the devil’s reject

According to Malcolm Conn, Peter Forest is a New South Wales reject.

And he is. Forrest couldn’t cut it at NSW. He had a great start, played for Australia A and was talked about as a potential future player for Australia before he slipped off the radar. Eventually he struggled to even hold a place with NSW.

At some states, a player with his obvious talent might have been given more time, but you don’t get long at NSW. You’re either the next big thing, comfortable being a well loved but underused back up, or you’re out.

In his book, Eddie Cowan refers to the superstar culture there. No other state looks for the next big thing more than NSW, and it means that quality cricketers in average form can be overlooked for a 17-year-old potential once-in-a-generation player. To put it as bluntly as Malcolm Conn might, and slightly misquote the band TISM, “If you’re not famous at 20, you’re finished”.

In recent years Australia has called up John Hastings, Dan Christian, Eddie Cowan, Jason Krejza and even Nathan Lyon. All are NSW rejects. All went through the system there in one way or another. Christian, Cowan and Krejza even played for NSW, before moving to another state. But all were only picked for Australia when they were performing for their new states.

 

Perhaps they felt more appreciated. Perhaps the coaching systems helped them. Or that their positions weren’t in constant jeopardy meant they could relax and played better cricket. But leaving home was a good thing for these players, who all found happy times in their new surroundings.

Hastings looks like he should be bare-knuckle fighting for his salary. Every time you see him on a cricket ground you can hear Tony Greig whisper “broad-shouldered young man”. His bowling is steady, clever and efficient. His batting is handy. He has worked hard to become a semi-regular for his country in limited-overs cricket. He’s probably never going to be an all time great, but that’s okay, few players are. If he recovers from his injuries, well he can become a reasonable player for Australia for a few years. If, like Tim Bresnan, he continues to develop his skills, he could become a very important player for Australia and perhaps even a Test-bowling allrounder.

Hastings left NSW for Victoria. At that time Moises Henriques was going to be cricket’s version of the best thing since sliced bread, a genuine allrounder. Henriques could bowl as fast as Hastings, was a realistic middle-order batsman, was younger and was potentially the allrounder that Australia had been looking for since Keith Miller left cricket.

In the five years since Hastings made his debut for Victoria, he has outperformed Henriques consistently. So instead of Henriques fulfilling his potential, he’s played three matches for Australia while Hastings has played 14. On pure talent you’d always go for Henriques, but on performances, Hastings is a no brainer.

 

That’s just one obvious case of someone having to leave NSW. The search for a young superstar once led NSW to have Beau Casson and Steve Smith in their line-up ahead of Nathan Hauritz, only for Hauritz to be picked for Australia.

 

Having NSW rejects looking for a new home makes Shield Cricket stronger as well. Players like Brendon Drew and Aaron O’Brien may never play for their country, but by playing in Shield Cricket they improve its standard. Even below Shield cricket there are many NSW imports around the country strengthening club cricket standards.

 

Kurtis Patterson is 18 and made 157 on debut in first-class cricket. If that isn’t enough to get some fringe-squad batsman to move states, countries, or even galaxies just to get another opportunity, I’m not sure what is.

Forrest has scored his first hundred for Australia. One, there is almost no chance he would have scored if he’d stayed in NSW. He’s currently averaging over 50 in his four games. He’s not an obvious ODI player, but his talent and current form will mean that before long he may be seen in Tests.

There’s no doubt that NSW look towards the future more than any other state side, and Australia have benefitted from that many times. However, it’s also good that the other states are willing to give these guys a second chance.

Forrest may never be a superstar Australian player, but he could be a very good one, especially for a reject.

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