SCOTLAND youngster Freddie Coleman is in no doubt that “red ball cricket” is the game’s most challenging format.
Forget the bish-bash of Twenty20 or even 50-over games: the elongated version of the game, which requires the patience of a masochistic saint to cope with the relative monotony of facing ball after ball at the crease with only the odd run or occasional boundary to stimulate the senses, is the toughest.
Which is why the prodigious batsman should prove an asset when Scotland have arguably their most challenging four-day outing in recent history when the Australia A side, incorporating a number of proven Test performers, arrive at the Grange on Friday.
Occasions such as these are what the 21-year-old has trained for since he decamped from Edinburgh in his teens for the bright lights of Birmingham and the lure of a contract from Warwickshire. The county has invested heavily in the young opener, nurturing him through their academy system and onwards to a professional contract last winter, all while affording him the leeway to enhance his education on national duty.
It helps that his coach there, Dougie Brown, is another Scottish exile with experience of this path.
“There’s a huge amount of support,” Coleman says. “But you get out what you put in. If you’re prepared to work, they’ll throw balls at you all day. You know if you want to get better, you have to practice more and more.
“We have a fantastic indoor facility with hundreds of machines. So, when I started out at the academy, they were testing us out from the very start, just to make sure we could make it as a pro at a first-class level.”
For every aspirant that reaches the first team, several others fall by the wayside. In recent seasons, fellow Scots Calum MacLeod and Nav Poonia have been among those who did not meet the exacting demands of Edgbaston.
Even now, Coleman is far from a fixture. Dislodging the redoubtable Varun Chopra or the Ireland captain Will Porterfield will be no easy feat.
Cementing a spot will prove even harder on those occasions when star men Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott are granted occasional leave from England duty.
“I just have to keep doing my thing, which is scoring runs,” says Coleman. “Hundreds is the key.”
Arriving as a 16-year-old trainee was not as daunting as it might seem, the Scot says. It was simply too good an opportunity to pass up. Only when he first rubbed shoulders with Warwickshire’s Test performers did the jitters set in. Watching the elite at close hand, however, proved instructive.
“It’s how hard they work,” he says. “They train twice as hard as everyone else. It’s not just talent. They put in serious hours, not just on the field but in the gym.
“When everyone comes back from holiday, they’ve already been in there working.”
Coleman has ambitions to play alongside them one day, not just at county level, but to emulate Brown by becoming a Scot sporting the Three Lions on his shirt.
“That’s the ultimate,” acknowledges Coleman. “That’s the peak. It’s always where the goal is. But I don’t want to look too far ahead. I’m taking it step by step. Now it’s about establishing myself as a professional and putting scores on the board.”
He will attempt to accomplish that this afternoon when the Saltires travel to Essex in the Yorkshire Bank 40, seeking their first victory in the competition. Three weeks ago, Coleman hit 64 runs, his first half-century at this level, against the same foes. However the Australians will provide greater illumination and insight into his progress.
Captained by Brad Haddin, already designated as the Aussies’ wicket-keeper and vice-captain for the Ashes, the tourists are set to field a number of Test caps alongside a cluster with designs on proving their worth.
Assuredly, it will be a step up for the Scots and their usual four-day excursions against their fellow Associate nations in the Intercontinental Cup.
Victory, states Coleman, should not be beyond the hosts, despite their disappointments of the summer to date.
“It’s just us making a few mistakes but, if we stick to our guns, the results are around the corner for us.
“You take what you can from these losses. But you put them behind you and get ready.”