Aussie Country Boys strike Pay Dirt at Galle

Peter Lalor, in The Weekend Australian, 3-4 September 2011

Pic from AFP

 NATHAN Lyon had a dream. Country boys don’t dream too big, but he had ambitions. The agricultural worker’s son from rural NSW wanted one day to make it right to the top of the pile and be the head curator at the Adelaide Oval.  As a teenager he packed up his bags and moved from Young, a cherry-growing district with a population of a little over 7000, and moved to the big smoke. Once in Canberra he gained an apprenticeship as a groundsman, working for four years watching the grass grow at Manuka.

Things really started to happen for him when he landed a job with the ground staff at his field of dreams: the Adelaide Oval. To this point Banjo Patterson had done a rough draft of the hungry-looking part-time cricketer’s script, from here on in the bloke that penned Shane Warne’s improbable script took over and hammed up the story line.

Lyon, who along with his leg-spinning brother had been encouraged to play backyard cricket by his grandparents, was also starting to find some grip with the ball. Last summer he was plucked from the mower and asked to have a go withSouth Australia’s Twenty20 squad. It seemed a bit of a joke at the time. “How bad are SACA going if they have to play the groundsman?” people asked. There is some suggestion he watched the last Ashes Test perched on the ground staff tractor. It was only domestic Twenty20, bit of hit and giggle, butLyondid well. From there things really started to get out of hand. After four first-class games he was picked in the Australian squad to play the short-form games forAustraliaA. There were a lot of raised eyebrows about that one.

Lyon had to pinch himself when he boarded the plane toZimbabwe. He admitted yesterday that he had never gone pastNew Zealandbefore.

“You can’t really call that overseas,” he said with that distinctive country drawl. “It’s like going to Tassie really.”

Lyon’s feet haven’t touched the ground since and it might be a long time before they do.The off-spinner’s first ball in Test cricket was the most successful bowled by an Australian in more than a century. He was so excited he couldn’t breathe.

How far has he come? Just months ago he was dreaming of growing grass in Adelaide, he was raising dust and hell in the shadow of the Galle fort, bamboozling some of the world’s most experienced players of spin bowling.Lyonis delightfully unfashionable. He is not manicured and pedigreed like most of the city lads in cricket who have been grown in the hot houses of indoor nets under the lights of full-time coaches. He hasn’t been schooled in development squads.

He has a hungry, almost haunted look. Unshaven, thin and shadowy, he looks like one who might have wandered the roads in a depression past. He’s an unfashionable bowler too. An offie. Nothing more, nothing less.

One of the game’s intelligentsia asked him after his first triumphant day what deliveries he was nurturing behind the garden shed. Was he working on a doosra? Did he have a bit of the old showbiz he was going to bring to Broadway?

“Mate, I’ve only got one stock ball, so ummm, I am quite happy with the way the stock ball’s going at the moment,” he said.

Back in Young, Mum and Dad had missed the historic moment. Steve, the old man, had been out checking crops in Albury and was hoping to catch the highlights. His mother, Bronwyn, was proud but as understated as her husband and son. “It really goes to show that kids from the country can achieve anything they want,” Mrs Lyon said.

It was a great day for country kids. Trent Copeland’s career described a similar back road’s route to the big time asLyon. ABathurstboy, another string bean, another lad who has never been to an academy or put on a pampered pathway. Never pulled from a bowling attack because he had exceeded the over limit for a junior cricketer.

Copeland, 25, just bowled and bowled and bowled and took loads and loads of wickets. Well, he did once he’d decided to give up wicket-keeping at 19. He and Lyon debuted together this week and both took wickets in their first over of Test match cricket. A neat little confluence of events should the writer of the screenplay opt to broaden the script.

The pair met when they were kids in country teams and have been huddled together on tour, trying to make sense of how they came from the paddocks to the elite pastures.

One morning both turned up and had breakfast alone in a separate dining room, apparently the new chums didn’t realise the side was at the other end of the hotel. “To debut with him and watch him get his first wicket was something pretty special as well,”Lyonsaid.

He finds it hard to be expansive, but he wanted to be on this subject.”I am stoked to be withTrent, just to be with him. I spent time with him inAustraliaA (inZimbabwe) but to make your debut with someone you played with and watched play cricket when you were younger and stuff . . .

“We came from the same zone in NSW cricket and it has been something pretty special. I’ve knownTrentsince I was 13 or 14. I was always a good mate ofTrent’s.”

It’s been a suffocating and exciting time for both.Lyon, like most country types, doesn’t do a broad range of emotion but did confide that he was overwhelmed when the Australian Test team hugged him as one on the taking of his first wicket.

Copeland’s mother Fiona, step-father Steve, and little brother Ryan are in the hotel to watch the lad on his debut. They, too, are salt of the earth people. Dad has just taken up cricket again and is playing some games with Copeland’s 14-year-old brother in the thirds at home.

In Bathurst they have a system where they have an allowance for a few places reserved for younger cricketers to play in the lower adult division and a few of their parents come back to the game and impart knowledge to their offspring in that way.

It’s what you might call the country cricket academy.

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Filed under Australian cricket, backyard cricket, baggy green, banjo patterson, bowling average, cricket and life, performance, peter lalor, player selections, shane warne

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