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September 8, 2009
When Andrew Strauss admitted he knew very little about Callum Ferguson he could have done worse than look towards Netherfield Cricket Club in Cumbria. A little part of northern England has helped to nurture Australia's latest batting star after Ferguson broke league records during his spell as Netherfield's professional in 2008.
On the field he excelled as he set a new Northern League run-scoring mark by racking up 1381 runs at 106 during his stay, including six hundreds and six fifties. It came at a time when he'd been told by his state coaches at South Australia that he needed to convert his starts into major scores. Now, after 15 ODIs, he is averaging 56 and is already shaping as a key component of Australia's future.
"I think before he came to us he'd been told he needed more hundreds," club secretary Ian Heath told Cricinfo. "It took him a little while to settle and get used to conditions, but once he got going no one knew how they were going to get him out." Strauss will know that feeling.
Ferguson was the latest professional to progress from Netherfield, a club founded in 1893, when all the players were originally from the local shoe factory, to the international arena. It is an honour roll that includes David Boon, Kenny Benjamin, Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs. "We pride ourselves on attracting good players," Heath said, adding that Ferguson was an asset in all areas. "He helped out with the juniors, did a lot of coaching and was a lovely person. Lots of the lads have spoken to Callum over the weekend, they often stay in touch."
Ferguson has fond memories of his spell at Netherfield and the words of his state coaches are never far from his mind. "I thoroughly enjoyed that and probably the added responsibility of being a pro aided me a little bit in trying to become a better cricketer," he said. "With the South Australian side, we had Kim Harris as our batting coach and something we really focused on as a batting group along with Mark Sorell [the head coach] and our captain Graham Manou was making big scores.
"We really focused on making sure we stayed calm in the really important situations during the game, the key moments. I think that's where the South Australian side made big strides last year and I was part of that batting line-up and that was something we really focused on.
"Having the senior guys batting around me with the Australian side has also helped me to continue to improve in that area, and see the innings through, rather than blow-out in the 40th over. I try to be there at the end if I can."
At The Oval he batted until the close of the innings for an unbeaten 71 and two days later, at Lord's, he held together an uncertain display until falling for 55 early in the batting Powerplay. He is the type of player who can easily slip under the radar. His style doesn't jump out and he isn't a flamboyant batsman in the style of Ricky Ponting, but more an accumulator in the manner of Mike Hussey or Michael Bevan, the middle-order one-day master.
"It's been nice to get some time out in the middle," he said. "There's been a bit of a break since the Australia A series against Pakistan, so it's been nice to get some time out in the middle and some balls under the belt. The first half of my innings the other night [on Friday] I felt like my feet were a bit scratchy, but the longer you are out there, the more comfortable you tend to feel. It's been good to get some time out there."
And Ferguson's talent is being noted by plenty of influential figures with Ponting, at the same time as announcing his retirement from Twenty20 internationals, picking him out as a Test player of the near future. "That's very nice of him to say that," Ferguson said. "Obviously, coming from such a fantastic legend of Australian cricket, it's fantastic of him to say that and very kind. I'd love to get there at some stage, but time will tell."
However, Ferguson's international success - at the start of what appears to be a long career - has meant Netherfield have had to change their plans. "We hoped to get him back this season," Heath said, "but then he got selected in the one-day team so we had to tear up the contract."
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