Hilton Cartwright’s bowling remains a work in progress and he properly honed his run-up only within the last year © Getty Images
Sixth batsman in a Test order, third seamer in a Test attack? Such a dual role is a tall order for any man, and proved too tall for Mitchell Marsh, who spent two years trying to fit the job description before being let go early this summer. It is likely that Australia will use the first Test of 2017 to put a new intern into the position to see how he handles the pressure: the Zimbabwe-born Western Australia allrounder Hilton Cartwright.
Although Australia’s XI for the Sydney Test is yet to be confirmed, Cartwright appears the most logical candidate in the squad to fill the No.6 batting role vacated by Nic Maddinson, who was dropped after the win in Melbourne. The only other option seems to be promoting the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade into the top six, which would be a bold move considering he is yet to reach double figures since returning to the side.
And so Cartwright can reasonably expect to become the 450th man to play Test cricket for Australia. He arrives in the Test arena with only 16 first-class matches to his name and just 15 wickets at 41.93. Not surprisingly, he considers himself a batting allrounder, but that is precisely what Australia want: someone capable of batting at No.6 and providing a fifth bowling option. Marsh’s Test batting average of 23 could not sustain the role.
Whether Cartwright can remains to be seen, but he at least arrives with a first-class batting average of 44.50, including two centuries, which came against South Australia at the WACA in March 2016 and then against India A in Brisbane later that year. The selectors did not have to look far beyond Marsh to find his replacement – both allrounders went to Wesley College in Perth, and Cartwright has been following Marsh for years.
“I went to school with Mitch so I’ve pretty much played the bulk of my cricket with him,” Cartwright said in Sydney on Sunday. “He’s always been a role model in a way for me, he’s always been the year above me, he’s taken me under his wing quite a lot. Even when he found out I was in the squad he was one of the first guys to come up and congratulate me.”
Whereas Marsh’s bowling developed to such a point that he could hit 140kph and provided an extremely useful backup option for the frontline fast men, Cartwright’s bowling has always been the second string to his bow. This Sheffield Shield summer he has bowled only 61 overs for total figures of 4 for 299; his bowling remains a work in progress to such an extent that it was only within the last year that he properly honed his run-up.
“I’ve done a lot of work, especially in the last 12 months,” Cartwright said. “The off season up in Brisbane really helped me … I just ran off a mark that used to work for me back in school cricket and I just kept that mark. So I worked a lot with Troy Cooley and Ryan Harris and they got a lot of structure behind my run-up and did a bit of technical work as well. And that’s really helped me flow into the season.”
Cartwright was born in Harare in 1992 and grew up idolising South Africa’s Jacques Kallis, who he would watch on SuperSport from Zimbabwe. However, when the Cartwright family’s tobacco farm became subject to Robert Mugabe’s land reforms they moved to Australia; Cartwright was 11 at the time, and did not take long to adapt to his new homeland.
“My mum, the other day, she was telling me how when we moved over I said ‘oh, I can’t play for Zimbabwe any more’,” he said. “And then mum was like ‘but you can play for Australia now’ and I just flicked the switch then and there. I was like ‘okay, I’ll try and get a baggy green then’. So I pretty easily convinced when I was younger, it didn’t take much.”
Now, as a 24-year-old, and with no hint of an accent that is anything but Australian, that dream is tantalisingly close.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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