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December 9, 2011
Bert Sutcliffe, John Reid ... Dean Brownlie: the only New Zealand players to score a half-century in each of their first three Tests. Averages can rise and fall, but that is a list Brownlie can never disappear from. As New Zealand cricketing icons go, he could hardly be in the company of two finer men. His move from Perth to Christchurch two years ago is looking wiser with every passing day.
As New Zealand lost wickets liberally on the first day in Hobart, on a difficult, grassy surface, against quality swing bowling, Brownlie just kept doing his thing. And his thing is pretty straightforward: anything on the pads he whips through midwicket, anything short and wide of off stump he cuts with aplomb, any good ball he respects.
The most well regarded Test batsmen are not always the flashy sorts who play every stroke. Just as often they are men like Allan Border or Jonathan Trott, who know their range of shots, are aware of their limitations, and play within them. His career is only two and a half Tests old, but Brownlie does not seem the type to lose his head and attempt things that are beyond him.
He adds much needed rigidity to a New Zealand batting line-up that looks flimsier with every innings. New Zealand's top five batsmen - Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder - have scored a total of 179 runs in this series. Brownlie has managed 175.
It is hard to believe, watching him handle the Australian bowlers comfortably, that he could not find a place in Western Australia's side during his years of playing club cricket in Perth. He had played in the state Under-19 team alongside current domestic players like Liam Davis and Theo Doropoulos, but at 25 he decided he had missed the boat with the Warriors.
"I was playing grade cricket for Mt Lawley when I decided to leave," Brownlie said. "I didn't think I was an opportunity to play for WA. I felt like the players they had there were quality cricketers, and they had good youth coming through as well. I felt like I missed my opportunity and didn't want to leave it like that. I thought I'd get in contact with Mark O'Neill, who was the WA batting coach and now the New Zealand [batting] coach."
Through that contact, and the fact that his father Jim was born in New Zealand, Brownlie made his way across the Tasman and took a punt on winning a place in Canterbury's side. On first-class debut, he scored an unbeaten 112. His first-class average, albeit from only 19 matches, sits at 55.53. It is a jump that, for those who saw him as a consistent but not outstanding club cricketer in Perth, is hard to believe.
"I think I've improved a lot," Brownlie said. "I've worked pretty hard with [Canterbury coach] Bob Carter and now with John Wright. They've made me improve a lot by making me work hard. I probably didn't train nearly as much as I had to to perform at first-class level. I feel like now I'm a professional, I can put in the time that I need to."
Brownlie is not the first Australian-raised player to return to his homeland as an opposing Test player in recent years. Brendan Nash played state cricket for Queensland but qualified as a West Indies cricketer due to his Jamaican-born father, and Geraint Jones, who was born in Papua New Guinea but spent most of his first 22 years in Australia, kept wicket for England in the 2006-07 Ashes.
"To play for New Zealand is a huge honour and I don't take that lightly," Brownlie said. "To play Test cricket, I don't think you need any more incentive than that. I wouldn't have dreamed of this two years ago. Just to be out there is awesome."
To be in the company of Sutcliffe and Reid is more than awesome. It is unfathomable. Next on the list: turning one of those half-centuries into a Test hundred.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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