North Test material
Marcus North turns 30 in July. It's a birthday that scares some people but always justifies a big party. There should be extra reasons for North to celebrate this year after an international career he felt was slipping out of his grasp came a step closer with his outstanding performance in the tour match in Potchefstroom.
Despite being a decade into his first-class career there was one thing that kept North hopeful that his chance to represent Australia had not passed him by. Call it the Michael Hussey precedent.
"Each year you get closer to 30 and haven't represented your country you do feel like you're missing the boat," North said after taking six wickets and making a pair of half-centuries in the warm-up game. "But you grab hope on guys like Michael Hussey, they're 29, 30 when they made their debuts and he had 10 or 11 years of first-class cricket.
"He has had an exceptional career for Australia and is still going. Without a doubt it felt like it was slipping away but to get that call up a month ago was very pleasing and to be here now is even better."
North has spent the past few seasons watching on helplessly as a host of his fellow Western Australia batsmen have been given opportunities in Tests, ODIs or Twenty20 internationals. Along with Hussey, Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh, Luke Pomersbach and Luke Ronchi have all tasted international action while North continued to pile up runs as the Warriors captain.
Players from other states have also been preferred to North. When the Victorian allrounder Andrew McDonald was chosen for January's Sydney Test against South Africa it was enough for the Western Australia coach Tom Moody to snap and loudly query why North was not considered good enough.
The selectors could not solve the North-McDonald puzzle before the tour and hedged their bets by choosing both men. They batted together in the first innings but North insisted there was no tension between the pair as they competed for the No. 6 position that is usually held by Andrew Symonds.
"I think Ronnie [McDonald] has been a consistent performer for a number of years now and the selectors, the way I looked at it, probably wanted that allrounder who could bowl medium-pace [in Sydney] and Ronnie was perfect for that," North said. "There's no gripes from my end.
"It was nice to get a bit of support from Tom. I guess that's what coaches do, have a bit of a ping and it's nice to have that in the media. I think Ronnie deserved that opportunity. He's been a great performer for Victoria and is a deserved member of this squad for sure."
It was North who came out on top after the tour match, where he posted a half-century in each innings compared to McDonald's 23 and 29 not out. More importantly, North produced a remarkable spell of bowling in the second innings to record his first five-wicket haul in first-class cricket. He finished with 6 for 69 and his all-round efforts should ensure he lines up in the first Test at the Wanderers starting on Thursday.
Although he felt it was not the best he had ever bowled - and he was helped by an aggressive approach from the batsmen - North's figures highlight how far he has come in the past two years. Before Moody returned to Western Australia as coach ahead of the 2007-08 season, North was a batsman whose offspin was occasionally useful. Now he is bordering on allrounder status.
"We sat down and assessed my game and where it was at and [Moody] targeted my bowling being something that is certainly worth working on, especially to push to that next level," North said. "It's something that I've worked extremely hard on in the last couple of years. I had a real good opportunity to work on that when I've gone and played county cricket in England."
North hopes he will have further opportunities to hone his skills in England this year - as part of the Ashes squad. But first he needs to transfer his strong form from a tour match against the South African Board President's XI to a Test match against South Africa. Of course, that all depends whether he is selected. He has spent the past three days dramatically shortening those odds.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo