How 'imposter' Nathan Ellis joined his idols

He's one of the game's premier death bowlers, but it's taken the paceman from Menai some time to feel like he belongs

There's a photo of Nathan Ellis hanging in the loungeroom of his childhood home in southern Sydney that reminds the fast bowler just how far he has come.

Picked to go to the Caribbean in 2021 on his maiden international tour, Ellis couldn't help himself when his national team kit arrived at his place in Hobart.

He donned his new training gear, put on the green helmet bearing the coat of arms and had his partner (now wife) Connie take a photo of him. He sent it to his mum, who framed it and hung it up in their Menai house.

"When I go back to look at that, to see how excited I was just to get the training kit, it's a good chance to get a little bit of perspective," Ellis tells from India, where he has been an unused member of the Punjab Kings IPL squad.

"It's just an amazing 'pinch me' moment as to how fast it's happened over the last few years."

This photo of Ellis is hung up in his mother's house // supplied

With eight players unavailable for that 2021 tour, mostly due to COVID bubble fatigue, Ellis was virtually the last man picked in an inflated 20-man touring party to cover all contingencies given the difficulty of travel during the pandemic.

Three years later, the now 29-year-old is returning to the Caribbean as a fully-fledged member of an Australian World Cup squad.

Unless you have followed Ellis' ascendancy in the KFC BBL closely, the paceman is almost as anonymous now as he was when he first unboxed that pile of Australian kit.

He has now played 22 times for Australia's white-ball sides, but only once on home soil. When he took a hat-trick on international debut in Dhaka, it was not shown on Australian television. 

Yet Ellis' devious weapons – a yorker that's proved one of the most reliable in Australian cricket and a well-disguised back-of-the-hand slower ball – have seen him become one of the world’s leading death bowlers.

Since his unexpected international debut during that maiden trip abroad with Australia in 2021, he is one of only 12 pacemen to have conceded less than nine per over in the final five overs of T20Is against top-ranked teams.

The only two quicks to have taken more wickets in those death overs (Pakistanis Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi) have played twice the number of matches.   

Among Australians, only Kane Richardson has fared better from an economy rate perspective, with Ellis trumping even Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

None of which, Ellis is at pains to insist, is justification for him to unseat the star pace trio.

"They've been so good for so long and have done so well for us," he says. "For me to even question that just doesn't feel right.

"You read the list and see my name next to those guys and there is a part of me that just goes, 'Wow'."

In case you don't know me: Nathan Ellis

In fact, Ellis acknowledges it has been a challenge to believe he belongs in their company.

That feeling can also be traced back to his international beginnings three years ago.

When then captain Aaron Finch flew home with a knee injury following the Caribbean leg of the trip, Ellis was elevated from 'travelling reserve' to the main squad for the ensuing T20 series in Bangladesh.

The surrealness of a hat-trick on debut, a first in international T20s and yet to be repeated, was heightened given the YouTube stream of the five-match series was geo-blocked in Australia.

In fact, his family and friends back home found their only legal viewing option was subscribing to a sports betting agency that picked up the feed.

Ellis claims hat-trick on international debut

His success might have been almost unseen at home, but it had a snowball effect on his career, which was suddenly flourishing abroad in a time when most Australians were not permitted to leave.

Off the back of his entrance in Bangladesh, Ellis won a maiden stint in the IPL in the UAE, where he then remained to once again be a reserve for Australia, only this time for their full-strength side at the T20 World Cup in October-November 2021.

He had a front-row seat to Australia's first men's title in the shortest format. Yet, in the back of his mind, he was uncertain of whether he was up to regularly playing alongside those he looked up to.

"It was still so fresh for me at that point and things had happened so quick, that I probably did have a little bit of imposter syndrome," Ellis says.

"I blinked and I was at a World Cup with Australia. Again, I was a traveling reserve, so I couldn't play unless something happened.

"My teammates, at that point, were still some of my idols. Cricketing-wise, I felt like I was ready, but if I sat back and tried to take in the situation, I was just sort of in awe.

"I feel like that's potentially not the greatest headspace to be playing cricket, if you're in awe of the guys around you.

"At the time, I would have bitten your arm off for the opportunity to play but looking back, I feel like I'm probably more ready now than I was then."

Ellis (third from right) with Australia's other 2021 World Cup reserves // Getty/ICC

Narrowly omitted from Australia's 2022 World Cup squad, Ellis' desperation to get to this year’s edition hit a snag when he suffered an untimely rib injury after landing awkwardly on a ball attempting a catch in the Hobart Hurricanes' final match of BBL13 in January.

"If I'm honest with you, I was feeling the pressure," he says. "Whether it was rational or not, I felt like I was potentially giving up an opportunity to stake a claim and that led me to try and rush back, and get right earlier than I was (ready for)."

His attempts to prove his fitness for the three-match T20I series against West Indies at home in February were, according to him, rightly thwarted by medicos.

Ellis brushes off awkward landing to deliver for 'Canes

Strong performances in New Zealand when he returned, particularly a two-over spell from which he conceded just 11 runs while defending a 50-metre straight boundary in a rain-shorted match at Eden Park, sealed his plane ticket to the Caribbean.

Ellis knows displacing one or two of the Starc-Hazlewood-Cummins trio, the pace group that led the Aussies to not only the '21 title but also last year's ODI crown in India, will be a long shot no matter how good his numbers are.

"My opportunity is one, to be a good teammate, and two, it'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to be a sponge around these guys and learn as much as I can," he says.

It's an opportunity, too, for perhaps one more photo to make the wall of the Menai loungeroom.

2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup

Australia's squad: Mitch Marsh (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa

Australia's Group B fixtures

June 6: v Oman, Kensington Oval, Barbados, 10.30am AEST

June 9: v England, Kensington Oval, Barbados, 3am AEST

June 12: v Namibia, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 10.30am AEST

June 16: v Scotland, Daren Sammy Stadium, St Lucia, 10.30am AEST

Super Eights, finals to follow if Australia qualify

For the full list of fixtures click here. All matches will be broadcast live on Amazon Prime