Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
The true history of South Australia's Kelly gang
Corey and Thomas Kelly were separated at birth by two minutes but the pair are now forging their own distinct identities after winning rookie contracts with the Redbacks
The backyard battles waged at the Kelly family's inner-southern suburban home might just be the most epic – in both competition and consequence – Adelaide has hosted since the Chappell boys honed their impeccable skills in the 1950s.
The Kellys' apple tree that unfortunately found itself at mid-wicket bore no fruit for six consecutive summers such was the pummelling it copped from identical twins Corey and Thomas, both of whom are powerful right-handed batters.
When the boys' dad, Matthew, decreed that any ball struck into the besieged tree would see the bat change hands, other landmarks quickly found themselves in the firing line.
Fledgling rose bushes and low-growing hedges proved no match for ferocious straight drives, and an innovative ramp shot employed to counter a bouncer yielded a perfectly circular hole in the laundry window.
Then there were the altercations that spilled beyond bat and ball.
"There was an old wooden stump, and I can't remember who threw it at who, but someone got speared in the forehead," Matthew recalled of his sons who were signed to rookie contracts with South Australia this year ahead of their 20th birthdays on December 14.
"They were a fair bit younger and there was an argument about who was out and who wasn't, which was normal.
"There's certainly been some pretty spirited contests.
"I had to bring in a rule to try and make them play a bit straighter and through the covers a bit more, so if you hit one into the apple tree it was automatically out, even if it was on the bounce.
"But mid-wicket is still a strength for them … they're happy to go over the top."
The Kelly boys aren't the first identical twins to make their way to Australian cricket's top level, with trailblazing sisters Kate and Alex Blackwell members of the triumphant 2005 World Cup squad.
Nor might they be the first twins to represent SA in the Sheffield Shield competition (Norman and Laurence Walsh played eight games between them from 1923-20, though never in the same team), while Steve and Mark Waugh remain the game's best-known siblings who also share a birthday.
But even before either has played a senior game for their state, the Kelly brothers have trodden a unique path.
By dint of their pedigree, many would have expected them to be in the final stages of an Australian football season rather than entering their first summer as members of the West End Redbacks squad.
Their dad was an original Adelaide Crow despite having been signed by Collingwood prior to the Crows joining the Australian Football League in 1991, and despite being restricted to just two AFL games due to injuries he also played 50 matches with SA league powerhouse Norwood.
Matthew Kelly was also a handy cricketer who played A-grade district level (now Premier Cricket) with East Torrens before his football commitments rendered him unable to train during summer and he was therefore restricted to appearances in the lower grades.
His sons followed his sporting passions and played 100-plus games of Aussie rules at under-age level with Mitcham Hawks and at Norwood before they opted for the summer game, by which time they had undergone something of an on-field identity swap.
Initially Corey was more of a batter who didn't rate his own bowling while Thomas (he eschews abbreviation of his name to avoid confusion with a cousin known as Tom) fancied his medium-paced out-swingers and was less inclined to batting.
Meet talented twin brothers Thomas and Corey Kelly, who have helped @SACAnews reach the #U17Champs semi-finals! pic.twitter.com/aaCBkpQ5vz— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) October 2, 2017
"It used to be that way around until we were about 15 years old and playing school cricket," Thomas, the younger brother by two minutes, told cricket.com.au.
Corey immediately takes up the story, as the twins show a propensity to finish each other's shared tales that sets them distinctly apart from the inscrutably autonomous Waughs.
"I didn't bowl back then, but I reckon the team we were playing was about 0-180 off about 20 overs, and the captain just said to me 'you have a crack'," Corey recalled.
"Somehow I jagged a few wickets, so since then I've been the bowler."
By contrast, Thomas has given up bowling except for a few "floating" off-breaks that he wheels down at nets session when the specialist bowlers are having a hit, which he happily assesses as "nothing special".
Their dad is not altogether convinced the roles they had settled upon by the time they won SA under-17 selection in 2017 – Corey as a seam bowler and aggressive lower-middle order hitter with Thomas a more textbook top-order batter – rightly reflect their respective skills sets.
"Corey has always been every bit as good a batsman as Thomas, he probably just doesn't think he is," Matthew told cricket.com.au.
"They've both made the same number of hundreds, and Thomas is just as good a bowler as Corey, but he gave it away even though he's the one in the family who's taken hat-tricks.
"They just seemed to settle into those roles organically.
"They've both always been able to score runs quickly and take the game on, but Corey kept at it with his bowling while Thomas decided it was too hard and is happy to just be a batter instead."
The pair's performances at under-age and grade competitions vindicate their self-determined choices.
Both scored centuries for their Premier Cricket club, Sturt, last summer – Thomas's against a Glenelg attack led by Test-capped seamer Chadd Sayers while Corey blasted an unbeaten 100 from just 55 balls with his best bowling return (4-35) at the expense of his dad's former team, East Torrens.
