Marsh Sheffield Shield 2019-20
Shock debutant puts himself back on the radar
Having made a surprising international debut in 2017, Queensland’s Sam Heazlett has quietly established himself as one of the best one-day openers in the country
9 October 2019, 04:13 PM AEST
Nearly three years after inadvertently causing a stir when he was whisked into Australia's 50-over side despite never having played a one-dayer for his state, Sam Heazlett is quietly putting himself back on the radar.
The Queenslander admits he cops the odd sledge from domestic opponents telling him he wasn't ready for the eleventh-hour opportunity that came from the blue in January 2017 in Auckland following a host of injuries to Australia's batters.
Forced to cancel plans to go surfing to make his ODI debut at Eden Park (batting at six, he nicked off for four), Heazlett has found himself riding a very different kind of wave in the summers that have followed.
On the one hand, the prodigiously-talented left-hander Greg Chappell had earmarked as a future star has failed to replicate the four-day form he'd displayed in a glittering maiden Sheffield Shield season that featured a century on first-class debut.
Since his one-off game for Australia, he’s averaged 28.66 in the Shield.
He's also struggled to make an impact in the KFC Big Bash League for the Brisbane Heat, averaging 13 from 17 hits.
Yet on the other, Heazlett has become one of the most formidable openers on the domestic one-day scene, pushing his List A batting average up to 57.00 after starting the ongoing Marsh Cup season with four consecutive half-centuries to help the Bulls reach the top of the standings after the initial block of games.
For context, Virat Kohli's ODI batting average sits only a little higher at 60.31.
While Heazlett's sample of games is far smaller (he's only played 19 one-dayers) and his opponents are a step or two below the class Kohli has faced in a 239-game ODI career, the 24-year-old's numbers will not have gone unnoticed by national selectors as they consider their top-order options for the 2023 50-over World Cup.
"I love one-day cricket, I've always really enjoyed watching it," Heazlett told cricket.com.au as Queensland shifted into red-ball mode ahead of their first Marsh Sheffield Shield game against NSW from Thursday.
"I feel like you need to have all the skills – you've got to be able to hit big and find the boundaries like you need to do in T20 cricket.
"But you also need to be good early in your innings when the ball is swinging to be defensive and leave well, and then rotate the strike.
"I think you need to have a balanced game and the challenge for me is to be able to take that into four-day cricket coming up now and rein it back a bit. And then in the Big Bash, too, if I get another opportunity."
Heazlett has had particular success going after opening bowlers inside the first 10 overs of a 50-over innings while fielding restrictions are in place and the white ball remains firm.
He blazed 70 off just 57 deliveries in the Bulls' Marsh Cup opener before following it with 51 off 43 two days later. When Usman Khawaja returned to partner him at the top of the order for back-to-back games against Victoria, the pair put on 185 and 118 in quick time as Heazlett posted 88 (off 86) and 69 (off 51).
Backing his natural judgment has been a major factor, says Heazlett, who has worked on his mental approach to batting and tried to avoid premeditating specific strokes.
It's helped get him to a point where he feels he's a far better player to the one Australia picked out of nowhere almost three years ago.
"I can't believe how much I've improved over the last couple of years," said Heazlett.
"If you asked me a couple of years ago, I would have thought I was feeling pretty good as a batsman – I knew I could definitely get better, and everyone tells you that you can - but you don't really understand until you go through that process.
"Hitting cricket balls every day for a living is awesome, but going about it with a purpose has helped me improve.
"I think I will continue to improve. People say batters are at their best when they're 25, 26, 27 (Heazlett turned 24 last month). I've still got that improvement to go and I'm still working on little things."
What hasn't changed from a few years ago is the fact national selection is occupying very little of his brainpower.
Instead, he occupies his time away from the field by studying physiotherapy, recording podcasts with teammates from his club side Redlands and, of course, surfing.
Not that his rivals have forgotten that famous debut quickly.
"Maybe there's been a word here or there about the fact I'd played a game (for Australia), and they try to get in my head (while batting) by saying I wasn't ready," said Heazlett.
"But there's always something that fielders are trying to do to put you off your game as a batter and get you out. So that's just what you'd expect.
"You feel a lot of pressure as it is trying to play for your state and trying to do well. It doesn’t matter who you're playing for. When I play club cricket for Redlands, I feel a lot of pressure to do well for them as well.
"No matter what they're saying, you've got to move past it."