Blazing Summers turns up the heat in Top End
A raw speedster with an almost mythical reputation, Aaron Summers has his sights set on hitting the 160 kph mark
It took just one brutal bouncer for the whispered anticipation that wafted across the grass banks at Marrara Oval to transmute into knowing nods.
Rather like its exponent, a 22-year-old fast bowler who a decade earlier had not so much as set foot on a cricket field, the delivery in focus seemed to explode from nowhere.
The unfortunate batter who, by contrast, began his first-class career more than 15 years ago initially planned to fend it away from his chest until that panicked split-second when he re-assessed its atypical trajectory and realised it was climbing at pace towards his face.
As his head jerked instinctively away from the threat and his hands became the only practical shield, the ball smacked into the protective padding of his left batting glove and dropped harmlessly to earth amid a sharp intake of breath from the few hundred spectators.
Not wanting to confirm the youngster’s suspicion he had landed a crushing blow, or more likely fearful of what might be revealed if he removed the gauntlet, the old hand simply flexed his fingers a few times and then settled back over his bat to await, with trepidation, the follow-up.
He endured for a further half-hour, and scratched out five runs before he fended at another fireball from his tormentor that clattered back into his stumps.
Then it was off to hospital, where x-rays revealed a fractured finger and a smashed knuckle.
Aaron Summers is one of those blokes; the sort around whom every cricket competition has confected folklore at some stage or other.
The broodingly quiet presence whose name gets dropped in every casual conversation about local sport.
A sort of back-of-a-length Boo Radley.
“Have you seen Summers bowl yet?” becomes a standard opener when chat is raised about the second season of the Northern Territory Strike League, in which he made his name a year ago.
Those who have come face-to-face with him, albeit from the relative safety of 22 yards, spin a familiar narrative.
“Oh mate, he’s as quick as anyone I’ve seen … on his day.” Invariably followed by “he’s got no idea where it’s going, so what hope have you got?”
One highly credentialled current state player who has seen him more than most offered a smile and a fleeting laugh as he prepared for an encounter the following day: “I’m not expecting too many in my half”.
Inevitably, the reality of Aaron Summers is demonstrably less intimidating – unless you are a rival batter.
Quietly spoken, disarmingly polite, endearingly obliging, he gives the impression he’s as surprised as anyone about where his brief cricket journey has brought him.
From an avowed Australian Rules participant through until teenage-hood in Perth, to a KFC Big Bash League debut with the dominant Hobart Hurricanes last summer and a rookie contract with Tasmania inked during this winter.
But with that undercurrent of malevolence that every feared fast bowler must bear. Or cultivate.
“I’ve always played footy in the winter, and my summer sport was always T-ball, baseball, softball,” Summers told cricket.com.au prior to his headline act for City Cyclones in this weekend’s Strike League grand final.
“That was my (summer) ball sport until I was 13, then I decided to play cricket with the lads I played footy with.
“It was a pretty late start, but it was all right because I still had the hand-eye co-ordination from the other sports, and also had a fairly strong shoulder and fairly strong arm.
“I always enjoyed batting, as everyone does, but I quickly realised that I couldn’t bat for long periods of time and that I could bowl quick.
“So I’ve become a fast bowler and I love it.
“Being able to bowl fast, intimidate people, it’s a really good feeling.”
He might easily have stuck with his earlier summer sporting passion – his younger brother, Dawson, has recently represented Australia in junior men’s softball.
But so apparent was his unrefined talent that within a couple of years of first picking up a cricket ball, Summers was selected in Western Australia’s under-17s squad where he came to the attention of then WA bowling coach, now Tasmania and Hurricanes head coach, Adam Griffith.
Looking to push his claims for senior selection, Summers signed to play club cricket in Darwin during the 2016 Top End season, and when the Strike League limited-overs competition was launched last year he was affiliated with the Cyclones who emerged as inaugural champions.
It was former South Australia and Australia women’s team coach Mark Sorrell, currently senior manager of NT’s Cricket Pathways, who first recognised Summers’ impact.
And who forwarded footage of the right-hander to his former state and club teammate Ryan Harris, now a High Performance Coach at Brisbane’s Bupa National Cricket Centre.
Harris wanted to take a closer look so, in between playing engagements in Darwin, Summers packed his bowling boots and flew to Brisbane where he found himself pitted against members of the Australia A squad who were preparing for a scheduled tour to South Africa that never happened.
Although he admits he was a shade below his top speed, which was revealed to be around 150km/h in his sole BBL appearance last season, where his instruction was to bowl fast and short with a brace of fielders back on the rope in the hope of eliciting a top-edge or two.
“When I was in Brisbane, I’m pretty sure it was 143, 144 (km/h),” Summers recalls.
“I was a touch fatigued because of the Strike League, and I think I flew in mid-week so I’d just come back from games on the weekend.
“But I was a lot heavier than I am now.
“Last year, this time, I was probably five or ten kilos heavier and was definitely unfit.
“The Big Bash game I played last year, I was clocked a few times at 150, 151 … and I feel like some days I do bowl that quick.
“Obviously, some days I don’t, as well.”
In terms of top-level cricket experience, Summers might be as green as the uniform he’ll sport in Sunday’s 50-over Strike League final against Desert Blaze, who will be without their marquee signing Cameron Bancroft because of the banned Test opener’s throat injury.
But he has cultivated the art of expectation – as much a part of the modern fast bowler’s arsenal as the slower-ball bouncer, to which Summers was introduced by Cyclones’ teammate David Warner last weekend – and accordingly aired his intention to push speed guns to around 160km/h.
That, along with landing the ball more regularly in the batter’s half, is on his ‘things to do’ list when he heads back to Hobart after the Strike League to push for a place in Tasmania’s starting line-up for the JLT One-Day Cup and the Sheffield Shield season to follow.
“There’s a lot of things,” Summers offers with a smile when asked what areas he needs to sharpen up.
“Obviously, one of them is my lengths.
“I do tend to bowl back of a length, and my lengths are shorter than most people’s are.
“And being able to bowl quick every day and every time I bowl, or as much as I can, and then I’m trying to get quicker as well.
“I’m probably late 140s or 150, but blokes like (Brett) Lee and (Shoaib) Akhtar were bowling 160 (km/h), so (I’ll) try and push it to get closer to that level because obviously it is possible.
“My career will work itself out in the next few years, as to where it’s going to take me.
“But at the moment, I’m going to try and play one-day cricket, try to play Shield cricket, try to play Big Bash cricket and hopefully more T20 cricket around the world.
“And if I’m good enough, hopefully represent Australia in whatever form I’m able to.”
At age 36, and having seen his share of top-flight players during his 23-match first-class career in Sri Lanka, Udara Weerasinghe understood the threat that Aaron Summers posed well before the first ball he received shattered his left hand.
Summers had struggled to find rhythm in his opening over last Saturday, but when the component parts snap-locked together in his second, it was scarily apparent that he was dangerously on-song.
As coach of Northern Tide, it was Weerasinghe’s prerogative to elevate diminutive youngster Brendon Piggott above him in the batting order.
Piggott survived four deliveries from Summers, one of them smashing into his left shoulder before the batter had time to recoil and which left him unable to raise his arm above head level for the remainder of the day.
But even knowing what was likely coming his way as he walked out to bat did not grant Weerasinghe time or technique to fend off the raw young quick.
It’s through such moments of poetic brutality that myths about demon fast bowlers are born, and the whispers about Aaron Summers stirred slightly louder in that delivery’s aftermath.
It’s also that capacity to shock which encouraged him to nominate for this year’s Indian Premier League auction, despite a playing CV that showed a solitary BBL outing and a promising baseball pedigree.
He went unsold, but reckons he’ll try again because “you’ve gotta be in it, don’t you?”.