Thomas was SA's leading run scorer at the 2017-18 national under-17 carnival in Queensland (where he won Australian selection), as well as at last summer's Under-19 championships where he narrowly missed out on Australia's squad for the 2020 World Cup in South Africa.
Corey was named for that Under-19 Cup campaign, after clubbing 77 from 67 balls batting at number seven in the championships semi-final against Western Australia, a feat he then bettered for the national team against a Queensland second XI in a World Cup warm-up match.
"We were something like 6 or 7-40 and staring at disaster, and Corey went out there and got a hundred that was just incredible," Australia's then under-19 coach (now newly appointed Victoria supremo) Chris Rogers told cricket.com.au.
"He's got unbelievable power, but I love both the brothers.
"Thomas, when he came up to Brisbane (for World Cup preparations), he was the energy in the group.
"He was always smiling, always positive, loved every challenge and is really skillful as well.
"Corey was probably a little bit more cautious in how he related to people and seemed a bit more wary about what was being said to him, but once we developed a relationship he was absolutely fantastic and, like his brother, an unbelievable fighter.
"They love being in a contest, and it's like they're that old country-style of cricketer – they just attack it hard.
"Thomas is obviously setting himself up to be the thoughtful top-order player, whereas Corey is that high-intensity all-rounder who just wants to get in your face a little bit."
The brothers concede the step up to professional ranks has proved an eye-opener after school and under-age cricket, especially the fitness demands under SA's Physical Performance Manager Stephen Schwerdt who was a former Crows teammate of Matthew Kelly.
The past winter was also the first time since the twins began playing team sport they weren't shoulder-to-shoulder at training, with Corey opting to return to Darwin where he plays for Southern Districts and has also represented Desert Blaze in the T20 Strike League competition.
He was the Strike League's leading wicket taker in 2018 - playing alongside Cameron Bancroft when Bancroft and David Warner were in Darwin during their suspensions over the sandpaper incident – with 17 wickets at 15.76 apiece, even though Corey was aged just 17 at the time.
Both brothers are avid anglers and Corey feels a strong affinity for the Top End to escape Adelaide's winters.
"I love it up there, it's where all my mates are and I love the lifestyle – fishing, camping, being outdoors," he said.
It's therefore no surprise that his cricket idol through boyhood was Andrew Symonds, another explosive allrounder who preferred outdoors pursuits to cricket's often harsh spotlight.
"I just loved how he took the game on, and looked like he had a lot of fun out there," Corey said of Symonds whose trademark dreadlocks partly inspired the 'mullet' haircut he adopted while in Darwin.
Thomas's initial hero was Symonds' Australia skipper Ricky Ponting, although he admits in more recent years his adulation swung to the world's current top-ranked Test batter, Steve Smith.
"I was watching Steve Smith come through when I was about 12 or 13 years old so he's probably stronger in my memory than Ricky," Thomas said.
"But Ricky has got 41 Test hundreds."
They are too young to remember the Waughs' playing days – Mark and Stephen had quit international cricket before the Kelly boys reached Highgate Primary School – and so are bemused by reports of the rarely witnessed rapport between Australia's most famous cricket twins.
Matthew Kelly sees distinct similarities in his sons' personalities, most notably on the pitch where he claims they are often "quite aggressive" in the way they approach the game, rather than in their attitude to opponents or each other.
"They've always been pretty close," Matthew said.
But he added they made a point of not rooming together when SA under-age teams travelled interstate, and claimed there was "the occasional instance they might be happy to throw one another under the bus, for more of a laugh than anything".
"We have to," Thomas smiled, when asked if they hang out together away from cricket.
Corey immediately added: "You've got no choice when you live together, drive to training together, and like all the same stuff."
"Although there's been a few times when we've got a bit angry with one another at training and tempers start to flare a little bit."
For now, that combativeness has given way to camaraderie.
After a week's break earlier this month, in which the twins took teammates Wes Agar and fellow under-19 representative Liam Scott for a few days fishing on SA's Yorke Peninsula, they have stepped up pre-season preparations that included the Redbacks' first internal trial this week.
True to history, they were selected in the same team – led by SA's Australia Test vice-captain Travis Head – but they hold realistic expectations for the 2020-21 season as Thomas explained.
"It's just to go back and perform well in Premier Cricket for Sturt, then hopefully bang the door down for a year or two, or three or four or however long it is," he said.
There will be one notable difference this summer, however, provided Corey keeps his Top End hairdo which he claims is fashioned on Western Bulldogs AFL player, Aaron Naughton, although it also channels the playing days of their soon-to-arrive SA coach, Jason Gillespie.
Regardless of its genesis, it should ensure the identical twins are rarely confused for one another, an annoyance they've begrudgingly learned to live with.
"We used to get mistaken for one another all the time," Thomas said, before Corey chimed in.
"It's a big part of why I got the haircut when I was stuck up there in Darwin with COVID restrictions, to help people tell the difference.
"Because I do get a little bit sick of it sometimes."