Held back from the start of the domestic summer to make a splash in the Big Bash, the Brisbane Heat quick says his ODI selection came as a 'complete shock'
'Fire in the belly' moment primed Bartlett for Aussie call-up
When Xavier Bartlett arrived back in Brisbane with a back complaint after a club cricket stint in England over the winter, Queensland officials made the tough call to hold him back for the first half of the summer hoping he could make a splash in the Big Bash.
As Brisbane Heat travel to Sydney today for their second straight KFC BBL Final, their decision has undoubtedly been vindicated with their man Bartlett the tournament’s leading wicket-taker while also securing a maiden Australia call-up for the ODI series against the West Indies next month.
Not only are his 18 wickets at a touch over 15 his career-best Big Bash campaign, but he’s also sent down the most overs of any fast bowler this season to showcase his versatility with the ball.
Bartlett's overs have been spread across all phases of the innings – 11 in the Powerplay (overs 1-4), 14 in the middle (overs 5-15) and 12 at the death (overs 16-20), the period where he has taken 10 of his BBL|13 wickets.
And it's that extended stint on the sidelines in the lead up the BBL|13 – and over the past few seasons working closely with Bulls assistant and former Australian quick Andy Bichel – that he credits with developing the skills and mentality to bowl at any stage of the innings.
"It was a bit of a frustrating time coming back from England with that little back injury that I picked up but watching (from the sidelines) put some fire in the belly I guess," Bartlett told cricket.com.au after helping his team knock out the Adelaide Strikers to secure a spot in the season decider.
"To come out and contribute in a great Brisbane Heat team has been really nice and hopefully we can finish it off Wednesday night.
"We knew from a couple of months out that what I was really trying to shape for was the Big Bash – I didn't play in Shield or one-day cricket and just tried to focus on my T20 skills in the nets and luckily it's paying off at the moment.
"With the new ball I'm just trying to swing it up top and then with the (Power) Surge and at the death, I've just added a few more slower balls and a bit more variation and trying to nail my yorker."
Much like his Heat teammate Spencer Johnson, it's been a rapid rise for the 2018 Australia under-19 World Cup representative into national calculations, and despite playing for Australia A during their tour of New Zealand last year and 62 wickets in 18 first-class matches, he spent last off-season helping Wargrave Cricket Club, west of London, to second in the Home Counties Premier League.
"It was completely unexpected to be honest," the 25-year-old said of his late selection in the ODI squad to face the Windies as injury replacement for Jhye Richardson.
"I was actually down at the pool at the hotel when George (Bailey) called me and I was just shocked.
"He said I'd been going really well in the BBL and Jhye got injured which is unfortunate for him but opened the door for me so I'm just really excited to be around that group and try and be a sponge and learn as much as I can.
"If I get an opportunity (to play), it be a great privilege and honour and I'm really excited to hopefully take that opportunity both hands.”
Such has been the cohesion of the Heat bowling attack this season that while Bartlett has topped the wickets chart, they have two others in the top six – Englishman Paul Walter (16) and Spencer Johnson (15) – with everyone except Walter (8.61) conceding fewer than eight runs per over.
Johnson – overlooked for Bartlett in the Australian squad after making his ODI and T20 international debuts last year – has been outstanding in their two finals with five wickets at an economy of 4.25, including 30 dot balls in his eight overs.
After Johnson's 107 dot balls for the tournament, Bartlett is next best with 99.
"Our bowling attack has been sensational," Bartlett said.
"The way our spinners have bowled, 'Tall Paul' (Walter) has been incredible for us, Spencer Johnson has bowled unbelievably and Micael Neser has been amazing with the new ball, so just the versatility we have in the bowling attack, we've really complemented each other.
"At any one point in time one of the bowlers has really stood up and taken the game and had that man of the match performance – the way Spencer bowled tonight, just the pace he bowled, I'm glad his on my team.
"To get there (to the Final) again is a great reward for this side and really exciting."
KFC BBL|13 Finals Schedule
The Qualifier: Sydney Sixers beat Brisbane Heat by 39 runs
The Knockout: Adelaide Strikers beat Perth Scorchers by 50 runs
The Challenger: Brisbane Heat beat Adelaide Strikers by 54 runs
The Final: Sydney Sixers v Brisbane Heat, January 24, 7.15pm AEDT, SCG