Green shoots on a new path towards national selection
Sydney Thunder star Chris Green has been blazing a T20 trail around the globe that he hopes will one-day land him in Australian colours
Dave Middleton is cricket.com.au's senior news editor and has been in sports journalism for more than 20 years. His first major cricket assignment was freelancing on the 2005 Ashes Tour
Chris Green was en route to Trinidad when Australia's selectors named the national T20 side this week, his focus already on this weekend's Caribbean Premier League final.
The Sydney Thunder off-spinner has taken 13 wickets in 11 matches for the Guyana Amazon Warriors this season in their charge to the decider, and 41 wickets in as many matches across his many T20 teams in the past 12 months.
The T20 circuit has long been a pathway for veteran players to extend their careers but Green has flipped that on its head. Born in South Africa, both parents are tennis professionals and he was heading down that path (his brother has recently joined the pro circuit) to the point of filling in US college applications. But a love of cricket ultimately won out, and it wasn't long before he began forging his non-traditional pathway towards international cricket after he was cut from the NSW Blues contract list following a List A debut in October 2014.
And it is via that route that his game has been accelerated – experience in a multitude of conditions and lessons doled out by a contacts list full of some of the biggest names in the game both invaluable resources to tap into.
"I still remember vividly my first breakfast in Dubai, two years ago," Green tells cricket.com.au from the Caribbean of his first foray to the Pakistan Super League, in February 2017.
"I got off the plane my first morning and had breakfast with Brendon McCullum, Shane Watson, Kevin Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena – and me.
"I went back to my room and called my parents. I was pinching myself.
"I didn't really feel like I belonged, but was just soaking in everything, and trying to learn as much as I could about the game of cricket.
"I still pinch myself I get to spend time with these guys and have played in the same team or shared coffee or a beer with them, and listened to their journeys and experiences.
"The last few years I really feel like I've grown a lot as a player and a person. The nature of T20 cricket and these tournaments is really fast-tracking that growth phase for me.
"The fact you're around some of the best players to ever play the game, the knowledge base you can tap into is amazing."
We have had some tough results so far in this @thepsl but it will take more than that to break up this strong family we have @multansultans I am looking forward to visiting Karachi for the first time to finish off the season on a high note #letsplaysaeen #psl
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Green refers back to that all-star breakfast as a case in point. It was there that he asked Pietersen – with whom he'd battled several times in the Big Bash, including taking his wicket in the Thunder's victorious BBL|05 final – for tips on how to improve.
"He said, 'Look, off-spinners, you only turn the ball one way, I feel like you're just not going to get me out. You need to develop something else'," Green recalls.
"I had (West Indian off-spinner) Sunil Narine as a teammate that year (at Lahore Qalanders), which was awesome, and I was just shadowing him in the nets. That's where I started developing my variations, my carrom ball."
Fast-forward 11 months, Green's Thunder are at the MCG to face the Melbourne Stars and Pietersen is on strike.
"That conversation clicked in the back of my head and I thought, 'You know what, I've got nothing to lose here, I may as well try and bowl it'.
"I had been bowling it at Shane Watson in the nets and he said, 'I think it's ready'.
"So I brought it out in the game to Pietersen because I thought, he's going to try and hit me for six anyway, I may as well do it.
"It sort of happened in slow motion – it worked."
The ball pitched on about off-stump and was right in Pietersen's arc. He aimed a booming drive that would have put the ball into the upper deck of the Great Southern Stand, if only it hadn't turned away from the right-hander and taken the outside edge to be caught behind.
Pietersen lingered a moment at the wicket, contemplating what had just happened. As he strode off, the television mic caught him muttering to the incoming Glenn Maxwell: "That one looked like it was a little leg-break".
"He's a guy I love watching bat, we're both from Durban, he loved batting against the Thunder so I saw a lot of his success up close and personal," Green says. "So to get a guy of his calibre and class out like that is very much up there (as my favourite wicket).
"To continue to use that and similar deliveries that move the ball away from a right-hander has definitely helped me hold my own and be successful."
In 2019 alone Green has played in T20 tournaments in Australia with the Thunder, the UAE and Pakistan with the Multan Sultans (his third PSL franchise), in Canada with the Toronto Nationals, with the Birmingham Bears in the UK and in the Caribbean with Guyana Amazon Warriors.
He's played 74 domestic T20 matches since getting his first opportunity with the Thunder at the back end of BBL|04 in 2015. It's yielded him a career haul of 62 wickets and, even more impressively, an economy rate below seven runs per over (6.70).
The numbers compare favourably with the 49 wickets taken in 75 games by left-arm tweaker Ashton Agar (econ rate 7.49), who was this week given one of the spin spots in the Australian T20 set-up (leg-spinner Adam Zampa – 139 wickets in 127 matches, econ rate 7.28 – was the other spinner selected).
"Playing for Australia would be a dream come true – for me it would be the ultimate," he says.
"I know there's some really fierce competition in there. Ashton (Agar) and Adam Zampa have had a lot of success in that format, and Nathan (Lyon) now, to see the way he's bowling and getting opportunities in one-day cricket.
"I know I have to try and put performances on the board. I'm hopeful I can continue to do so and showcase my points of difference by being able to bowl in the power play or be able to bowl at the back end."
Green has been expanding and refining his game as his skillset develops. He began his career as a defensive bowler, used in the death overs by the Thunder, but has developed into a weapon now used primarily in the power play overs by Guyana coach Johan Botha, himself an off-spinner.
He spent part of this winter at the Bupa National Cricket Centre in Brisbane refining his deliveries at Cricket Australia's annual spin camp for rising talent, and says he's continuing to develop weapons to either limit scoring opportunities or take wickets.
"It's very subtle variations, using both sides of the wicket, using different release points, swinging the ball and trying to turn the ball the other way as well," Green says.
"I'm trying different types of deliveries but also not over-complicating it too much. Just having an arsenal I can utilise in different conditions or different stages of the game or to different batters."
Green will line up in the CPL final for Guyana this weekend (Sunday 8am AEDT), then begin the long journey home the next day, juggling the fine line all cricketers tread between keeping the focus on the next game, and dreaming of loftier ambitions.
He has had feedback from Australia's selectors to let him know that he's on their radar, that his unorthodox path and lack of state contract won't count against him, though timing is a factor there.
"They told me if there wasn't a World Cup coming up they'd probably advise me differently, to come back and push my case in state cricket," he says in reference to next October's ICC T20 World Cup, which will be held in Australia for the first time.
"It was really great to get that feedback from the Australian selectors, and reassurance they are watching while I'm abroad and that they are taking notice of these tournaments."
Should Green continue his current path in this year's KFC Big Bash, he will again contend for Australia's T20 side, with a three-match series away to South Africa in late February.
It would be a fitting place for this new-age cricketer to begin a new chapter.