Pomersbach's road from perdition
Paul Wilson would be forgiven if his mind wandered throughout Luke Pomersbach's innings. The former Australia fast bowler was standing as an on-field umpire in the first BBL semi-final but as he watched Pomersbach pulverise the Renegades on his way to a stunning century, Wilson would have been reminded of his playing days.
In October 2003, Wilson was beginning his final season as a professional in Western Australia. Playing Grade cricket for Melville at the picturesque Tompkins Park, on the banks of the Swan River, Wilson terrorised his opponents, Gosnells, claiming 5 for 40 in a comprehensive routing. The eight extras conceded by Melville were Gosnells' third-highest contributor to their 148-run total.
One of Wilson's victims that day was Pomersbach. Barely six days after his 19th birthday, the powerful left-hand batsman made 75 in a defiant, but ultimately fruitless, rearguard attack. However, Wilson had left his mark on the youngster, having verbally abused him throughout the innings.
The story goes that Pomersbach was the eighth man out, with the score at just 104. He sat down next to his team-mates and asked, "Who's this meathead that's abusing us?"
His team-mates, after picking their jaws up from the concrete concourse, quietly informed Pomersbach that Wilson had played Test and one-day international cricket for Australia and was an integral member of WA's fast-bowling unit. Pomersbach's response was something akin to "Who? This bloke? He bowls military meds."
It summed up Luke Pomersbach: naive, and gifted.
At 28, he is one of the most talented players in Australia. His first-class record does not leap off the page. He averages a tick over 40 with four hundreds in 30 matches for Western Australia but that does not include his two centuries against touring Test teams. Pomersbach clubbed 145 against Graeme Smith's South Africans in 2005-06. Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock, Charl Langeveldt, and Andre Nel all targeted the plain, navy blue club helmet he was wearing and got punished for it. The following season he scored an unbeaten 101 against Andrew Flintoff's touring England side. Pomersbach had hundreds against Test-match attacks from England and South Africa before he had made his first-class debut for WA.
That debut finally came against Tasmania in Hobart, where he made 74 and 63 in a three-wicket win for WA over the eventual Pura Cup Champions that season.
Twelve months later, Pomersbach made the most astounding international debut, pulled from the WACA crowd where he was a spectator, to play in place of the injured Brad Hodge in a Twenty20 against New Zealand. In March 2008, Pomersbach was named Bradman Young Cricketer of Year, having made 743 runs at 61.91 in the domestic first-class season.
But Pomersbach's talent on the field was offset by his naivety and indiscipline off it. He was plagued by incidents involving alcohol throughout his time in the WA squad. He was suspended four times by the WACA and escaped a jail sentence in 2009 after assaulting a police officer following a drink-driving arrest. Pomersbach felt at the time it was the wake-up call he needed.
"Hopefully, I can look back in a few years and say what happened in 2009 has made me a stronger person and a better cricketer. Everyone makes mistakes, but they haven't really hit home like this one has," he told the West Australian in 2009. "This has made me realise that I could have lost cricket for one, but I could have killed myself and lost my career there, or killed someone else. I don't mind saying that I needed something like this to open my eyes."
But he didn't turn over a new leaf. His last suspension from the WACA came two years later and led Pomersbach to stand down from professional cricket, only to return to the IPL for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2012, a trip that was marred by another bizarre assault charge that ended in an out-of-court settlement.
Darren Lehmann took a chance on Pomersbach, signing him to the Queensland and Brisbane Heat contract list. It was one last lifeline to a cricketer whose potential had never been fully reached. Pomersbach has been made to earn his place through Grade cricket in Brisbane, and one Futures League fixture in Perth against his old state. He played one unsuccessful Ryobi Cup match for Queensland prior to the Big Bash League. Ironically, given his power and stroke-making ability, Pomersbach has found the limited-overs formats far more difficult to master.
But Lehmann's gamble has paid big dividends for the Brisbane Heat this season. He is now the leading scorer in the BBL and his last two innings of 82 and 112 not out have helped his side to qualify for the Champions League in remarkable circumstances.
That Lehmann would take a chance on Pomersbach is unsurprising. He can relate to a player of rare natural talent. So too can Kim Hughes. The former Australia captain did some batting work with Pomersbach between his return from the IPL and his arrival in Brisbane.
Both men would recognise Pomersbach's gifts. And they know, too, his raw talent is both his strength and his weakness. His naivety has helped him hurt Wilson, the South Africans, the English, and now Muttiah Muralitharan. To Pomersbach, reputations stand for nothing, not because he believes he's better, but simply because he is not aware of them. Yet the same quality has led him astray in life, and he has been unaware of the consequences of certain decisions he's made.
The consequences of his return to the professional game are self-evident. His talent is undeniable. If he can continue on his road from perdition, he may, like the fast bowler he faced a decade ago, represent Australia in more than one format.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth