A winter of Aussie grade cricket is often the making of a young English player. Adam Hopkins looks at how four current England stars fared during their stints down under.
PROSPECT DISTRICT, ADELAIDE, 2010/11
357 RUNS AT 29.75, 3 FIFTIES
5 WICKETS AT 23.80
Yet to make his Championship debut for Yorkshire, the then 19-year-old Joe Root flew out to Adelaide to spend a winter at the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy along with the likes of Scott Borthwick and Tom Poynton.
Playing for Prospect District alongside future Ashes opponent Nathan Lyon, Root hit 78* on debut against Tea Tree Gully. He passed 50 just twice more that season, though, and made his final Prospect appearance in the club’s second XI, thus proving how tough grade cricket can be.
Root described the cricket in Adelaide as “Hard cricket… they make you work hard for your runs”. Root made his Championship bow the following summer, scoring a maiden century against Sussex.
PORT ADELAIDE, ADELAIDE, 2012/13
265 RUNS AT 17.67, 1 FIFTY
1 WICKET AT 1
Another future international to train at the Darren Lehmann Academy, Sam Billings was a scholar in 2012/13 alongside Rory Burns, Liam Livingstone, Max Waller and his Kent teammate Daniel Bell-Drummond. At 21 years of age, and already a semi-regular county player, he caught the eye in his second match for Port Adelaide with a run-a-ball 74 versus Adelaide University.
Despite his promising start, Billings found the going tough with the bat, only passing 30 three more times that season. He did, however, have an impressive time of it behind the stumps, taking 17 catches and effecting three stumpings.
The following winter he made the switch to Sydney grade cricket, hitting 371 runs for Penrith CC with a best of 92, as well as 53 not out from 32 balls on debut versus Eastern Suburbs.
SUBIACO FLOREAT, PERTH, 2008/09
432 RUNS AT 27, 1 HUNDRED, 1 FIFTY
23 WICKETS AT 22.86, 1 FIVE-WICKET HAUL
An 18-year-old David Willey had an impressive winter in WACA grade cricket in 2008/09. Starting in Subiaco Floreat’s second XI, he took 12 wickets in his first three games – including 5-27 versus Claremont-Nedlands – as well as hitting 57 against Joondalup. He scored 24 and took 1-46 on first grade debut versus Mount Lawley and ended the season with a Grand Final winner’s medal as Subiaco defeated Melville at the WACA to win the One Day League.
His best performance of his first grade campaign came when he hit 138 against Bayswater-Morley batting at No.8. He returned to Subiaco for seven games ahead of the 2012 county season – a spell which including another Grand Final appearance – and played a couple of T20 games in 2015 in the build up to the Big Bash. Feeling at home in Perth may be one of the reasons he’s done so well for the Scorchers in this year’s BBL.
PARRAMATTA DISTRICT, SYDNEY, 2014/15
510 RUNS AT 31.88, 1 HUNDRED, 2 FIFTIES
Having already represented Northants in all formats, a 20-year-old Ben Duckett cut his teeth in the world-renowned Sydney grade competition. He made an almost immediate impression, hitting a 25-ball 41 versus St George in just his second match. His highest first grade score of 70 came against Western Suburbs; he hit 11 fours and a six before being dismissed by his Northants teammate, and Sydney flatmate, Rob Keogh.
A decent but far from world-beating first grade return of 300 runs in 13 matches saw Duckett finish the season in Parramatta’s second XI, but he responded to the demotion in fine style, hitting 210 runs in four innings including 101 off 81 balls versus North Sydney.
Duckett later told All Out Cricket that after a tough 2014 county season, in which Northants went winless in the Championship, he might have been better putting his feet up at home over the winter, but the experience evidently stood him in good stead as he enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2015.