Sam who? Heazlett ready to leave his mark | cricket.com.au

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JLT ONE-DAY CUP 2017

Sam who? Heazlett ready to leave his mark

25 September 2017
Saluting a century against South Africa A // Getty

Saluting a century against South Africa A // Getty

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Queensland batsman reflects on his rapid rise from obscurity to an ODI debut

About the Writer:
 @AdamBurnett09

Adam Burnett is senior news editor of bigbash.com.au. He previously wrote for and edited at Inside Cricket magazine and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and The Telegraph and The Guardian in the UK.

Sam Heazlett is throwing balls to an up-and-coming teenager at his Premier Cricket club, Redlands, while also weighing up the idea of an early surf the following morning. 

There's a first-grade match on Saturday he's contemplating, too; he's desperate to spend some quality time in the middle before the JLT One-Day Cup – a tournament he missed last year through injury – gets underway. 

These are everyday decisions for the 22-year-old Queenslander … and they're a world away from the events of January 30, 2017. 

When Heazlett made history as the first man in more than 46 years – since the first-ever one-day international – to play an ODI for Australia before having played a List A match for his state. 

When 28,000 Kiwis were chanting and hollering inside the pressure cooker of Eden Park, and Heazlett was walking to the middle to bat with Australia in strife at 4-48 and in need of a saviour. 

It was a sunny Monday. A public holiday in Auckland, by far the biggest city in New Zealand, with more than a million locals celebrating Auckland Anniversary Day – toasting time away from work and an opportunity to get another one over the Aussies, just as the All Blacks have routinely done over the years on the same hallowed turf.  

There was no Steve Smith or David Warner; the superstar duo had been wrapped in cotton wool ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Test series in India. 

So out of nowhere, Samuel Daly Heazlett had been put on a plane to New Zealand to join the Australia squad. 

Meet Sam Heazlett (that is 'Haz-lett' too!)

When stand-in captain Matthew Wade woke up on the morning of the match with a crook back, Aaron Finch was named captain, Peter Handscomb was thrown the gloves … and Heazlett's name was quickly scribbled onto the team sheet. 

To say it was a shock debut would be a severe understatement. The general reaction was 'Sam who?' as the unfamiliar face was splashed across television screens on either side of the Tasman. 

Batting at No.6, Heazlett made four and Australia lost the match. After a washout in Napier, he was overlooked for the third ODI in Hamilton. 

Just like that, his time with the Australia squad had vanished as suddenly as it had arrived. 

"It all happened very quickly – I was definitely surprised when I got the call, especially because I hadn't played the one-day tournament that summer," Heazlett tells cricket.com.au. 

"I'd had a good quad series for Australia A against South Africa A and India A at the start of the season. I was really happy with how those one-dayers went, and then to get that opportunity (with Australia) was great. 

"I took a lot out of it even if I didn't perform as well as I'd have liked. But it was good to be around the group and it makes me want to strive to be back there on a more consistent basis. 

"It was a different experience, but a good one – obviously as a cricketer, you want to be playing for Australia."

Heazlett scores impressive ton in Townsville

In the intervening period, Australia have played five completed ODIs, losing each time and using 20 players in the process. 

Unsighted on the team sheet in that time has been the name S. Heazlett. Which is hardly surprising in that Heazlett has played just six List A matches, all for Australia A, and remains very much in the formative years of his career. 

In fact, when he arrived in Auckland in January and was befriended by limited-overs blaster Glenn Maxwell, the Victorian conceded he had zero clue as to how to pronounce 'Heazlett' (for the record, it's 'Haz-let'). 

Which begs the question – why was he selected in the first place?

Only the National Selection Panel (NSP) knows the answer for certain, but one assessment is this: Heazlett made a century on List A debut last year for Australia A, and backed it up with scores of 60 and 73 in the same tournament; he had a debut hundred in the Sheffield Shield to his name, and complemented his batting with handy left-arm orthodox spin and a reputation for being excellent in the field. The NSP, perhaps emboldened by the success of Matthew Renshaw's Test selection earlier in the summer, may have seen the opportunity to continue their apparent 'youth first' policy and aid another player's development by giving him early experience in the national set-up. 

As it happened, Wade got injured, the dominoes fell, and the end result was the presentation of ODI cap No.220 to Heazlett. 

It was a great experience: Heazlett

The laidback leftie believes he is a better player for the 10-day whirlwind and few would doubt it, however when Victoria skipper and former Australia player Cameron White accused selectors of essentially using the ODI side as a "development team" following the young batsman's debut, Heazlett unwittingly became the face of one side of a national debate regarding selection policy. 

He dealt with the fuss in the same way he handled the initial 'Sam who?' reactions on social media. 

"I don't go out of my way to look at (what's written about me) but I don't make a conscious effort to close my eyes to avoid it – I'll give it a read and see what's going on," he said.

"I try to take a bit of a relaxed attitude – any extra stress or pressure you put on yourself only adds to what's already out there. 

"I set high standards for myself – I want to do really well – but there's no need to put more stress or anxiety into it; I'm happy to be playing cricket every day, and really lucky to be in the position I am."

In stereotypically surfer fashion, Heazlett is happy to let others worry about such matters. Instead, he's looking ahead to his next opportunity, starting with Queensland's first JLT One-Day Cup match against the Cricket Australia XI on Friday. 

He's started the grade season in style, kicking things off with 83 from 63 balls and backing it up on the weekend with 46 from just 29. 

It's a suggestion that bigger things are to come, and the batsman has been busy going the extra mile by facing plenty of short stuff from young speedsters Brendan Doggett and Billy Stanlake in the nets beyond Allan Border Field, where he'll wear the maroon strip in a List A match for the first time on Friday. 

"I've been hit on the shoulder with a few bumpers and the bruises are only just healing," he says. "But I feel like I'm hitting the ball well. It's been good for us to have quite a few trials and practice games to get ready, as well as the state camp (on the Sunshine Coast)."

Heazlett wasn't happy with his Sheffield Shield form last season (283 runs at 20.21), pointing out that his batting regressed from his maiden summer for Queensland (649 runs at 40.56). 

As well as time with bat in hand, he has been working hard at improving his left-arm finger spin, and took particular delight in dismissing Bulls teammate Renshaw when Redlands met Toombul last week. Incredibly, Renshaw responded in kind, knocking over Heazlett later in the day. 

The pair had a laugh about it post-match but it was proof positive they're serious about extending their skill-sets in order to present as more versatile packages to selectors. 

"We're all pushing for that role of part-time bowler in the Shield side," Heazlett says. "I've been trying to push my case a little bit the last couple of years. I've always bowled growing up in club cricket but a few years ago I had an elbow injury and missed a season of bowling, but last year I was really trying to work hard on it in the nets and have that extra string to my bow. 

"I've had the opportunity to bowl a bit in club cricket, so hopefully I can keep improving and get a chance for Queensland."

In the meantime, Heazlett will contentedly coach the youngsters at Redlands, have a paddle when the opportunity avails itself, and aim to pile on the runs for his state. 

From there, as he knows better than most, anything can happen. 


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