"Coming from such a large talent base everyone has to fight for their spot just a little bit harder. That fight and that drive, it's the same for any player, but in New South Wales a bit more selfishness comes out, which in the end helps the team."
This was how the former Australian spin bowler Nathan Hauritz summed up the hyper competitive universe of NSW cricket in mid-2011, capturing the environment that has existed in the nation's largest cricket state for as long as anyone can remember.
It was that November that a tall, slender left-hander called Kurtis Patterson first made his name, pinging Western Australia's' bowlers all over the SCG while becoming, at 18 years, 206 days, Australia's youngest ever first-class centurion on debut. Arriving just a week after Pat Cummins' storied Test debut at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, Patterson's teenaged blooming seemed a further vindication of a ruthless system where individual progression and talent identification were key.
Yet the starburst of these two debuts masked another, harder side to things. The Blues, having made the Shield final earlier that year, did not make another one until 2014, and none again until this week, when they will face Victoria at Junction Oval. To get there, they have had to reconsider the fundamentals of the state team: sink or swim has been replaced by greater recognition of the need for support and help among peers, with Patterson right in the thick of the changes.
But before that paradigm shift, Patterson endured his own share of dead ends. Not least of these was waiting another three seasons before getting the chance to play for the NSW Shield team again. The crush for spots, which saw the likes of Usman Khawaja and the late Phillip Hughes move elsewhere, left Patterson bereft at times in his search for the technical and mental skills to follow up on what he has since reflected was a reasonably fortunate afternoon's batting by a naive and developing talent.
"I've watched that innings a couple of times since it happened and I just think I look so ugly as a player," Patterson told ESPNcricinfo. "I was in a different vein of form to what I was this season around the Test stuff. I feel like now I know my game, particularly with four or five-day cricket, I know what I need to do and during this year I was able to really believe and stick to that. Whereas back then I was hitting the ball really well but I was probably a bit more of a slogger than I am now.
"I just went out there as an 18-year-old with no fear and just thought I wasn't going to get out. I'd come off three hundreds in a row and then it was a small case of fortune favouring the brave because I had a couple of lbw shouts early on there that on other days one, possibly two of those are given out. I had a few nicks through gully early on, before I'd got to 30 or 40, slightly thicker or thinner edges on those and they're out on other days. I certainly look back then and see I was a very different player, a bit young and naive and I was able to get away with it that day."
He was far less successful in getting away with it the following two summers, in which only a single appearance in a tour game against the 2013-14 English tourists broke up his time in club cricket with St George. He learned from painful experience that getting hung up on his own place on the fringes of the state team was serving only to stop him from progressing any further.
"I'm not sure if difficult is the right word but it was an interesting little time in my career," Patterson said. "I guess after that when I was dropped it certainly hurt. I'd had a taste for it, like the Test matches this year, once you have a taste I really want more. I wanted more back then as well.
"I think I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit disappointed how it transpired but also from the point of view that I started overthinking about what do I have to do to keep my spot in the team. I think it led me down an overly negative path and I think that reflected in my cricket that following year when I had my first contract was actually my worst year of club cricket. I barely scored a run for my club, all my focus was on NSW, which didn't help. Fighting to get a game for the Thunder as well.
"Once the state season had finished that year, I hadn't played a game but I just felt this wave of relief, I felt a lot more relaxed and I wasn't even in the team. Once that carrot was taken away and finals time started for St George, I just felt like a different person. Went out there, scored a couple of hundreds and a 50 in the three games in the finals, felt like a weight was off my shoulders and was able to go out there and just play. We ended up winning the first grade title. But that was a real learning curve for the first year of professional cricket for me."
"Dad was terrific for the fundamentals of batting and also the fundamental aspect that you need to work hard to get anywhere" Kurtis Patterson on the impact of his father
Patterson's schooling in the hard ways of NSW came via his father Brad, an accomplished grade allrounder for Northern District and Sydney University, and in his close observation of the major players of his childhood: Steve Waugh most of all. "I remember when I was growing up I got to an age where I understood cricket, knew what was going on," he said. "Dad and I would go along and watch the old ING Cup games and see the Waugh brothers turn out, Shane and Brett Lee turn out, players who were dominant players for Australia as well but also playing for NSW. It really gave me motivation that this is who I want to play for. I was lucky I was one of the young ones who gets noticed a bit younger, because it doesn't happen all the time.
"Dad was terrific for the fundamentals of batting and also the fundamental aspect that you need to work hard to get anywhere. Him and I did a lot of hard work when I was young, particularly once cricket season came around, we'd be down at the park for probably a minimum three days out of those Monday to Fridays at school, outside of all my school and club and rep training, we always found time. It was never pushed on me by him, it was always me asking him and he was very big on that. It wasn't going to be him to push me, it was up to me whether I got the motivation to go down there, and he would always come along and throw balls. "
From the time Patterson secured his NSW spot in 2015, the dividends have been consistently accruing, aided this season by technical and mental advancements made with the help of the state's batting coach Beau Casson and the team psychologist Gerard Faure Brac to score hundreds more frequently - two in the Shield, two in a single tour game against the Sri Lankans, and then another in his second Test at Manuka Oval.
However, Patterson's individual story has been paired with an equally compelling one for the NSW team as a whole. Following several years of underperformance there were personnel changes such as the departure of the coach Trent Johnston (replaced by Phil Jaques), the retirement of Doug Bollinger and the move southwards of Nic Maddinson. Arguably more significant was a change in attitude that had the Blues, this collective of ambitious, talented individuals, thinking far more about each other. "Selfishness...which in the end helps the team," as Hauritz put it, was no longer the order of the day.
"The biggest difference from last year was I think the senior players have really bought into not only improving their own game but trying to up-skill our younger players," Patterson said. "That's not just the younger players in the Shield or one-day XI but there's been a really good focus since day one in pre-season that we've adopted a young squad this year and it's up to us to make them feel as comfortable as possible and up to us to help them improve their cricket in any way.
"We've got to give a lot of credit to Phil Jaques and Peter Nevill but also guys like Moises [Henriques] and Trent [Copeland] as well. I think sometimes, if you ask players who are still obviously trying to play cricket for Australia, and do the best for themselves, to take an extra role of taking a couple of young guys under their wing and really making an effort as a leadership group to be there for those young guys, I don't think every cricketer would take time out of their own schedule to do that."
Contributions have been far more even as a result, from Nick Larkin and Daniel Hughes up the top of the batting order to the recent breakout displays by Sean Abbott and Harry Conway with the ball. A team that had in recent years developed a reputation for only winning games when the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Cummins, Steven Smith and David Warner were available now face Victoria in a Shield final with a far richer array of burgeoning talents. NSW cricket is still very much a place for survival of the fittest, but these Darwinian traits are no longer quite so evident in the dressing room.
"We're all aware of how competitive it is to play for the Blues," Patterson reflected. "But I think what was overarching everything is if we do this and help these young guys, there's an element that potentially down the track they may be good enough to take our spots, but the reality is we're making the NSW cricket team better, both in the short and long term by adopting that. We all really bought into trying to be better people and better mentors to our younger guys, which is a great testament to Phil and Pete who are the ones who really drove that early on and it has shown great results."