Last month, Kent teenager Jordan Cox went to his maiden first-class ton – and he didn’t stop there. Taha Hashim meets the assured record-breaker.
“Lucky for Sussex, if there wasn’t a restriction of 120 overs, I would have felt pretty sad for them because it would have been a very, very long day.”
Collar popped, teenage bravado and a heck of a lot of talent – meet Jordan Cox. In August, the 19-year-old Kent opener shared an unbeaten 423-run stand with Jack Leaning against Sussex in the Bob Willis Trophy, the county’s highest-ever first-class partnership. Playing just his fifth first-class match, Cox – a product of the Kent assembly line and part of England’s Under 19 World Cup squad earlier this year – finished on 238 not out off 345 balls, his first-class average rocketing from 19 to 59. With the competition’s regulations limiting Kent’s innings to 120 overs, Sussex’s bowlers were granted mercy, but an innings victory was wrapped up that same day. “Every time I walk out to bat I still can’t believe I’ve done it,” says Cox. “It feels like a dream in a way. It’s really weird. It hasn’t sunk in yet at all.”
If those sentiments feel somewhat cliché and expected from a youngster who has just played his breakthrough knock, this tale itself is far from it: unbeaten on 167 on the morning of day three, Cox hatched a plot to overtake the career-best scores of his senior colleagues. “I went into the changing room the next morning on 167, and I was like: ‘Yep, I’m going to go past your score today, Sam [Billings]’. I was just ticking people off. It was like motivation. Having a higher score than Sam Billings and Joe Denly at 19, that’s what got me going. There was no crowd or anything so I was thinking about that.” He’s got England’s newly anointed golden boy in his sights, too. “Now Zak’s [Crawley] overtaken me again I might have to try and get past 267.” Tongue in cheek, sure, but perhaps only partly.
The confidence in his ability hasn’t always been there, though. Picked to make his England under 19s debut on a tour of Bangladesh at the start of 2019, Cox’s highest score from six innings was 30, with just one run across his three knocks in the ODIs. “It was a pretty tough tour, and then I started thinking: ‘Here we go – I’m going have to go back to the Kent environment and people are going be like, “Cor, you had a good tour”.’ I overthought things.”
The summer rolled around and so did a first-team Kent debut, but Cox still had unfinished business against Bangladesh. “The Blast came around, I got involved, was loving life, having the best time, jumping around and diving around the field, which I love to do.
“Then Bangladesh [under 19s] came over to play in a tri-series against India and England, and I texted Jon Lewis [England head coach] after a Hampshire game at Beckenham, and I was like, ‘I’m not doing anything tomorrow; is there any chance I can play in this game against Bangladesh?’”
Cox got the nod, drove to Canterbury to pick up his keeping kit and returned to Beckenham late in the evening ahead of his second match in two days. “The next morning I felt like I didn’t want to play cricket. I was like, ‘I really don’t want to play, I just want to chill out’. And when I do that I play at my best.” The end product: 122 off 143 balls, an innings Cox admits was a turning point for him. “I had all the experience from facing all the T20 bowlers in the nets, and then facing the Bangladesh bowlers was quite easy. I’m not going to lie. I was like, ‘Come on, I’ve faced a lot quicker than this and a lot tougher situations’. It was more to show my team and their team that I had the ability.”
Still, doubts persisted until he went to his maiden first-class ton against Sussex, brought up with a six. “My high score was 28 [actually 29] before my double hundred. I wasn’t believing in myself. I was just a bit, ‘Why am I here? Come on, you have to prove yourself’. And when I got my double hundred, when I got 50 I was like, ‘Yes, come on, that is me. That’s such a good step to prove to myself and to the players that I should be there’. When I got close to 100, I was like, ‘Oh my god, can this actually happen?’ And I tried not to think about it at all, but obviously I was very nervous. That ball, it was six or out and I wasn’t having anything in-between. I saw the ball get tossed up and was like, ‘Move your feet quick here and just smoke it’, and luckily it came out the middle of my bat.”
That six was one of three, with 27 fours thrown in. Watch him at the crease and there are few moving parts, adding to the fluency of each stroke. Standing tall, head still, both feet aligned on middle to the right-armer from over the wicket – it’s simple and easy on the eye, but it wasn’t always this way.
“When I get a bit nervous my left foot just creeps in front of my right and I get closed off, so when I’m playing at my best it’s perfect alignment with my right just in front of my left. My trigger movement was awful before. I had about 35 theories and I had to stop thinking about them. Stand there and keep your head still and you’ll hit the ball. For me I’m probably the most chilled out bloke you’ll meet. I’m see ball, hit ball. I’m not any of that sort of stuff where you look back at the replay and go: ‘Did I miss that?’ I look at it once and am like, ‘OK, sweet I could have done this better’. I’ll tell Mickey, ‘I just need to get my head over it a bit more’, and he’ll be like, ‘Yep, I totally agree.’ Then we move on.”
Mickey is Michael Yardy, the former England all-rounder and now a strong influence on Cox as Kent’s batting coach. “He said to me before the Sussex game, ‘I promise you, if you bat like you have been in the nets, then you’ll get a hundred this tournament. I can promise you that’. When I got to a hundred I just raised my bat to him. I was like: ‘That’s my man’. Whenever there’s someone I need to go to it’s him. He knows me. He’s definitely someone I look up to and admire.”
The joy of Cox’s innings against Sussex was short-lived, however. After agreeing to a picture with some fans without social distancing, Cox breached the club’s Covid-19 protocols and was left out of the following match against Middlesex. “I completely agree with what Kent did with me. They gave me a match ban and a corona test because if I came back, had it and gave it to the boys, the season would be over. I completely get the punishment and I took it on the chin and said sorry to the boys and now we move on and forget about it.”
Moving on has involved a return to Kent’s top order in the Bob Willis Trophy and more outings in the T20 Blast. A wicketkeeper too, Cox has Ollie Robinson to compete with at Kent if he wants the gloves, and he made his maiden first-team appearance behind the stumps on Tuesday in a win over Surrey. “I want to be a batsman who can keep so I can fill two spots.”
Supremely self-confident but still open about his vulnerabilities, Cox has to be asked about his career aspirations. Interestingly, there are no grand pronouncements – yet. “You’ll have to ask me that again at the end of the year because right now I don’t know” is the take as he directs his immediate focus to establishing himself at Kent.
Furthermore, when it comes to naming the players he looks up to, there is mention of a superstar in Kevin Pietersen, but more pertinent is the listing of those he now shares a dressing room with. “I never thought I would play with Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly and Sam Billings. I was in the academy and they were playing first-team cricket and scoring hundreds and I was like, ‘Wow, imagine playing alongside them’.” Now he has a higher first-class score than all three.