After a long hard 2012 season that ran from the indoor nets in February to the last game of the season at the club in mid September it is fair to say that most of Phoenix players, committee members and coaches needed some time away from the game. However it never takes too long before that old familiar itch for the game comes back. The high profile Test Series that sees Australia currently host the number one ranked Test nation, South Africa, is enough to whet most cricket lovers whistle once more. Hard pitches, fast bowlers and plenty of runs on offer.
That’s right, hard pitches. It may seem somewhat hard to fathom after the soggy and sodden summer of 2012. Many a Phoenix batsman would kill for the chance to bat on a hard and true deck rather than a green top or a crumbling surface with the top gone through. Many a bowler would equally love the chance to bang one in back of a length and see it shoot through more than knee high.
Well for one Phoenix batsman he’s had just that chance. After a successful season in the First XI which saw the side regain their Division 1 place Joe McKay has had to make the quick transition back to Australian conditions. Not the easiest thing in the world for any cricketer. After spending a few months getting in tune with Irish conditions it was straight back to the land of sunshine and hard pitches rather than extended rain delays and daisies in the outfield. So just has Joe been holding up
“I’ve been well thanks, slowly thawing out in the sun after a cooler-than-usual summer in Ireland! Unfortunately I’m also back to full-time work which has been dull to say the least.
“The weather has definitely been more conducive to cricket – there have been some long, hot days out in the field already and the wickets are nice and dry. Having said that, we had a late start last week due to a damp outfield which was frustrating” he muses.
I don’t think Joe is going to get much sympathy for the hardships of dealing with an Australian summer but it’s surprising that a late start still causes frustration. One of the things he should surely have become accustomed to during his stay in Ireland? A hunger for the game, though, is what fuels his desire to be out in the middle in all conditions. However going straight from the end of one long season to the start of another must be a challenge in itself?
“Funnily enough I think I’m handling the workload better as a result of playing all through the year. The muscles and movements I use most in cricket have gotten much stronger and there hasn’t been that painful, stiff first few weeks we all get early in a pre-season. My match fitness is right up there at the moment. Mentally my passion is still there, I love the game and it’s still the best way I can think of to spend a Saturday. That’s been reinforced since I got back to full-time work here in Australia. So I think I’ve handled the workload pretty well and I’m starting to hit my straps earlier this season than a lot of other guys who are still shaking off the cobwebs”
All good so far but how has the transition from oh so very, very slow and low to quick and bouncy been for our man Joe? Irish conditions must have been extremely difficult for a young cricketer from the far side of the world to adjust to. So just how has the transition back been?
“I think having played on Australian wickets my entire career it’s come back to me fairly quickly; I found the transition when I first arrived in Ireland to be much more challenging. I have found it quite natural to revert to a more compact technique with a slightly lower backlift now that I’m back.
Although the use of the short ball here has been a factor – bouncers can actually be used effectively here whereas they were ‘hit me’ balls in Ireland. So I’ve had to look at adjusting the forward press I developed in Ireland as I anticipated full-pitched bowling there”, he muses.
It’s fair to say that Phoenix offered him an advancement in his game? After falling lbw in his first appearance for the club to Ireland legend, Kyle McCallan, all the way through to clinching promotion there seems to have been a lot to digest.
“There’s no doubt that my season at Phoenix had a massive impact on my game. I think this was most evident in our last game. We turned up to what was by Australian standards a very green, very soft wicket but which by Irish standards was an absolute belter!
I think my concentration as a batsman has improved the most, especially due to my time at Phoenix. On tough wickets you have to be concentrating and really watching the ball closely to have any chance.
We got sent in and ended up being bowled out for 150, of which I scored 75. No-one else in my team was really able to adapt to the conditions and there were a lot of spooned catches and soft dismissals because of the slowness and lateral movement. It highlighted for me just how much I’ve learnt about the game and how beneficial it was to play at Phoenix.
I think in Australia there’s a big temptation to play by eye and just trust the bounce but I’ve learnt the importance of technique in case the ball doesn’t do what you expect after it pitches! So along with concentration I think my technique has improved. I play better through the On Side now and I’m able to play the ball later. A big part of that was working closely with coach Lunson at Phoenix, he really helped my game from day one.
I’ve also learnt a lot about tactics and strategy from playing full ODI rules every week in Leinster. I’ve learnt a lot about how to contain batsmen and other techniques which can be used to get wickets in the 2 day game we play in Australia.
The season has been going really well here, our team is top of the table after 4 rounds and we are leading the club championships which takes into accounts results from all grades at the club. So we are in a good position overall. Personally it’s been a decent start – I’ve scored 134 runs @ 33.5 and picked up 5 wickets @ 4.2, striking at 11. I’m working hard to make sure the numbers get better from here”, says Joe.
It’s good to see that his time at Phoenix was not contained to just knowing how to give it a whack on a slow pitch offering movement. Tactics learned on a soggy day in the Park during a 50 over game can have an influence on what to do and when to do it even when turning out for Burwood Briars on the far side of the world.
It wasn’t all on the field for Joe, though, as he took up a role assisting in coaching at the club. For a young player coming to the far side of the world how does he feel the experience benefited him all round?
“Coaching is probably the biggest single element of my time at Phoenix which improved my own game. Working especially with the younger kids I really got back to the fundamentals of cricket and it simplified the process in my own game. I absolutely loved working with the juniors at Phoenix, it was a lot of fun and it was very rewarding to see them improve over the course of the season.
That said my time at Phoenix was the best five months of my life. I can’t recommend a season abroad enough, and Phoenix is an amazing club with so much history. But the best thing about Phoenix is by far the people; without exception everyone I met at the club was happy to have a chat and a laugh. It’s such a passionate, friendly community and I feel very proud to have been a part of it. Not to mention the fact that it’s one of the nicest grounds in Leinster cricket”, he adds.
It’s great to see that Phoenix has had such a positive influence on a player who, in return, had such a positive influence on the club. There must have been one thing that stood out in his time here, though?
“The highlight of my Phoenix season was definitely the people I met. I made a lot of true friends at the club. It was a privilege working with coach Lunson and living with Jan, the club pro. I got on well with all my team-mates and I loved taking the field with them each week.
From a playing perspective, beating Pembroke in the league at home was one of the best victories I’ve had in my career. For me it showed what Phoenix is capable of and it proved the fighting spirit at the club”, he concludes.
So there you have it. Our season is over and all we can do is watch the Steyn, Amla, Clarke, Pattinson and co from afar while Joe gets to have the best of both worlds. We all hope to see him back at the club sooner rather than later and wish him the best with his ‘other’ club this winter. I know there will be a few eyes on Burwood Briars site checking on his progress over the last few months.
It is great to see that Phoenix fosters such a positive reaction from the players it welcomes from overseas and we hope to have many more of the calibre of Joe in the future.
So to Joe we leave him this simple advice. Bat straight, run hard and when Nigel Jones nicks one to you when he’s still not off the mark make sure you bloody well pouch it mate!