Bedfordshire are ready and waiting

Bedfordshire

It hasn’t been the easiest of decades for Bedfordshire cricket.

Last season, their win over Hertfordshire at Bedford Modern School in July, was the county’s first in the then Minor Counties Championship in four years. It was also their first on home soil since 2010.

All of which pointed to a brighter future for a county that had become accustomed to life among the also-rans in the 20-team competition, despite playing a role in the development of Alastair Cook, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in their formative years.

An ambitious recruitment drive, the appointment of a new coach and the re-branding of the National Counties game all hinted that 2020 might be one to savor for a county that last won the title – shared with Devon – back in 2004.

The coronavirus has clearly put pay to that, for the time being at least.

Eddie Ballard is the man charged with turning their fortunes around and if he needs a helping hand at any point, then he could do worse than give Kevin Pietersen a quick call.

The 30-year-old has recently returned from Mumbai, where he worked alongside the former England great at his new academy in one of the world’s great cricket cities.

Any return there is currently on hold, but Ballard is hoping he can draw on his experience of India’s cricket magic to try and bring about a miraculous transformation of Bedfordshire’s fortunes.

First up, though, there is the little matter of completing a 2,000-mile challenge in 20 days with his new charges – on bike, foot or any means necessary.

“There’s only 12 of us doing it, so it took about four days for the realisation to hit us that this wasn’t going to be easy,” says Ballard.

“We basically need to do 100 miles a day and so there has been a lot of pressure on a couple of the boys, particularly those on the bike.

“I went out and bought a road bike before we started, having never cycled before in my life. I’m getting quite into it but it’s hard work. And these temperatures aren’t helping!”

Even on a hot early summer’s day, the temperature in this particular corner of England can’t be compared to those he experienced in Mumbai for the past seven months. In fact, it must have been a perfect exercise in acclimatisation.

“He has a new company called the Kevin Pietersen Global Academy and they basically employed me to go and run the launch in Mumbai,” he says.

“Then we’ve done a few bits over here as well. We were supposed to go back there but that obviously got curtailed with the pandemic.

“We did a two-and-a-half-week launch over in Mumbai and some taster stuff with KP. We also worked very closely with some of the slum charities. It was brilliant, a great experience to be out there, working in a city that is absolutely crazy for cricket.

“The passion for the game is just incredible. When they came up with the plan, as soon as I found out where it was, I was all over it.

“It’s a very interesting place to live and work for a while. The kids just thought it was amazing when we had KP over there.”

It was five years after KP announced his England arrival in unforgettable fashion during the 2005 Ashes that Ballard made his own first class bow for Cambridge UCCE.

It’s not something he wishes to spend too much time dwelling on.

“It was a tough introduction – I got naught and one on my debut and then a pair in my third game!” he says. “It wasn’t a particularly strong first-class career but fortunately they were all university games so no-one can frown on them too much.

“I had a season playing for Surrey but didn’t play any first-team matches. It was a really fun experience playing full-time cricket, but I’d actually say I enjoy coaching more than playing five or six times a week.

“It becomes a bit of a long drag for something you really, really love. I play my fair share of cricket as it is but being able to work with some of the younger guys is something you really appreciate. It’s especially hard for them at the moment because they’ve put in a real shift in the winter with a full training programme.”

“We did a two-and-a-half-week launch over in Mumbai and some taster stuff with KP. We also worked very closely with some of the slum charities. It was brilliant, a great experience to be out there, working in a city that is absolutely crazy for cricket.”

The same can be said for Bedfordshire’s first team after a busy winter of activity, which included the recruitment of former Kent, Hampshire and Essex star, Matt Coles.

“From what I’ve seen, we’ve got a really strong unit,” he says.

“It’s been a bit of an anti-climax and really disappointing given all the hard work we’ve put in. It’s especially disappointing because I really think we could have competed across all formats this season.

“We’ve got the basis of a strong side. We’ve managed to bring in some new players and we’ve got George Thurstance, a Bedfordshire lad but hasn’t really played too much for the past few years, who has come back to captain the side. He’s a really good lad, a very well-respected bloke.

“Matt [Coles] is obviously very experienced; a seamer who’s also a proper batter. We’ve also brought in Richard Kaufman from Oxfordshire, and Kashif Ali, who is a very promising young batsman from the MCC Young Cricketers. He went to school in Luton too, so he’s a local lad as well.

“Everything is set.”

All Bedfordshire need is some cricket.

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