They say it takes years to become an overnight success, and that certainly is the case for Brisbane Heat allrounder James Bazley.
The 25-year-old Bazley burst into the BBL this season with two outstanding innings in his first two games, scoring 31 not out and 49 not out against the Hobart Hurricanes prompting queries about where he had been hiding.
Bazley was hiding in plain sight, having spent three years in the Queensland and Cricket Australia pathways plus a brief spell with the Hurricanes in the 2016-17 season before slipping out of the system at 22.
Three years later, having continued to pursue his dream of being a full-time professional cricketer outside the system, and out of his own pocket, he's finally reaping the rewards.
"You get so much coaching in the system that it was to my detriment a little bit when I was a young player," Bazley told ESPNcricinfo.
"I probably listened to too many people all the time. That's just a natural thing. That's a young player and they're trying to help you. So obviously there are no hard feelings or anything there. But it was just a really good lesson for me to learn. You need to know how to coach yourself and work out your processes because at the end of the day that's how you find a game that you can trust because you know what works and you've trusted it."
The BBL is not Bazley's first taste of professional cricket. He played 13 matches for the Cricket Australia XI between 2014 and 2016, when the CA XI was used as a pathway program for emerging domestic players. That included a T20 against the touring South Africans and a first-class match against West Indies where he made 50 and took four wickets, including bagging Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo. He also played 11 List A matches when the CA XI was included in Australia's domestic 50-over competition as a seventh team, made up of young players who were not selected by the six states.
The concept was controversial and has since been abandoned. Bazley played in the two largest defeats in Australian domestic 50-over cricket history of 279 runs and 246 runs, where the youngsters were mauled by the likes of Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, and Shaun Marsh.
"I got thrown in there and so did a lot of other young players," Bazley said. "And it kind of was a bit of sink or swim. For me, I felt like I probably wasn't quite ready. I felt good enough but I was super young and wasn't quite ready there and it's almost like as soon as you don't perform in those matches then it becomes your own mental battle in your own head about knowing whether I might not be good enough anymore, because I haven't performed.
"I was basically training as a full-time cricketer without being professional, without getting paid obviously, and then I just had to try and go and do some work around it."
"Then you worry about the Queensland team not picking you because they've seen you not perform there. But I was 20, 21 years old. There are very few players who can really be a dominant cricketer at that age. Looking back now, I've made it a good thing because I've kept working hard after those years of disappointment and losing my contract and getting back into grade cricket. I've made it work because I've chosen to make it work."
Bazley's relationship with Marnus Labuschagne was the catalyst for his return to professional cricket. The pair had grown up together playing junior representative for Queensland and bonded on an interstate trip. When Bazley was contracted to Queensland at 19 he was forced to move from his family home on the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane, and he moved in with the Labuschagne family and stayed for three-and-a-half years.
The pair moved out when Labuschagne got married, but Bazley has re-entered the family recently.
"I've lived with Marnus again, this year, in the Covid period," Bazley said. "And his lovely wife Rebekah of course who is an absolute legend as well."
The trio are bonded by their strong faith. "My Christian faith has definitely helped me through those years of struggle and disappointment," Bazley said. "It has given me perspective and hope that I can keep pursuing something I love and I'm passionate about."
That passion drove Bazley, through Labuschagne's urging, to link up with Labuschagne's batting coach Neil D'Costa after he lost his contract. He flew to Sydney out of his own pocket to see him.
"I used to fly down to him a couple of times in the winter," he said. "He was just really good for my batting and my training habits and some purpose. He just really taught me how to believe in myself. He didn't really change my batting much. He just taught me how to believe in myself and he believed in me. So we've created a really good partnership."
D'Costa advised him to link up with manager Dean Kino who has also been a source of guidance for both Bazley and Labuschagne. Bazley trained with strength and conditioning coach Louis Ellery and sought counsel from sports psychologist Alan Mantle to help create good routines and visualisation processes.
"I was basically training as a full-time cricketer without being professional, without getting paid obviously, and then I just had to try and go and do some work around it," Bazley said. "I was just really professional and structured the last three years, being off-contract, and that's all paid off in a way."
He has been doing disability support work to bring some balance to his life away from cricket.
Bazley's break came this season when the Heat re-signed him, six years after first adding him as a rookie. He repaid the faith with a four-wicket haul and 158 in grade cricket for Redlands and applied the same mental approach on his BBL debut.
"I think the biggest thing for me, being able to play grade cricket and perform well this year, I've just created some processes and some routines that I've just started to really trust," he said.
"For me then stepping into the Big Bash, I just decided that if it works in grade cricket then why can't it work in Big Bash. There's no reason it can't work. I think that's been really helpful for me. I haven't changed anything.
"That's helped me relax and be more comfortable. With the bat in those high-pressure situations, it's the same thing, I just go through my pre-ball routine, yeah I'm feeling the pressure, but I just know that I give myself the best chance to just watch the ball and play it."
Bazley is now hoping for more opportunity with the ball having bowled just four overs in the tournament, despite feeling it is his strong suit.
"It's funny actually, after that first game I batted pretty well and didn't bowl and everyone thought I was a batter but I'm probably even a bowling allrounder to be fair," Bazley said. "But I'm trying to be a genuine allrounder. We've got a lot of allrounder's in our team so I've just got to be patient with ball. The overs will come I'm sure."
Bazley is still dreaming big despite the rollercoaster ride to this point.
"I'd love to play all formats," Bazley said. "I'd love to play for Queensland in 50-over and Shield cricket. I'd love to go and play for Australia at some point but it's just about trying to perform well wherever you're playing."
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne