Philippe's fearlessness born of an empty wallet
As he eyes an international debut and a World Cup berth, the Sydney Sixers star reveals how a stint abroad put him on the path to becoming one of the BBL's most dangerous batters
Louis Cameron is a Melbourne-based journalist. A former Victorian Bushrangers fast bowler, Louis joined the cricket.com.au team with assistance from the Australian Cricketers' Association's Internship Program in 2016.
The baby-faced boldness that has made Josh Philippe one of the Big Bash's biggest success stories was not born in an elite academy or a state cricket system, but out of an empty wallet in far north-east England.
Philippe had still not turned 20 yet the Perth-born 'keeper-batsman felt his career was stalling when he made the trip to the United Kingdom to play for Newcastle Cricket Club in 2017.
"I wasn't part of any WA squad then and I almost felt like the dream of playing state cricket was slipping away," the now 23-year-old tells cricket.com.au.
"It is quite amazing to think back to then – I had 20 pounds in my wallet … I could hardly afford to eat lunch."
With no coach to lean on and his family thousands of kilometres away, Philippe decided he had nothing to lose. He plundered 1,314 runs at nearly 60 for the club, bashing five centuries including one that featured nine sixes.
"It definitely made me the player I am today," he says. "Just going away and not being a part of any system and just working my game out for myself.
"That's where I think I got that fearless approach that I play with now.
"Over there it was almost like the result doesn't matter. I'm just going to go out, play my brand of cricket and have fun and if I get out, I get out – who cares?
"No one is going to judge you as a bloke based on your cricket performances. I just happened to do really well over there and I feel like that mentality just stuck with me."
Philippe's rejuvenated approach paid immediate dividends when he returned home.
From batting at No.11 in an WA intra-squad trial game, Philippe impressed then state coach Justin Langer enough to win a spot in the Warriors second XI team before making international headlines when he blasted 88 off just 92 balls in an Ashes tour match against the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Within a year, he had been signed by the Sydney Sixers. After his third consecutive standout season in magenta this summer, Philippe was picked not only in Australia's T20 squad to play New Zealand next month but also unanimously voted by coaches to be part of the BBL's official team of the tournament.
Now, Philippe is eyeing off a spot at this year's T20 World Cup and believes he has the capability to bat anywhere in the order.
"The dream is to play for Australia so whatever the role is, I will take it with both hands," he says.
"I did start playing for the Sixers batting at six and had a bit of success there so if that's the role I get, I definitely feel like I can do that. I think I play spin pretty well as well … I'm just stoked to be a part of the squad.
"I would love to think I can push for that T20 World Cup side at the end of the year."
Things, though, might have been a little different had everything gone Philippe's way during that breakthrough northern summer back in 2017.
Before he left, he was picked by county side Durham to play for their second XI and might have been signed as a local player if he had a passport to match his French surname.
"I think they thought, 'Oh, his name is Philippe, he must be from somewhere in Europe'," he laughs.
"I got a hundred both times we played against the Durham Academy (for Newcastle) and the guys were quite interested. There was an opportunity to play second XI – I played two games, I didn't really do that well.
"I remember ringing my old man saying, 'Surely there's something (in our family history)?' I wasn't getting a look in with WA, so I was like, 'I must be able to get a passport somewhere (in Europe),' and he was like, 'Nah mate, we're pretty Australian'."
Philippe's route to the cusp of an international debut has been coloured by a diverse array of influences.
There is even a case to be made that Philippe has had one of the best educations a cricketer has ever received before reaching the international level.
His decision to join the Sixers on the eve of BBL|08 marked him as one of the few Western Australian-contracted players to leave the Perth Scorchers (for whom he had played a solitary game the previous season).
While the impact of first Langer and then Adam Voges on him has been considerable, Philippe's move to the Sixers has seen his short-form game develop quicker than most thought was possible.
The influence of Steve Smith, who he has been compared to endlessly given their similar shuffles across the crease and physical likenesses, has been evident.
Philippe has previously spoken to Smith about how they can counter bowlers attacking their stumps – given both end up standing right in front of them – a tactic he says has been used against him more than ever this season.
His coping mechanism is identical to Smith's: "The reality is it (playing off the stumps) is one of the strongest parts of my game, so if I am missing balls there it's as much my fault as it is anyone else's," Philippe reasons.
His standout BBL performances won him an Indian Premier League contract for last year's tournament, with the the chance to rub shoulders with T20 mega-stars proving as beneficial as the five games he played for the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Philippe has observed the mental approach of AB de Villers and Virat Kohli and taken plenty on board.
"It was pretty special as a 23-year-old to be around guys like that," he says. "The main thing was just how they keep the game so simple.
"Even though T20 is so fast paced, all they talk about it taking a deep breath, standing still and just relaxing with no preconceived ideas and no real premeditation.
"It was quite refreshing hearing that from the best players in the world."
His cricket education has been furthered away from the playing field, too.
Philippe was one of five members of the 2018 National Performance Squad (along with Nathan McSweeney, Jack Edwards, Jono Merlo and Jake Weatherald) who took part in regular video conferences over the pandemic-marred 2020 winter.
Those monthly sessions, the brainchild of now Victoria coach Chris Rogers and facilitated by former Middlesex batsman Tom Scollay, provided the origins of Jake Weatherald’s adaptation of Rage Against the Machine Guitarist Tom Morrello's intense eight-hour practice routine.
The group also discussed lessons from the ESPN documentary The Last Dance, from LeBron James' mental fitness app Calm' and from the late Kobe Bryant's approach to high performance.
"I've got a really good relationship with 'Bucky' (Rogers) so a few of the guys from that squad had some Zoom catch ups and especially during COVID, there wasn't much else going on," he says.
"It gets you really thinking about the game, thinking about how we can get better, how we can train better. Bucky is a great influence on us younger guys and still has an influence on us now.
"Everyone has got different opinions and different ideas so it's really nice to get a full range of conversation topics on all these things.
"We all want to get better and we all want to be the best players we can be. I really enjoy hearing other perspectives and that extends to other players as well."
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