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Feature

Rocchiccioli relishes the graft of bowling offspin at the WACA

Western Australia offspinner gears up for his second Sheffield Shield final after a break-out second season in first-class cricket

Corey Rocchiccioli has enjoyed a break out summer  •  Getty Images

Corey Rocchiccioli has enjoyed a break out summer  •  Getty Images

When the calendar flips into April, as the stifling Perth heat makes way to a cooler change signalling cricket's off-season, Western Australia offspinner Corey Rocchiccioli is usually not quite ready for a breather.
He can instead often be found at lush James Oval, located inside picturesque University of Western Australia, honing his craft alongside state and club cricket teammate Ashton Agar, who also doubles as Rocchiccioli's landlord.
"We get together in the first couple of weeks in April and have unbelievable net sessions," Rocchiccioli told ESPNcricinfo. "We just bowl and talk cricket. He's taught me, amongst other things, how to bowl a square seam, which I've been bowling this summer."
The spinners haven't yet realised a long-held dream of partnering up for WA's Shield side due in part to Agar's unavailability because of his international white-ball commitments.
While almost inseparable, as underlined by Rocchiccioli renting the house of globe-trotting Agar, they could well end up jostling to be WA's frontline Shield spinner in the seasons ahead.
The 25-year-old Rocchiccioli has emerged as a key cog of WA's strong attack after a breakout Shield season of 24 wickets at 32.45 from nine matches. He had only taken five wickets in four first-class matches previously.
The only match he's missed ahead of the Shield final between WA and Victoria was against Queensland at the Gabba in December when he made way for Agar, who had match figures of 1 for 105 in his only appearance of the season.
At the famed pace-friendly WACA ground, which has been particularly spicy this season causing a lump in the throat of traditionalists, Rocchiccioli has a thankless role on his home surface.
Bowling from the old Prindiville Stand end, looking rather barren these days amid a ground redevelopment, Rocchiccioli primarily tries to tie down batters while providing valuable rest for WA's star-studded quicks who vie to bowl downwind from the other end.
Utilising his 6 foot 3 inch [1.9m] frame, Rocchiccioli generates menacing bounce and can deceive batters through canny drift. Comparisons to Nathan Lyon are warranted.
He has taken 11 wickets at 28.45 at the WACA this season featuring an equal-career-best return of 4 for 31 against Tasmania earlier in the month.
"I actually love rolling up to the WACA and bowling even though it's not known for spinners to take wickets here," he said. "A lot of the chats [with coach Adam Voges and spin coach Beau Casson] have been about trying to go at twos and threes [runs an over].
"At the WACA, it's not my job to take wickets. But when you take wickets, it's really rewarding to play a role in a pace-dominated state."
Rocchiccioli has stuck with his home blueprint in a bid to cope with the expectations of being a strike weapon on spin-friendlier surfaces on the country's east coast.
"I'd love to play for Australia, but you can't play good cricket if you're in fairyland thinking of the next tour of India. I look up to guys like [R] Ashwin and Lyon for their consistency and ability to evolve. But I'm trying to not be Lyon or Ashwin...just finding how those superstars fit into the Corey Rocchiccioli that I want to become."
Corey Rocchicioli
He's had mixed success so far but did capture an eight-wicket haul against New South Wales at the SCG earlier in the season.
"The biggest thing I'm learning about bowling on the east coast is not expecting too much of myself," he said. "I try to keep playing that holding role and stack up lots of overs. The wickets will come in the last couple of days.
"In the off-season, I will work on getting more over-spin on the ball as the winds are a little bit different on the east coast.
"One of my values is curiosity and to keep learning and growing."
Rocchiccioli's rise has been somewhat unexpected having not come through WA's strong pathway program. He started as a batter and was a self-described "fat little medium pacer" before reverting to spin on a typically sweltering Perth summer's day when he was 13 years old.
"I asked my coach if I could bowl offspin. The first ball spun...that's how I remember it anyway," Rocchiccioli grinned. "That season I turned into a batter who bowled."
Rocchiccioli still considered himself primarily a batter as he climbed the ranks until the penny dropped at age 21 when he switched clubs to Agar's University grade team.
"I realised that spin was going to get me where I wanted to go, which is to be a professional cricketer, so I put my eggs into one basket," he said.
It was undoubtedly the right call with Rocchiccioli earning a WA state rookie contract for 2020-21 before making his first-class debut in the following season against South Australia.
He had a tough initiation on the batting-friendly Karen Rolton Oval in Adelaide, where he finished with 1 for 145 in the Redbacks' sole innings and was put to the sword by centurion Travis Head.
Rocchiccioli had to wait another six months for a recall but finished the season strongly to be part of WA's drought-breaking Shield triumph, where his batting instincts reared to smash a memorable 28-ball half-century at No.10 against Victoria in the final.
"Between my debut and the second match, I made technical adjustments to drift the ball again just like I did when I played grade cricket," he said.
"At this level, you really need to beat the bat in the air. Since then I've been able to stack games together and playing so much has naturally helped me get better."
This trajectory might tempt him to dream of higher honours given the national hierarchy's propensity for selecting spin bolters on tours of the subcontinent.
"I'd love to play for Australia, but you can't play good cricket if you're in fairyland thinking of the next tour of India," he said. "I look up to guys like [R] Ashwin and Lyon for their consistency and ability to evolve.
"But I'm trying to not be Lyon or Ashwin...just finding how those superstars fit into the Corey Rocchiccioli that I want to become."
Even though he's on the brink of being part of back-to-back Shield titles to start his first-class career, amid a golden era for WA, Rocchiccioli is conditioned to feel on the edge and scrap for every opportunity.
"I feel like as a spinner you're always playing for your spot in Perth because we don't need to play a spinner at the WACA," he said. "I haven't forgotten my journey getting here, I wasn't a pathway player.
"Playing in another Shield final is incredible. I won't take it for granted."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth