air - one for the first run, another for the third that took him to 102 - before he removed his helmet and jumped with elation, turning to salute a packed Worcestershire balcony, who were almost as nervous as he was. The relief, on both sides of the boundary, was palpable.
"It was amazing, to be honest - amazing," he reflected, exhausted and jubilant, in equal measure. He was visibly lost for words, wary that he might even resort to profanity when describing how much this first jaunt to three figures meant to him. His family were here to witness it, as they have been for most of his innings this season. "They're the biggest badgers Worcester have got!"
It is easy to become effusive about a player finally realising potential and turning it into something excitingly tangible. Cox himself was quick to pull himself up on that, when put the idea that he has joined the pecking order of England wicketkeepers. "There are loads to be fair," he laughed, when the question was being uttered.
For Worcestershire, however, there is scope for some short-term optimism. Jack Shantry emerged with a bat like a traction engine to pillage six boundaries and, with some help from Saeed Ajmal, 400 was brought up in the 118th over.
The declaration followed and further success was garnered when Michael Carberry fell to Shantry's leg-slip trick when he helped the first ball of the Hampshire first innings reply on its way.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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