From third XI to BBL: Hatzoglou's meteoric rise
Two seasons ago, Peter Hatzoglou was playing for his club's third XI. Now the 22-year-old data analyst from Melbourne's west is mixing it with the world's best T20 players
18 December 2020, 04:17 PM AEST
The weirdest moment of Peter Hatzoglou's meteoric ascent from third XI club cricketer to overnight Big Bash star didn't actually happen on a cricket field.
Until a few weeks ago the Melbourne Renegades leg-spinner was juggling working his day job as a data analyst for a financial services firm, studying for his double-degree in finance and international relations, serving as treasurer for his junior cricket club Sunshine Heights and making his way for his new South Australian Premier Cricket team, Prospect.
So when a kid he had never met before called out to him on a street in Hobart, addressing him by his nickname 'Pistol', Hatzoglou had a moment.
"I was just in shock thinking, 'This is crazy'," the 22-year-old told cricket.com.au. "It just really shocked me that a random kid on the street would recognise me."
For those interested, here’s Pete Hatzoglou bowling in the 3rd XI Quarter Final, 2017/18! @RenegadesBBL @7Cricket @cricketcomau #GETONRED pic.twitter.com/NoWbqeqNJu— Melbourne University Cricket Club (@MelbUniCC) December 13, 2020
He probably would not have been on that Hobart street at all if it had not been for a chance encounter with former Australia captain, Cameron White.
Last summer, Hatzoglou was still playing for Melbourne University's second XI in 50-over and two-day formats, unable to get a first-grade game with gun KFC BBL leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed in the side. The season before that, in 2018-19, he spent most of the summer in the thirds.
But his chance came in Victoria's T20 Super Slam competition and by the club's final game of last season's competition, Hatzoglou had established himself in the side and was taking the new ball against Melbourne CC's imposing opening pair of White and Sam Harper.
He did not take a wicket and Melbourne cruised to an easy win, but he had caught the eye of White, who got in touch with Cricket Victoria. Hatzoglou soon found himself bowling in the nets to the Melbourne Stars.
"I was still playing in the twos at that point. All of a sudden I was bowling to (Marcus) Stoinis and (Glenn) Maxwell," he recalled.
"If I overpitched anything, it was going for six over my head. Those two are so good at ‘step-hitting’.
"That was the one big lesson I took from that, that I couldn't get too full. That was the biggest difference between batters at that level and batters at Premier level.
"I had to draw my lengths back a bit, which is what I worked on a lot after those training sessions."
Best wishes Peter from Sunshine Heights CC @peterhatzoglou @RenegadesBBL @BBL pic.twitter.com/aNYmevTGFk— Sunshine Heights Cricket Club (@SunshineHeights) December 15, 2020
It's understood the Stars had considered signing Hatzoglou despite having only made his first XI debut for Uni's main side in the final match before Christmas.
And while a deal with the Stars never eventuated, his short-lived brush with some of world’s best T20 players had planted a seed.
"Once I'd had a few training sessions with them, I thought 'I feel like I've got the ability to perform at this level'," he said.
"Not that I'd done anything yet but I felt like I was up to it. That's when I got the first inkling that I could get the opportunity to play Big Bash cricket."
With a small taste of the top level and a successful rest of the 2019-20 season in the firsts at Melbourne Uni, Hatzoglou took the initiative earlier this year and moved to Adelaide with the oldest of his three younger brothers, Max (a promising wicketkeeper who has also played in the firsts at Melbourne Uni) with both sensing they were a better chance of playing state cricket there than in Victoria.
As he juggled his professional, academic and cricketing commitments, Peter Hatzoglou last month got the perfect present on the day of his 22nd birthday; a call from the Renegades. They wanted him to get on a flight back to Melbourne the following day to join their BBL|10 squad.
Cricket Australia's isolation requirements meant he initially had to bowl to a stump on his own at the Junction Oval, while he also tuned up by sending some down to his two youngest brothers, Leo and Alexander.
When he did finally join the Renegades group, Hatzoglou impressed immediately, completing the rare feat of bowling a maiden over in the Powerplay in a practice game against the Adelaide Strikers.
With fellow leggies Noor Ahmad (who was stuck in hotel quarantine) and Cameron Boyce (medical condition) unavailable, Hatzoglou’s remarkable cricket journey continued as he won an unlikely BBL debut against the Perth Scorchers.
After being hit for 12 off his first over, he trapped Test players Cameron Bancroft and Mitch Marsh lbw in the Renegades’ first-up win, and followed that with two more wickets in their defeat to the Sydney Sixers. After the game against the Scorchers, he had dinner with Fawad, who remains a key mentor following their time together at Melbourne Uni.
Hatzoglou bowls an unusual brand of wrist-spin. He relies on rare speed, wicked drift and subtle variations in pace and turn rather than big spinning leg-breaks. His idol is Anil Kumble rather than Shane Warne, though he says his exaggerated flick back of his right hand as he begins his run-up is a nod to the Australian great.
His method has proved confounding at times not only for some of the BBL's best bashers – only five bowlers have induced more false shots than him so far this season (minimum eight overs), per data provided by Opta – but also for those watching on.
"It's funny, even now listening to commentators talk about my bowling after they've seen me bowl and had a closer look at the footage, they say I've got a really good wrong'un, but I've actually not bowled a single wrong'un this whole tournament," he said.
"I play around with where I bowl on the crease a lot when I am bowling … but I’m still doing the same thing with the ball.
"People will catch on eventually… (but) the element of surprise can help."
While Hatzoglou will have to contend with the likes of Noor and Boyce coming back into the Renegades side while South African Imran Tahir – another wrist-spinner – arrives after Christmas, he is optimistic of further involvement after his promising start.
In fact, he has become so used to getting overlooked – memories of missing out on the Western Spirit regional representative teams as a junior remain fresh – so rather than trying to get picked instead of other spin bowlers, he has had to learn to get picked alongside them.
"Because I'm so different to a lot of other spinners, I've always found I've been able to bowl with other spinners in the side," said Hatzoglou.
"I bowl over 100kph and most other spinners are below that so I feel like I can bowl with conventional spinners in the team."
It may have been laughable to think he could become a BBL regular a couple of years ago but he now believes his lack of top-flight cricket (he has still only played 10 first XI Premier games between Prospect and Melbourne Uni) has actually worked in his favour.
"There were a lot of really talented cricketers at Uni and that was a really good thing for me, having to really work hard to move up the grades," said Hatzoglou.
"In a way that has made me feel a lot more comfortable moving up to this level, I know I've worked really hard to get up here and I just feel really confident in my ability to do well when I do play.
"We (the Renegades) have a lot of really quality bowlers and I'm not too fussed really, I'm just taking it one game at a time."
Even if he does make this a breakout BBL season, don't expect the success to go to his head.
"It's funny – I'm having breakfast with Kane Richardson and Mohammad Nabi this morning and then I get back to my hotel room and I'm reimbursing our third XI captain at Sunshine Heights for the umpires' payment for last weekend," laughed Hatzoglou, whose father Nick is also the president at Sunshine Heights.
"It brings you down to earth, that's for sure."