December 22, 2011

Pattinson eyes his Melbourne chance

He's watched plenty of Boxing Day Tests; now he'll be looking to make history in one with a good hometown mate

Next week, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle could create a slice of Victorian history. It has been nearly 75 years since a pair of the state's fast bowlers shared the new ball in a Test at the MCG. Last time it happened, in 1937, Ernie McCormick and Laurie Nash helped bowl Australia to an innings victory over Gubby Allen's England side.

If Pattinson and Siddle can manage something similar against India, it will be an achievement neither will ever forget. Simply walking out on to the MCG together in the baggy green will be a big enough thrill, for the two have known each other since their teenage days playing at the Dandenong Cricket Club in Melbourne's outer east.

Back when Pattinson was 13, his older brother Darren, later a one-Test wonder for England, would bowl in tandem with Siddle for Dandenong. They were the young stars in the firsts. James was a constant presence around the club, where he used to hassle Siddle, the man who nearly a decade later would help calm his nerves during Pattinson's Test debut against New Zealand at the Gabba last month.

"I remember him when I first came down to the club and I was the little annoying kid. I used to annoy them all," Pattinson told ESPNcricinfo. "I used to come over from junior cricket and tell him how many runs I got and all that. Pete was always there to listen to me, even then when I was a little shit. He's been a great help for me.

"I've always been a confident sort of bloke without being arrogant. In the first innings [on debut] I was a bit nervous. There were times in that first over that I thought, 'Geez, this is harder than I thought it was going to be,' but I just tried to stay as relaxed as I could, just run in and bowl fast.

"It's pretty easy to stay relaxed when you've got a close mate there who can talk you through things. He's been around now for quite a while, he's played nearly 30 Tests. He's bowling probably better than he's ever bowled. He's swinging the ball at good pace. If we can take that into the Boxing Day Test I think we'll be a good show of getting a lot of wickets."

Darren Pattinson will be in the crowd during the Test, probably with a group of mates from the Dandenong club. He used to sit in the stands with James and the family; the Boxing Day Test is a tradition for the Pattinsons as it has been for countless Melbourne families over the decades. The younger Pattinson, 21, cannot wait to be part of the action with Siddle, 27.

"It's the best day of cricket in the year," he said. "It's the ritual. It's what everyone does on Boxing Day. It's an unbelievable atmosphere. It's the closest you're going to get to an AFL grand final. It will be an amazing feeling. Being a hometown crowd I'm sure they'll be behind me and Pete 100%.

"I've been to the Boxing Day Test quite a number of times, especially early on when I was a bit younger. I remember I went there three or four years ago when Pete was playing and it was an amazing moment for me just to watch him out there playing in a Boxing Day Test. It will be even more special when I get to run out there with him."

Pattinson has been one of the success stories of Australia's past few Tests. His fast, accurate outswing has made him the go-to man for the captain Michael Clarke, despite his career being only two Tests old. In each of the matches against New Zealand he managed five-wicket hauls. The challenge against India will be vastly different.

For one, he will struggle during this series to find conditions as helpful as those Australia encountered at the Gabba and Bellerive Oval. And a line-up including Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman is daunting for even the most experienced bowlers in world cricket, let alone a rookie. Pattinson wasn't born when Tendulkar played his first Test. And despite being from Melbourne, he has played only two first-class games at the MCG - fewer than Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, and the same number as Sehwag. Pattinson has an IPL deal and went on Australia's Test tour of India last year, but he has never bowled to the likes of Tendulkar.

"Tendulkar is the pinnacle of batsmen," he said. "He's done it for so long and he's the best. Just to have a duel with him will be quite amazing. You grow up and you watch those people and they're just like heroes to you. To be able to play against them and hopefully get the wood over them and compete well against them, that's all you're looking for. You've just got to back your ability.

"As a bowling group I think we can take a lot out of the way England bowled to them over in England this year. They got up them and bowled some bouncers to the right people, bowled in good areas. I think the batsmen did struggle over in England. If we can get on top of them and bowl in the right areas and intimidate them a little bit then we're well on our way. We've got a young bowling group and we're enthusiastic, I think everyone is going to be up for a challenge."

Despite being from Melbourne, Pattinson has played only two first-class games at the MCG - fewer than Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, and the same number as Sehwag

Perhaps the most fascinating battle will be between Pattinson and Sehwag. Against New Zealand, Pattinson proved he can curl the ball away viciously from the right-handers. His delivery that got rid of Brendon McCullum in the second innings in Hobart was almost perfect: angled into off stump and swinging away, forcing the batsman to play. It was edged to slip.

McCullum had taken to Pattinson in the tour match at Allan Border Field a fortnight earlier. The bowler's revenge was sweet. Sehwag is the same kind of player as McCullum, albeit in a different league, and Pattinson knows that he faces a major challenge to keep India's most destructive batsman quiet.

"You're going to bowl good balls to him and they're going to go for four every now and again," he said. "He's going to try and score fast. But I think if you put the ball in the right area against him over and over again, you're going to get the reward eventually. He'll give you a chance."

Australia's attack for Boxing Day has not yet been settled, although Pattinson and Siddle are certain starters. The swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus might win a spot ahead of the young left-armer Mitchell Starc, who showed some promise against New Zealand but struggled to build the pressure for long enough to be as threatening as Pattinson and Siddle.

The man the Australians would love to have in the side is Pat Cummins, the 18-year-old fast bowler who was Man of the Match on his Test debut - just as Pattinson was - in Johannesburg last month. The prospect of building an attack around Cummins and Pattinson is exciting for Australian supporters, but a heel injury means they won't play a Test together until at least the tour of the West Indies in April.

"He's a great talent," Pattinson said. "It's unbelievable. At 18 years old, he's bowling 150kph and swings the ball both ways. He knows what he's doing with the ball. He's going to be an absolute phenomenal talent for Australia. It's definitely exciting. We've got some great bowling stocks around. If we can build a great friendship, all of us, and work together, I think it's going to be great for Australian cricket."

At 21, Pattinson has much to learn, but a fine base on which to build his Test career. The next step for him comes on Boxing Day. And just like all those years ago in Dandenong, he'll be yapping in Siddle's ear as he goes.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo