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April 26, 2013
First and foremost, James Faulkner is a bowler: 111 Sheffield Shield wickets in the past three summers attest to that. But depending on the balance Australia's selectors want from the side during the Ashes, and contingent also on the form of the senior allrounder Shane Watson, Faulkner could find himself shouldering extra batting responsibility in his first Test series. There is even the possibility that at some point during the tour he could be used as a fifth bowler batting as high as No.7.
That might seem a stretch, but based on his first-class batting for Tasmania in the past summer it is not an absurd scenario. As well as collecting 39 Shield wickets at 20.33 on his way to a third consecutive Ricky Ponting Medal as his state's best player, Faulkner also finished the Shield season 15th on the competition run tally, having scored 444 runs at 34.15, including 89 in the final against Queensland.
Consider the list of batsmen who could have been vying for Test selection, yet scored fewer runs at a lower average: George Bailey (256 at 18.28), Rob Quiney (295 at 26.81), Michael Klinger (330 at 19.41), David Hussey (358 at 23.86), Adam Voges (388 at 25.86) and Peter Forrest (395 at 19.75). That might say more about the parlous state of batting in Australia's domestic competition than about Faulkner, who it must be said is yet to score a first-class hundred, but all the same his was a fine summer with bat and ball.
"I'd definitely be comfortable to bat at No.7," Faulkner said. "Whenever you can slot into an Australian team I think you're pretty happy to play wherever you can. It was a reasonably successful year last year with the bat for Tasmania. Hopefully I can make a few big scores, that's what I'm aiming to do at the moment."
Wickets, though, are Faulkner's stock in trade. He has been consistent enough over the past three seasons to collect Shield wicket tallies of 36, 36 and 39, and although he might not have the express pace of some Australian fast bowlers, his movement of the ball and accuracy have made him a dangerous prospect, and not just at Bellerive Oval - his average is below 22 at five different first-class venues around Australia.
"All the wickets around Australia are quite different," Faulkner said. "I'm based at Bellerive and people say you're bowling at Bellerive and there's a bit more grass there and so you'll take more wickets. But in fact if you look at all of our bowlers back home, I think all of us have been averaging the same at Bellerive as away from Bellerive.
"I just sum up the conditions as they are and just be consistent. I have a lot more confidence in my body. I'm [nearly] 23 now and I have more confidence in my body and can get through longer spells."
The Australian selectors like not only Faulkner's figures, but his attitude. The national selector John Inverarity this week referred to Faulkner as "a very competitive cricketer who gets things done". Over the past few months that included not only giving Chris Gayle a send-off during an ODI in Canberra, which cost him 10% of his match fee, but also steering Tasmania to the Shield title with a Man of the Match performance.
"I like to think I'm a pretty strong competitor on the field and off the field I'm a pretty relaxed sort of character," Faulkner said. "Definitely when the game is on the line or the game is in full flight I like to think I'm pretty aggressive in the way I play and get on the front foot instead of being dictated to."
Although the Ashes tour will be Faulkner's first trip to England, he has already gained some overseas experience thanks to his IPL duties for three different teams. A talented limited-overs player who has played T20 and one-day cricket for his country, Faulkner sold for $400,000 to the Rajasthan Royals this year but has not let the shortest format seduce him at the expense of first-class cricket.
"I've always tried to be as consistent as I can in Twenty20, one-day cricket and four-day cricket and not specifically have a focus on any of the three," he said. "I look at [the IPL] as a bit of an opportunity to progress my cricket on different grounds, different wickets, and in India it doesn't get any harder. There's lots of positives you can take away from playing in different countries. You gain experience pretty fast."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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