Noffke ready for Caribbean call
Usually by the end of March Ashley Noffke knows what is happening with his off-season plans. Previous winters have involved stints in England or business duties, family time and fishing trips, but this one threatens to include the tour of the West Indies in May.
Noffke's outstanding first-class collection of 51 wickets at 19.03 and 741 runs at 46.31 - he became the third Australian behind George Giffen and Greg Matthews to capture the 50-wicket, 500-run season double - has him hoping to be part of his second Caribbean adventure with the national team. After such a strong campaign the expectation is he will be in the squad when it is named this week, possibly as early as Wednesday.
While picking up a host of trophies at the Queensland awards dinner on Saturday, including the Player-of-the-Year prize, Noffke made it clear he was ready to add to the one-day and Twenty20 debuts that came in 2007-08. "Throughout the year I was thinking, 'how am I going to get into the Test team?' Halfway through I came to the conclusion Test cricket wasn't going to happen this summer.
"I love playing one-day cricket and I love playing Twenty20, but I want to play a Test and I want to show my wares over the long game. Whether or not I get an opportunity for that soon, or if I've got to wait another season, I don't feel age is a barrier." Noffke turns 31 in April but is not concerned when he looks at players such as Stuart Clark and Michael Hussey, who received later-in-life-opportunities.
A remodelled bowling action and extra attention on his always-productive batting has turned Noffke into a major force. Even Simon Katich, who struck a record-breaking 1506 Pura Cup runs, could not feel more upset than Noffke if he is omitted from what will probably be a 15-man touring party.
If Noffke is picked it will be his third trip with the squad after being a late call-up for the 2001 Ashes tour and completing the 2003 visit to the Caribbean. Injuries over the next few years intervened and led to the technical overhauls.
Noffke returned to the international set-up for the Twenty20 against New Zealand in December, taking 3 for 18, and hit back from a poor opening in his ODI debut on his home ground in February. "The first two and a half overs were some of the most regrettable bowling I've bowled," he said. "It's funny how body and mind can let you down at times. I'd worked so hard over a long time to achieve that specific moment."
Brett Lee and Ricky Ponting offered support, but it was Adam Gilchrist's advice that was memorable after Noffke let 19 runs escape in 12 balls. "Gilly ran up to me and said: 'If you took a wicket in your first couple of overs we would have thought you were a big head.'"
The good-natured teasing was successful. "It calmed me down a little bit," Noffke said. "I was thinking, 'if I don't pull my socks up and start bowling like I know I can, I'm not going to get another opportunity'. After those couple of overs I settled down and bowled as well as I'd done throughout the year." He finished with 1 for 46 off nine, but was squeezed from the side when Clark came back.
The rest of the season was spent trying to revive Queensland without squad success, but his individual results remained strong. While some of his team-mates considered deals with the Indian Premier League, Noffke hid himself from the talk and did not register for the second auction. "At end of the day I didn't want to let myself know too much about it," he said. "I just want to play cricket for Australia at the moment."
Another season with the English county Middlesex is a possibility, but that depends on the events of the next week. "I'm waiting to see what's happening with the tour," he said. "I'm still contemplating going to Middlesex as long as they want me, but that's if I'm not selected for the West Indies - I'd be pretty disappointed if I didn't go."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo