South Africa v Australia ODIs
Worrall's winding road to the big time
A unique bowler has taken a unique path following a stunning two years with the ball
Andrew Ramsey Johannesburg
26 September 2016, 10:27 AM AEST
It was just last year that Daniel Worrall was trundling away in Australian cricket’s second XI competition.
Playing alongside other promising South Australia youngsters Jake Lehmann and Alex Ross, testing his swing bowling skills against batters who also found themselves on the periphery the likes of Tasmania’s Ben Dunk and Queensland’s Matt Renshaw.
Fast forward 18 months and ‘Frankie’ Worrall ("nobody calls me Dan, only Mum") is suddenly sharing a dressing room with Australia coach Darren Lehmann – Jake’s dad – their captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner.
And preparing to match it with bona fide South African superstars such as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis in the five-match ODI series that gets underway at Centurion near Pretoria on Friday.
Nobody is more surprised at the rise and rise of the 25-year-old former University of Melbourne law and commerce student who didn’t make it to the first XI of his local grade club until he was aged 20 than Worrall himself.
"It’s a surreal experience for me," said Worrall who was offered a rookie contract with South Australia midway through his degree on a hunch perpetuated by Redbacks’ bowling coach Rob Cassell and then SA supremo Darren Berry, both former Victorian representatives.
"It’s just been a whirlwind 12 months, but now that I’m here (in South Africa) I’ve calmed down a bit from the nerves and the excitement of the last couple of weeks.
"And being around the guys it’s time to switch on and really make sure that we’re ready for the contest ahead."
Worrall earned his call-up to the national team – having never previously donned Australia colours at junior level but with a handful of recent appearances for Australia A – by being the second-highest wicket-taker in last summer’s Sheffield Shield competition.
When he (44 wickets at 26.18 from nine Shield matches) and his SA teammate Joe Mennie who is also making his maiden international tour (51 at 21.22 from 11) played an integral role in lifting the Redbacks into their first Shield Final in 20 years.
But a sudden change in career aspiration is not entirely unfamiliar to the man who one of his fiercest Australian opponents today described as “a classic swing bowler” given that he was planning to take a break from his studies and play some village cricket in the UK before the Adelaide opportunity beckoned.
After two days of training with his new Australia teammates at the legendary Wanderers Stadium on the Highveld in Johannesburg, Worrall has discerned some stark differences – as well as a few similarities – from the low-key path he has travelled to international cricket.
"I think the step up is just in the intensity at training, and the work ethic of the guys involved," Worrall said as Australia prepared for Tuesday’s one-off ODI against Ireland at Benoni before they enter their five-match campaign against the Proteas.
"But at the end of the day, cricket is cricket and it’s the same wherever you play.
"It’s just a matter of doing basics better and for longer, and as you go up (in standard) that tends to happen.
"A couple of guys from South Australia (are in the 14-man Australia squad), and with Joe Mennie also being a new guy here he’s had the same experience as me.
"It’s been good to get around the new guys as well.
"We haven’t had too much to do with guys like Dave Warner and Steve Smith so it’s been great to mix with them and see how they operate and hopefully we can just keep up and do well when we get our chance."
His chance will come, with Lehmann senior already foreshadowing the three uncapped quicks on this tour – Worrall, Mennie and Victoria’s Chris Tremain – will all be given game time in the coming weeks.
And what international cricket will see is a bowler who has trodden a very different path to those young talents who are identified early, have their bowling actions stripped back and re-designed by biomechanists and rattle along the production line of seamers who can hit a length and populate a spreadsheet.
Worrall’s distinctive angled run-up is the legacy of a childhood spent trying to bowl fast in the backyard of his family’s home at Point Cook in Melbourne’s outer south-west, where an unfortunately placed tree meant a more circuitous route to the bowling crease.
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The fact that he’s neither strapping or rippling also means he’s not that physically intimidating type of presence with the ball, but one that his rivals note can get the ball to swing when few others seem able and can land it in the correct spot regularly enough to maximise that movement.
The looming challenge for Worrall is to find that swing on flat, true South African pitches that historically offer little encouragement for bowlers in the limited-overs format, and in the higher altitude of the veld where Australia plays their first three matches of this tour.
And where the ball rarely deviates off the straight.
"I don’t know, if it’s a rule that it doesn’t swing up here then I’d like to change the rule," Worrall said when it was suggested that swing bowlers historically gain little advantage from conditions the Highveld which sits almost 2km above sea level.
"I’m coming over here with an open mind and here to learn off the guys that I’m playing with.
"So if they’ve got certain information for me that will help then so be it.
"But again, it’s just the basics that we’ve got to do better than South Africa and Ireland, and for longer.
"And that will get us through in the bowling department."
As for the calibre of the opposition he is likely to confront when he takes the ball against a potent South African batting line-up in coming weeks, Worrall sees them as little different to that tree he had to skirt when running into bowl in the backyard at Point Cook.
Obstacles that simply need to be negotiated.
"As a cricketer, that’s what you dream of doing - playing against the best in the world and testing yourself out," he said.
"That’s what we’ve come here to do and I’m excited to do it.
"At the end of the day, they’ve still got three sticks behind them that you can knock out of the ground, don’t they?"