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New calling for old-fashioned Chadd

20 January 2016

Obdurate fast bowler reaps rewards for sticking to his guns

Chadd Sayers is known endearingly among some of those who have been most closely involved in his progress from Adelaide grade hero to Test squad member as "an old-fashioned cricketer".

Not because the lightly framed swing bowler sported a full crop of facial hair well before it became the uniform of oh-so-cool inner-suburban hipsters.

Or due to him being pigeon-holed a red-ball specialist in this era of white-ball riches, as highlighted by the fact he has been scorned by T20 franchises the world over despite being the Sheffield Shield’s second-highest wicket-taker (behind Queensland’s James Hopes) over the past three summers.

Quick Single: Sayers the bolter in Australia's Test squad to New Zealand

Largely, it’s a reputation born from Sayers’ unflinching commitment to a specialist skills-set that includes neither the pace to physically frighten opposition batters or the bottomless bag of variations so valued by T20 tournament franchises.

Instead, the 28-year-old – who was today named as the only uncapped member of Australia’s 14-man Test squad to tour New Zealand next month - has worked slavishly to perfect a bowling blueprint built on late outswing, occasional seam movement, nagging accuracy and tireless stamina.

"I was never going to bowl 140(km/h), so if that was their (national selectors) criteria I was never going to fit that," Sayers admitted today when he fronted the media after a sleepless night spent postulating all manner of scenarios should he earn a Baggy Green Cap next month.

"But obviously they’ve picked for New Zealand conditions with Jackson Bird getting selected as well – he’s the same sort of bowler as me." 

WATCH: Sayers destroys Bulls with six Shield wickets

Given his record over recent seasons for South Australia, the greatest surprise of Sayers’ selection is perhaps the fact it was not more widely foreseen.

But there have been mitigating factors that meant the son of Dean Sayers (who enjoyed a fleeting stint at Shield level as a third-change seamer for SA) had all but accepted his chances of national representation had gone when he was overlooked for Australia’s Ashes campaigns in 2013 and 2015.

With his most recent disappointment at missing out on the chance to play in conditions that best complement his talents compounded by his lengthy recovery from a bout of ankle surgery to shave a bone spur from his left heel and a subsequent operation months later to remove even more.

Quick Single: Perform or perish in the Baggy Green

For a start, Sayers scarcely carries the intimidating air of a new-ball warrior.

Standing at less than six feet in the old money and with a top bowling speed described by those in the know as "probably closer to 130km/h than the mid-130s", Sayers conveys the level of wide-eyed menace that New Zealanders might recognise among the gentle hobbit folk of Middle Earth.

And his story is perhaps best summarised by one memorable day against Queensland at the start of last summer’s Sheffield Shield season.

When the 6-34 he captured to destroy the Bulls and bowl his team to victory included every opening bowler’s ambition – a hat-trick, the first by an SA bowler in the Shield arena for more than 40 years – along with a dismissal that no aspiring quick want to see among their career statistics.

A stumping. 

WATCH: THAT stumping

But as one SA insider revealed in the wake of Sayers’ call-up, a batsman who under-estimates the bowler that former Test spinner Ashley Mallet once likened to Australia swing legends Bob Massie and Terry Alderman will quickly be found out.

"He’s patient, he’s meticulous and he’ll bowl a lot of overs for you without losing pace or focus," the source said.

"What’s more, he’ll look like taking wickets for you even in the overs that he doesn’t.

"He’s not going to get in the grille of batsmen by bowling a really quick bouncer or work them over physically, but he will do enough in the air and off the pitch to be in the game all the time."

Especially in New Zealand where the pitches are likely to offer some assistance to the seamers, beneath overhead conditions that will be as close to England as Sayers now seems likely to enjoy.

"I watched the last series (between the Black Caps and Sri Lanka in NZ) on TV and it swung around and nipped around a bit, which should suit my bowling,” Sayers said today.

"I’ve always strived to play at the highest level I can and to perform at that level, so I’m just really excited.

"I can’t wait to get over there." 

WATCH: Sayers completes rare hat-trick

Patience is a trait that Sayers does not confine to his lengthy bowling spells, during which he pesters away at a length that batters feel forever compelled to play at but never quite confident they have it covered.

By the time his case for promotion to SA’s Shield team had been successfully prosecuted by long-time advocate and then coach Darren Berry at the end of the 2010-11 summer, Sayers (aged 23) was already something a grade cricket legend in Adelaide.

Over the previous four summers he had twice finished runner-up (by a solitary vote) and once placed third in the Bradman Medal as the district competition’s best and fairest player, an honour he finally secured in his own right just weeks after earning his Redbacks cap.

Berry was among the many (including a number of his fellow Australia Test squad members) to leave a message on Sayers’ phone on the day after the right-armer finished a training session at Adelaide Oval to find he had missed an important call from selection panel chair Rod Marsh.

At which point Sayers recognised that the years he had spent toiling away for grade club Woodville – under then coach and former West Indies captain Carl Hooper who lauded him as a player “with the fire in the belly, who never takes a backward step" – had also held him in good stead to take the next step.

By allowing him to retain faith in his skills, stick fast to a bowling style that was anything but and not try to turn himself into a player that he wasn’t in the hope that he might fast-track a course that he would be ultimately unable to stay.

And should he become the oldest pace bowler to make his Test debut for Australia since his fellow South Australian and much-loved mentor Ryan Harris, Sayers has no intention of moving out of his strict playing parameters.

Or be daunted by an opposition batting line-up that contains three of the Test game’s top 20-ranked players – Kane Williamson (3), Ross Taylor (12) and Brendon McCullum (20).

"A good ball to any batsman is a good ball,” Sayers said matter-of-factly when asked today if he felt he had the game to adapt to cricket’s elite form.

"They’re just the best (Sheffield) Shield cricketers in the one side, so you can take confidence getting the best players out in Shield cricket.

"And it’s just the same formula I’ll be using."

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Australia Men

Chadd Sayers

New Zealand v Australia Tests