Journalist Louis Cameron, a former first-class cricketer for Victoria, found out just how intimidating bowling to the world's most feared T20 batsman can be after joining Australia's T20 squad for a net session in Hobart
"Lynny, I've got cover, fine leg, mid-wicket, long-on and long-off all back. Square-leg's come up."
Andrew Tye is yelling out to Chris Lynn from the top of his bowling mark at the Blundstone Arena nets in Hobart. Lynn gives him a thumbs up. Tye, fluoro orange socks pulled up to his shins, is setting his imaginary field, trying to out-think the most feared T20 batsman in Australia.
It's a knuckle ball. Lynn, crouched and deathly still right until the very last moment, skews it out to the leg-side. "One," he yells. It's a single, they agree.
This is a front-row seat to a duel people pay good money to watch. Both players are worth millions. Tye was bought in the Indian Premier League auction for A$1.4 million, and Lynn will pocket $1.86m. The pair are two of the finest exponents of their respective crafts.
Here though, none of that means a thing. Tye wants to knock Lynn over and Lynn wants to hit Tye out of the (imaginary) ground.
Australia's T20 squad is training two days out from their clash against England and they've let a cricket.com.au journalist bowl to them in the nets. Having defeated New Zealand, until recently the world's top-ranked T20 side, on Saturday, the squad is confident but far from content.
The Aussies are ranked seventh in the world in T20s. They're hellbent on improving that. The mood at training is laid-back, yet there's a steely intensity about what they're doing. No one gets berated for getting out or for bowling a half-volley. The players know when they’ve made a mistake.
Every ball is a mini battle played out with an imaginary field, with batter and bowler each trying to outfox each other. When Lynn hits Tye for a single, it's a small win for Tye. In a match, that's Lynn off strike. Tye knows if he bowls his knuckle ball again to Lynn, though, it could easily go for six. Tye has played his trump card, one he’s spent countless hours perfecting. Later, he comes around the wicket and aims for Lynn’s left shin. Don't give him any room.
I have a little bit of experience of training and playing alongside some of these players. In 2012, I played two first-class games for Victoria and came up against the likes of Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood on debut. Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch played in that Bushrangers side. I didn't quite crack it at that level and these days I'm very happy playing for my Premier Cricket team, Essendon, in Melbourne's north-west. I do still get to bowl to international-calibre players, one of the great things about Australia's Premier club system. Both Maxwell and Cameron White, for example, have this summer played against Essendon on suburban grounds and then, within weeks, played for Australia.
But with utmost respect to Premier Cricket, the intensity and standard of an Australian team's training session is quite a few levels above. Each of Australia's batters are impressive in their own way. Finch hits me for one of the biggest sixes I've ever been hit for (the slower ball was a bad option) and it's almost just a pleasure to watch his flowing swing. Maxwell looks like he can hit any bowler, bowling any ball, to anywhere he likes. Ashton Agar seems to pull balls that have no right to be pulled. I did somehow manage to sneak one through and clean bowl Agar. I won't let him forget that.
How the captain David Warner, in particular, goes about his business is fascinating. At first, he faces "flingers" from an assistant coach wielding a custom-made ball-thrower, a high-tech version of the ones people use to throw tennis balls to their dogs in the park. Warner works on his swing. The coach is wearing a helmet. Warner was among the first batsmen to start hitting today and he won't stop batting until everyone has left. After he's faced enough flingers, he faces bowlers, then he faces some more flingers. Of all the batters, Warner is the most intense. He's in a little bubble for a couple of hours, a picture of concentration.
All of these guys hit the ball HARD. It's difficult to explain just how quickly balls come flying off their bats. No one is allowed to turn their back on the four nets that are in full swing. Even bowlers walking back to their marks keep an eye on the action.
If Australia's training in general is a cut above, bowling to Lynn is something else completely. Fast bowler Kane Richardson explains that there's an aura about him that makes bowlers make errors. Lynn’s reputation precedes him and even very good bowlers do things they wouldn't normally do when they bowl to him. It's not easy, says Richardson, but just try to forget it's Chris Lynn. It's good advice, but I promptly bowled a huge wide to him, a clumsy attempt to not give him any width. It's hard not to think about who you're bowling to.
I'd managed to get in a couple of yorkers to some of the other batters but it somehow seems harder and riskier to bowl one to Lynn. He asks me where my field is (the way he nails most of my offerings, it wouldn't really matter) and although I think about trying to bluff him like Tye did, I decide keeping third man and fine leg up and having five fielders out in front of the wicket is a better plan. I'm not banking on Lynn mis-hitting one. He hits a few out of the screws and the crack of ball on bat is awesome. It's difficult not to just watch in awe.
All told, I bowled for the better part of an hour and a half to a fair chunk of the squad, including the bowlers, who are all also very capable at the crease. It's a pleasure and a thrill to be involved, and a huge eye-opener observing how training at the elite level unfolds.
The head coach, Darren Lehmann, oversees things. He asks Agar if he wants to finish batting and have a bowl. Agar wants to keep batting, he'll fine-tune his bowling tomorrow. It's not a trick question – the players take their preparation seriously. Later, Agar goes out onto the ground for some extra fielding work.
Ricky Ponting is there in the nets too, a sounding board for the players. Asking Richardson about his out-swinger. Telling Finch how well he’s hitting them. There are few more respected voices than Ponting's when it comes to T20 coaching. Ponting hit an unbeaten 98 in the first ever men's international T20 back in 2005 but has admitted no one took the format all that seriously when it first started. It was a bit of fun, a way to promote an upcoming one-day and Test series. One newspaper reported that although Australia had won that game, their opponents, a New Zealand side wearing retro beige outfits, had won the fashion stakes.
More than a decade on, Lehmann, Ponting, Warner and co are creating a T20 blueprint to help Australia make up ground in a format they've lagged behind in. Lynn said on Friday that discussions have started about the next World T20, which remains more than two-and-a-half years away, the only major trophy the men's team has never won.
Every ball counts.
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
Australia squad: David Warner (c), Aaron Finch (vc), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Ben Dwarshuis, Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
England squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, David Willey, Mark Wood.
New Zealand squad: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Tom Bruce, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Anaru Kitchen, Colin Munro, Seth Rance, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Ben Wheeler.
First T20I Australia won by seven wickets. Scorecard
Second T20I Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final TBC, Eden Park, February 21