Cool Carseldine seeks free spirit
If Lee Carseldine wants to follow up his success of last season he has to stop thinking like a professional cricketer. It was the change in attitude, from a free thinker who was enjoying an unexpected ride to someone who started to be consumed by the game, that resulted in a downward curl at the end of an amazing summer.
Complications from a back injury in 2004 left Carseldine, a 33-year-old who debuted for the Bulls in 1998-99, hoping to walk again - and playing cricket seemed impossible. Slowly he recovered and his career exploded in 2008-09 when he was suddenly a Twenty20 star after 298 domestic runs at a strike-rate of 135 and an average of 99.33. The haul earned him a spot with Rajasthan in the IPL and there were more strong returns in the one-day and Sheffield Shield until his mind became more cluttered as the season wound down.
"Last year I wasn't expecting to resume my career, I just went out there with the freedom of playing my shots, relaxing, not really having to worry about the consequences," he said. "It was that carefree attitude that resulted in a bit of success. Towards the end of the year, I started going away from that. I started to take myself a little too seriously and started believing some of the hype that was going around."
There was good reason for the promotion as he finished the summer with 595 Sheffield Shield runs, 477 in the FR Cup, spots in all three Australian Cricketers' Association teams of the year and a couple of state prizes. As he backs up from an unforgettable season he wants to employ the same simple philosophy that started his streak while working on ways to step away from the game and clear his thoughts.
That was easy at the beginning of 2008-09 as he juggled finishing an MBA and a masters in applied finance with working a couple of days a week while "playing a bit of cricket". "I didn't have time to think about the game, apart from when I was training and playing," he said. "For me, it's making sure I keep business interests going outside of the game, trying not to consume myself too much in the game, and just understanding when to step off. When I'm thinking that I'm a professional cricketer again - that's probably the biggest danger."
Carseldine admits it is an easier thing to say than do, but he is more likely to achieve it because he has such a varied life. "Interests outside the game help me relax a bit more because I'm focussing on something else, knowing if cricket ends tomorrow it's not the be-all and end-all," he said.
Queensland need him to be relaxed because they don't have a lot of senior players in their squad. Of the 13 originally picked to face Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield game from Tuesday, only James Hopes, Glen Batticciotto and Daniel Doran are 28 or older. Carseldine spent four years out of the game due to his back problems and they have limited him to 32 first-class games.
In the off-season the Bulls lost Martin Love to retirement and Shane Watson and Ashley Noffke to other states, while Andrew Symonds is now a Twenty20 specialist, leaving them without key run-makes and senior men. Carseldine isn't convinced of the need for go-to performers and believes Queensland's strength relies on having so many contributors.
"For some reason people always like to have that one person, saying everything is going to fall on your shoulders, but I don't believe that's the case at all," he said. "Part of the success we had last season was we never relied on one person. That's why we're so strong. We don't have those big names, but the stats and numbers still stack up." However, he was desperately needed in the opening match of the season, an FR Cup contest, when his 54 lifted a battling Queensland to 9 for 161 at the WACA on Sunday.
Western Australia's bowling squad is a familiar one for the Bulls, who have lost Noffke, Mitchell Johnson, Steve Magoffin and Ben Edmondson there over the past six years. Johnson left to be closer to his girlfriend while the other three went for greater opportunities, with Noffke instantly running into his old team in the opening week of the season.
After Sunday's FR Cup warm-up, which was won by the hosts, comes Tuesday's eagerly-awaited four-day fixture. "We'll just get on with playing the game, there's not going to be too many niggles [with Noffke], or words spoken about him leaving the state," Carseldine said.
He sees the tough opening encounter as a way to test the development of the Queensland squad in the off-season. "Having Western Australia first up with a point to prove is going to be quite challenging," he said. "It will be a good test of where we're at as a squad in terms of the work we've done in the off-season, and how we go against a very formidable bowling attack."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo