Faulkner ready for Test elevation
If Australia's top-order struggles again at The Oval and the team's new No. 7, James Faulkner, finds himself walking to the crease at five for not many, he at least has something from which to draw inspiration. In the Sheffield Shield final earlier this year, Faulkner watched from the dressing rooms as a highly credentialed batting line-up featuring Ricky Ponting, George Bailey, Alex Doolan, Mark Cosgrove and Jordan Silk crumbled against Ryan Harris.
Tasmania were 6 for 56 when Faulkner walked out to bat in the second innings; Queensland had the chance to run through the Tigers and set themselves a gettable chase. Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann have spoken often in this series about the failure of the Australians to stand up in the big moments. This was a big moment. Faulkner stood up with a career-best 89 in a match-saving partnership with Tim Paine. Lehmann was then coach of Queensland, and saw it all.
"Looking at it now, it's probably one of my better innings," Faulkner said on Tuesday, after being named in Australia's top seven for The Oval Test. "The form [Harris] is in at the moment, he's right up there with the best. It's good to be in the same team as him this time around. There was a new ball and then reverse swing later on, so it was quite tough and he's one of the best. It was a good contest."
Faulkner is a bowling allrounder but scored 444 runs in the 2012-13 Sheffield Shield summer and he said the prospect of coming in at No. 7 in a Test team was exciting, given the way his batting has improved over the past couple of years. Faulkner has been Tasmania's Player of the Year for the past three seasons, a period of great success for the state, and he hopes that experience in three straight Shield finals will help him stand up in the Test arena.
"I wouldn't like to think it's daunting, I'd like to think it's a good opportunity that I've been given and it's a privilege," Faulkner said of batting at No. 7. "I've just got to go out there and back my preparation and my skill and let it take over. The last couple of seasons I think [my batting] has improved a hell of a lot.
"I've been lucky enough to play some finals for Tasmania and any time you play a final it's a lot different than what it is for a normal game. I'm grateful for that and hopefully it keeps me in good stead when it comes to tomorrow."
Faulkner has had limited opportunities on this trip but in the tour matches he has batted five times and been dismissed only once in accumulating 111 runs. While it is hard to measure his batting against county and England Lions attacks as compared to James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, the selectors have been impressed by the high price he has placed on his wicket.
"In the past, when I've come in at seven, eight or nine, a lot of the time in the second innings you might be throwing the bat a little bit and you can throw your wicket away every now and then," he said. "Now batting up a little bit, I've really put more emphasis on that and not throwing it away as much. Definitely that's what I've been trying to do and I'm sure I won't be throwing it away this game."
But Faulkner, 23, is primarily a bowler - his left-arm swing and seam has earned him 111 Sheffield Shield wickets over the past three summers. He made his debut for Tasmania as an 18-year-old, following in the footsteps of his father Peter, who played 54 first-class matches for Tasmania as a medium-pace, bowling allrounder. Faulkner senior was Tasmania's chairman of selectors until James, in his own words, "gave him the boot" when he starting pressing for state selection.
"My dad is coming over. I always said that if I was ever going to play he'd be the first one I'd call and the first one I would get over," Faulkner said. "He didn't really say much on the end of the line when I told him but I'm looking forward to seeing him tomorrow morning.
"Growing up he's always been a pretty big influence. He's just let me enjoy the game and hasn't really got too much involved. He just let me do what I do and I'm grateful for that. He has never put any pressure on me to play cricket. As long as I was enjoying it, he was happy."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here