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Ben Hilfenhaus

Heaven can wait

He's done the hard yards and bided his time; his chance may finally have arrived

Brydon Coverdale

February 26, 2009

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Hilfenhaus knows a thing or two about hard work © Getty Images
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When Australian cricket fans talk about the twelfth man it's a fair bet they're referring to the comedian Billy Birmingham. Or maybe Andy Bichel, who carried the drinks a record 19 times in Tests. Over the past couple of years they might have been speaking of Ben Hilfenhaus, who has been slowly chipping away at Bichel's mark. Four times Hilfenhaus has been called into Australia's Test squad without getting a game.

The day before the Wanderers Test, Hilfenhaus was nervously waiting to find out if it would be five from five. He was in the 12 and the humid, cloudy conditions would suit his swing bowling but the whole situation was frustratingly familiar. A round of golf - Hilfenhaus has a useful handicap of seven - with the touring selector David Boon and the coach Tim Nielsen didn't shed any light on matters.

"I'm really just looking forward to getting the first Test out of the way and going from there," Hilfenhaus said, hoping that moment would come in Johannesburg. "Getting your baggy green is every kid's dream. I'd be really excited just to get that and hopefully if I do I'll just try and do everything I can to represent it well."

Since he first made it into a Test squad in November 2007 there have been setbacks, notably back stress fractures that stopped him from embarking on his first Test tour when Australia set off for the West Indies last year. There have been disappointments as other fast men such as Doug Bollinger and Peter Siddle overtook him in the pecking order. Hilfenhaus didn't complain. He's not that sort of bloke.

He worked as a labourer for a bricklayer when he first moved to Hobart and then took on a different type of back-breaking toil when he sent down 509 Sheffield Shield overs two years ago - nearly 200 more than any other state fast bowler. It was a tally that led to concerns over his workload and the worries only increased when his injury arrived the following year to end his Caribbean dream.

"In a way it was [frustrating]," Hilfenhaus said. "It's very disappointing when you get selected and you find out that you're injured. At the end of the season I actually didn't feel that bad but general check-up scans revealed otherwise. I probably see myself more as a bloke who bowls a lot of overs. That's a role that I enjoy."

Clearly Hilfenhaus knows a thing or two about hard work. He impressed the coaches during his stay at the Centre of Excellence for being prepared to tackle any problem head-on. When critics began to question his ability to take wickets when the ball failed to swing away, he went off and worked on some new tricks.

"If you've only got one tool in your bag, you get a bit predictable," he said. "I've definitely worked on a few different things to counter for that and hopefully have an answer when blokes start getting on top. As well as the outswing I'm trying to develop one that goes in a little bit or straightens. Just to keep them guessing a little bit. There's a couple of different slower balls that I'm working on."

 
 
He worked as a labourer for a bricklayer when he first moved to Hobart and then took on a different type of back-breaking toil when he sent down 509 Sheffield Shield overs two years ago - nearly 200 more than any other state fast bowler
 

But for Hilfenhaus the outswinger is still king. The conditions in Hobart usually help him bend the ball in the air and the humidity and cloud cover in South Africa will do the same. Then of course there is the Ashes tour later this year. A swing bowler who can hurl the ball down with genuine speed could be a major weapon in England. If all goes to plan, 2009 could be the making of Ben Hilfenhaus.

If that turns out to be the case, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. The son of a plumber from Ulverstone in country Tasmania, he calls his father, Hans, "the old man" and would like it if he could be in South Africa should a debut arise but thinks it's a bit far to travel. There's not a hint of cockiness in Hilfenhaus, who speaks openly but succinctly, with only the faintest trace of a rural Aussie drawl.

"I still see myself as pretty laidback," he said. "I don't like to over-analyse anything. Just enjoy my cricket and when I'm not playing cricket I enjoy playing golf and spending time with my girlfriend."

That he has a girlfriend no doubt disappoints the women who snapped up this year's Men of Cricket calendar. Hilfenhaus, who wouldn't look out of place taking over from Hugh Jackman as the drover in the film Australia, features as Mr September and shows off a set of muscles that would rival anyone in the Australian set-up.

His mother, Lynette, was so happy with the charity production that she gave the calendar pride of place in the family kitchen. It might have to be moved aside if a photo of Ben in a baggy green becomes available.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Posted by Percy_Fender on (February 28, 2009, 12:59 GMT)

It was nice to see the new look Australian team. Hughes,North, Macdonald, Siddle and Hilfenhaus, look pretty decent blokes. So unlike the erstwhile lot who had contributed so much to their image of ugly Australians . Led by Steve Waugh and then by Ponting, their image had plummetted to the bottom of the sea.In the present team, even someone as explosive as Katich, looks fairly calm. I am sure they will do well in South Africa this time. I believe that they will win 2-0 notwithstanding the Steyns and Morkels. I wish the newcomers will bear in mind in their careers that champions with humility are respected. People would recall fondly the Benauds and the Harveys of another era even if the Haydens were in the recent past.

Posted by PrinzPaulEugen on (February 28, 2009, 8:14 GMT)

I love the thought of "The Hilf" touring England. Terry Alderman destroyed England in 81 and 89 bowling, in the main, regulation outswing. Hilf has a yard of pace on Alderman as well, although he may not have the same control. How well the other tricks in the bag have progressed may go a long way to determining his success, but I am confident he will shine. I must also comment that I was gobsmacked when both Siddle and, especially, Bollinger were given Baggy Greens before Hilfenhaus.

Posted by jamrith on (February 27, 2009, 4:29 GMT)

From what little I have seen of Ben Hilfenhaus, he does seem like a very laid-back and likeable guy, not given to the macho histrionics that have become the hallmark of many of the Aussies--- Ponting, Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin to name a few. In addition, he is a very useful, pacy swing bowler who should do well in both South Africa and England, especially in the Test matches where attacking fields can be set to snaffle the edges which he will doubtless induce. All the best to this young Tasmanian.

Posted by BornToDie on (February 26, 2009, 6:15 GMT)

I think this is time when Australian cricket board make selection wisely. For an individual, it is really a difficult situation when you are going with the team but are not getting a chance to play even a single team although there is no doubt about ur performance. Even I dont think why CA is not paying any attention to Nathan Bracken, one of the top 5 in ICC ODI bowler rankings. His performance by far has been superb, I dont understand why CA is unfair to him also...

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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