It's ‘fire up the barbie and crack open the tinnies’ time, as West Country cricket gets a mini Aussie makeover this summer, with four antipodeans looking to make an impact on our two leading counties.
Kangaroos and Kiwis are undoubtedly the dominant force when it comes to overseas imports across English cricket. No less than 14 New Zealanders and 12 Australians are set to play some part in this summer’s first-class county fixtures, with a third of the players who fall into the latter camp hoping to weave their magic for the West Country's two leading sides.
While it's not all about the ‘Down Under-ites’, given that West Indian Chris Gayle and Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardene will also play for Somerset during the NatWest T20 Blast, the influence of the Southern Hemisphere stars could have a huge bearing on the prospects of silverware coming to the region this summer.
So, is there something special about imports from that particular part of the world Gloucestershire's new LV= County Championship captain Gareth Roderick believes there is.
He said: “I think the Australian guys, just from a younger age, have more of a competitive edge. Weather conditions help for South Africans and Australians. They are outdoors, playing sport all year round, because the weather permits that.
“School sport is also a big part of development in Australia, which I think adds a different dimension to how you are brought up. Going to boarding school and getting 5,000 or 6,000 people watching a first team rugby game when you are 16, 17 and 18 makes a big difference.”
Western Australian Cameron Bancroft arrived at Gloucestershire in early April and will play for their county until countryman Michael Klinger – such a pivotal figure in last season's Royal London One-Day Cup triumph – returns to the fold in late May. He said that making the transition is not always as easy as it might seem.
“Certainly the wickets are not as hard and bouncy as the WACCA in Perth,” said Bancroft. “You also face more medium-paced, dibby-dobby bowling than in Australia, which gets wickets when it moves off the seam. But wherever you are, you still have to go out and watch the ball.“It’s only my second time in England. About three years ago I played some club cricket in Derbyshire but I am told that Bristol, being a bit further South, is warmer. This year, when I left Perth it was in the high 20Cs so I think [head coach] Richard Dawson was a bit surprised when he picked me up at Heathrow to find I was wearing shorts. However, the weather has been good since I got here.
“The opportunity to play for Gloucestershire came when I was playing a Sheffield Shield game for Western Australia in New Zealand back in February. Michael Klinger said there may be an opportunity at the start of the season and it all happened a bit quickly from there. My original plan had been to play in the Lancashire League.”
If Bancroft is one of the rising stars of Sheffield Shield cricket then he has had a slightly odd start to his international career. Called up for the 2015 Australian tour of Bangladesh, the tournament was then called off due to security concerns. Next up, he played as wicketkeeper in a single T20 match against India in February. Coming in at the death of the Aussie innings, he was nought not out, without facing a ball. He was then criticised by former Australian keeper Brad Haddin for missing a stumping of Suresh Raina, who went on to play a match-winning innings. His inauspicious start to international cricket has not dimmed Bancroft's enthusiasm, however.
“It’s my dream to take the baggy green and play Test cricket for Australia. A key part of achieving that is getting international experience, playing in different conditions and different wickets, so it’s great to be here."
The cricketing quartet is completed by Western Australia bowler Andrew Tye, who joins Gloucestershire in May, and the undoubted daddy of the group, Somerset's Chris Rogers. The left-handed opener, who turns 39 in August, is leading the Cidermen in the four-day game following Marcus Trescothick’s decision to stand down as captain.
“I first came to England as an 18-year-old and played at Instow on the North Devon coast,” said Rogers. “I really loved the South West and made lots of friends down here. I think it’s about as close as you get to Australia in the UK. So when the offer was made by Somerset, it felt a return to the West was like coming full circle.”
As his international record shows, Rodgers was a late, albeit successful, contributor to Test cricket.
“It would have been nice to play earlier, but I’m pretty happy,” he said. “When I was at my peak Australia were one of the best sides ever, so it was really hard to get into that team. But it’s better to have played and done alright rather than never to have played at all.
“The [2013-14 Ashes] series in Australia that we won 5-0 was pretty special. Yet even here, though we lost both series I played in, to go out in the middle to open when the crowd’s still singing Jerusalem is special as well. I will never play under pressure like that again.”
Rogers echoes Roderick’s view of why his countrymen are so valued in county cricket, adding: “I think Australians naturally have this competitive nature. Sport is a strong part of our culture and the ones who succeed have that within themselves. Every game means something. I think that rubs off onto a team.
“In Australia we play less cricket than in England, so every game is an event, whereas here, sometimes it can meander a little bit.
“However, I think professionalism has increased. There is a lot of money now to be made in the game so you can see players giving everything far more. Look at someone like Joe Root. He competes every day he goes out there and I think that is far more of the dominant attitude now.”
ROO'S ROO: MEET THE WEST'S CRICKETING AUSTRALIANS
Chris Rogers, Somerset's four-day captain for the 2016 season: Despite being a prolific run scorer in Australian state cricket, Somerset's four-day captain for this summer looked to have played his first and only Test against India in 2008. It didn’t turn out too well as he scored just four and 14 in his two innings and was then forced to watch India celebrate their first-ever win at the WACCA. Somewhat surprisingly, he was recalled in 2013 at the ripe old age of 36 and went on to play a further 24 Tests, including three series' against England. He ended his Test career with an average of 43 (his first- class average being an impressive 50 across nearly 300 matches). In the three Ashes series' he played, Rogers was the highest scorer for Australia. However, T20 is clearly not his game, averaging just 17. He has been a frequent visitor to England, playing club cricket on the picturesque seaside ground at Instow in North Devon when he started out. Minor and first-class county cricket followed at clubs including Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Middlesex and now Somerset.
Cameron Bancroft, Gloucestershire: Batsman, overseas player until the end of May: The 23-year-old hails from Western Australia and will be Gloucestershire's overseas player until the end of May. He boasts a batting average of 40 in first-class matches and his best season to date was in 2014-15 when he finished as the third-highest scorer in the Sheffield Shield with 896 runs. The highlight of that season was his first double-century after batting for more than 13 hours, scoring 211 against New South Wales (Geoffrey Boycott eat your heart out!). Bancroft was named in the squad for the cancelled Australian Test tour to Bangladesh and made his T20 International debut for Australia against India on January 31 this year. Unfortunately, his first appearance for Gloucestershire against Essex was not exactly crowned in glory, scoring seven in his first innings was followed by a duck in the second after receiving just three balls.
Andy Tye, Gloucestershire: Bowler: The right-arm seamer will arrive in Bristol as Gloucestershire's second overseas player in the NatWest T20 Blast and is the only bowler among the West's four Australian imports. His prized ability lies in limited overs and his skill at bowling yorkers at the death. He was named in Australia's T20 squad in early 2016, making his international debut at the age of 29. He was then named in his country's squad for the World T20 in India, but failed to appear in the tournament. This is not his first stint in England as Tye has already spent time playing second XI cricket for Somerset, Durham and Northamptonshire. He was a key part of Perth Scorchers' victorious Big Bash League campaign in 2015, taking 14 wickets at an average of 18.3.
Michael Klinger, Gloucestershire: Batsman and one day captain, joins end of May: After three years at Gloucestershire, initially as club captain, then last season just as the leader in one-day and T20 competitions, the 35 batsman's exploits are rapidly turning him into a county legend. In 2015 the 35-year-old was named as the Professional Cricketers' Association Player of the Year for the NatWest T20 Blast and Royal London One-Day Cup after finishing as top scorer in both competitions. The highlight of Klinger’s summer was undoubtedly the semi-final of the 50-over tournament. Having returned to Australia following the quarter-final he turned round to fly back to England less than a week later. In the game against Yorkshire he then top scored with 137 not out, leading his team to victory and a date in the final at Lord's, where his team upset the odds to defeat Surrey. As Klinger, who arrives in May and will again captain the one-day team, commented: “I travelled a long way for a day's work.”