Marsh Sheffield Shield 2019-20
Gannon-ball: How journeyman rebuilt himself into Shield star
In and out of Queensland's team for close to a decade, Cameron Gannon has taken a unique route to the top of the Marsh Sheffield Shield wicket-taking charts
27 March 2020, 03:40 PM AEST
Cameron Gannon's great paradox is that despite understanding the mechanics of cricket's most gruelling discipline more intricately than perhaps any of his peers, he went several years absolutely detesting watching himself perform them.
"If you asked a lot of bowlers, there wouldn't be many who really enjoy watching themselves bowl," he told cricket.com.au. "For me, my deficiencies were exceptionally hard to watch."
Gannon, a two-metre tall fast bowler the wrong side of 30 who has been in and out of Queensland's side for the past decade, would not have believed you if you told him six months ago that he would finish as the season’s most prolific Sheffield Shield wicket taker.
Only two bowlers this century – Joe Dawes in 2000-01 and Luke Butterworth in 2010-11 – have earnt that mantle and not either already played for Australia or gone on to.
If he needed a reminder of his relative anonymity for someone who has played a high-profile professional sport for so long, he got it last October when, the morning after dismissing Steve Smith for his first duck in 54 first-class innings, a Brisbane radio DJ introduced Gannon by proudly declaring he had never heard of him.
A tumultuous career that has tested his resilience in ways few other cricketers can relate to has taught Gannon to simply be grateful to get a regular game for the Bulls.
Since being found guilty of throwing following a breakout 2012-13 summer, Gannon has discovered the crime carries dual punishments of both a painstaking biomechanical overhaul and an unshakeable stigma that has become marginally less degrading in the years since Muttiah Muralidaran was infamously no-balled in the 1995 Boxing Day Test.
Two reports during the ‘12-13 Sheffield Shield final in which an overworked Gannon bowled more overs than he had ever previously while trying to wrangle out a Tasmanian side that had no incentive to win resulted in him being summoned to have his bowling action tested.
When Gannon underwent the same process as a 19-year-old, his elbow extension in his right (bowling) arm was under 10 degrees – lower than the amount of flex in some of game's most textbook bowling actions.
Yet as he strived to find the pace that netted him 31 wickets at 23.51 that season as he sent down more than 52.5 of the 270 overs Tasmania happily soaked up during the drawn decider, he slipped into habits he would spend the following years trying to break.
As he found, reducing the elbow extension in his bowling arm from 24 degrees to below the geometric threshold of 15 was not necessarily the difficult part.
Rather, it was the daily battle to ensure there was no relapse back into a routine he had practiced since he was a child and which had kept him in employment since he was a teenager.
"When you do have to make a change like that, it takes a couple of years to really stick," Gannon explained.
"I reckon it was probably a good two to three years for everything to really feel solid. Two or three years ago was the first time I could actually watch my bowling action on film.
"As much as I wouldn't want to go through it again and as much as I wouldn't have wanted to have to deal with it, in terms of developing some resilience, it was probably one of the really good experiences for me as a person."
Gannon leant on the expertise of the likes of former Bulls quicks Ashley Noffke, Andy Bichel and Chris Swan, as well as bowling mentor Vic Williams to retune the physical components of his action.
But as much as retraining his body was difficult, the mental aspect was even harder.
"My now wife has been with me since I had my first rookie contract and at the time she really put me back together," Gannon said of his partner Leah, with whom he has two young children, Henry and Nora.
"In a professional career there are going to be times when you need someone to pick you back up and put you back together and she's been unbelievable for me."
But while no longer barred from bowling, Gannon had been robbed of the method that had first brought him success and thus embarked on a long journey back to getting a regular game.
Queensland stuck by him, keeping him contracted for the ensuing years despite only playing nine Shield games in five seasons, as he tried to rediscover the extra zip that had made him a force.
Ironically, Gannon's decision to leave Brisbane with his family, albeit temporarily, to the United Kingdom for the 2019 northern summer proved decisive.
While playing for Banstead in Surrey, out of the blue Gannon, who has an American passport thanks to his Sacramento-based mother, was invited to play for the United States in a T20 tournament in Bermuda.
"We were tossing up whether it was something we wanted to do after being in England as a family for five months," he said. "Logistically it was a bit of a nightmare.
"But I distinctly remember Leah saying that if I didn't do it, at the end of my career I'd go 'shit, I wish I did that'. So we pulled the trigger on it."
When he returned for the start of the Australian season, Gannon was firing on all cylinders, having the best season of his career and becoming one of the Bulls’ go-to bowlers.
"It didn't surprise me," Bulls teammate and Test opener Joe Burns told cricket.com.au. "He'd spent the pre-season overseas playing league cricket and then he played for the USA as well, so we didn't see him much, but then he came back and he was in really good physical condition.
"He's a very resilient player. To come through that stuff (with his action) … It would've been easy for him to wilt under that pressure several years ago, and feel like it was too hard.
"But I think the biggest thing is he's gotten to an age where he's really settled off the field, and it wasn't so much the wickets he was taking but you could see how much he was just enjoying his cricket.
"He's obviously a guy who has been in and out of the team so to really establish himself in the side this year and to bowl the way he did was outstanding.
"He got a lot of wickets, but he also got a lot of big names out – he got some key wickets at certain times during the summer – so that was a big step forward for him."
Gannon finished the season with 38 wickets at 20.92, five more scalps than the competition’s next best.
After overcoming not inconsiderable adversity, the 31-year-old is content. He hopes he can continue playing for the USA, in part so his daughter can meet his mother's side of the family in California and Arizona for the first time.
He has also briefly spoken to Chris Green, the Sydney Thunder off-spinner who was recently called for throwing, and offered his counsel, just as another to be tarred by the ‘chucker’ brush, ex-NSW speedster Aaron Bird, did for him when he was called.
And if he gets some spare time, he might even allow himself to look back at a few of wickets from the summer.
"Now I can watch myself on film, which is good," he said. "It's not particularly enjoyable, but I can do it."