Taking the aggressive route key to Sutherland's breakout season

Strong returns for Victoria and Melbourne Renegades has him in national discussions while he has also taken on state captaincy

Will Sutherland's maiden first-class hundred helped Victoria fight back, South Australia vs Victoria, Sheffield Shield, Karen Rolton Oval, October 6, 2022

Will Sutherland is enjoying a breakout domestic season  •  Getty Images

Victoria's interim captain Will Sutherland has found inspiration in different places, helping unlock his emerging allround skills during a standout domestic season.
As a hard-hitting batter and probing seamer, the 23-year-old Sutherland unsurprisingly has long revered former Australia star allrounder Shane Watson who has become an important influence.
"He's someone I want to be like. I've taken a lot out of his book," Sutherland told ESPNcricinfo, referencing Watson's new book Winning The Inner Battle.
"I've spoken to him on the phone and we've talked not only about how to develop as an allrounder, but the mental side of the game too."
Sutherland, who had a strike-rate of 150 in this season's BBL, has also been keenly watching Australia's rejuvenated arch-rival England and admits to being an unabashed admirer of 'Bazball'.
"It's good to see the way the England team are going about it. It reinforces that people can have that sort of mindset and approach to batting. That's certainly how I like to go about it," he said.
The tall and powerfully-built Sutherland has been making progress in his bid to become a bonafide allrounder having initially developed quicker with the ball.
His pace bowling, where he conjures menacing bounce from his 6 foot 5 (1.96m) frame, has continued to impress with Sutherland the fourth highest wicket-taker in the Sheffield Shield with 28 at an average of under 20.
But it's his batting that has significantly improved with Sutherland averaging 31 from his first six Shield matches in a major lift from a lowly 14 in 21 first class matches previously.
He's unleashed into a counter-attacking weapon in Victoria's middle-order as underlined by a strike-rate of 63 this season. It might not quite be 'Bazball' just yet, but Sutherland's trending in the right direction.
"To be a genuine allrounder, I know I need to put a few more runs on the board," he said. "I want to hold down No. 6 for the Vics. I feel like I'm getting a hang of things with the bat."
Sutherland credits his upswing to a mental shift in the off-season, where he focused on positive reinforcements rather than any technical tweaks.
I loved it [captaincy] and definitely something I want to keep doing. Scott Boland told me to concentrate on nailing my batting and bowling and the rest will fall into place, so I try to lead by example.
"I thought back to how I was feeling during my best innings," he said. "I came to the conclusion that I was aggressive and imposing. Before I go out to bat, I try to do self-talk that will get me in the mood to channel those feelings from my best innings.
"If my mindset is positive, I bat better. I can then rein it in from there and defend better. But I need to have that aggressive focus."
A renewed Sutherland hit his maiden first class century in Victoria's season opener against South Australia in difficult conditions at the Karen Rolton Oval in Adelaide. He had previously never made a half-century since making his first-class debut in late 2019.
"It was a tricky wicket and it showed that I was able to do it at this level. I've taken a lot of confidence out of that," Sutherland said.
It led to an eye-catching BBL season, where Sutherland helped lift Melbourne Renegades off the bottom and into the finals series.
He moulded into an effective finisher of an innings but pundits, notably a continually exasperated Mark Waugh on the Fox Sports broadcast, repeatedly lamented Sutherland coming in at the death.
"I definitely would like to get up higher in the order because it's easier to get in," he said. "As a No.7 you get straight into it and it's more challenging. I was best suited to the role, so the 'Gades didn't want to change. Going forward I would like to get up to five or six."
Even though there was a prevailing feeling that he was perhaps underused by Renegades, whose bounce back season ended with a home knockout final defeat to Brisbane Heat, Sutherland nonetheless pushed his case for higher honours.
He looms as an intriguing option with the next T20 World Cup less than 18 months away. The national hierarchy are paying attention to Sutherland, who has long been on the radar having been a former Under-19 Australia captain.
"George Bailey [Australia's chief selector] has been in touch with words of encouragement. It's nice to know they're watching even though I don't think of higher honours," he said.
As Sutherland's career prospects continue to rise, his fling with Australian rules football has faded into the background. A highly-rated key forward, Sutherland was deemed a potential top 10 pick in the 2017 AFL draft.
Talented teenagers of both sports have traditionally chosen an AFL pathway initially, given its heft in Australia combined with potentially more opportunities at a younger age.
Australia Test wicketkeeper Alex Carey is a prime example having unsuccessfully attempted an AFL career through Greater Western Sydney Giants before reverting to cricket.
"I loved footy and was incredibly close [to nominating for the AFL draft]," Sutherland said. "I played representative cricket straight through but hadn't played much footy. It would have been a risk."
Some AFL club officials have cheekily tried to woo him, but seemingly realise it's in vain.
"I haven't heard from them in the last year or two... probably shows that I'm starting to play better cricket," Sutherland laughed. "Ultimately it came down to enjoyment and cricket is what I always wanted to do."
His infatuation for cricket is unsurprising with his father James Sutherland taking the reins of Cricket Australia chief executive in 2001 in a post he then held for 17 years.
"My dad is the catalyst for my love of cricket. We got to travel the world to watch cricket and I was able to meet my heroes," he said.
The cricket-mad household spawned many intense battles between Sutherland and his younger sister Annabel, the allrounder part of Australia's team at the Women's T20 World Cup and who recently got picked up by Gujarat Giants in India's new Women's Premier league for AUD$122,000.
"A few bats were thrown at each other when we were young," Sutherland chuckled. "That's how we developed our competitive nature and it certainly helped turn her into the player that she is now."
While he eagerly keeps up to date with his sister's feats in South Africa, Sutherland remains mostly concentrating on helping power Victoria to ultimate success in the Sheffield Shield and the 50-over Marsh Cup.
They started a late season push with home victories over Queensland in both formats last week as Sutherland took the captaincy reins of Victoria's Shield team with regular skipper Peter Handscomb currently on Australia's tour of India.
"I loved it [captaincy] and definitely something I want to keep doing," he said. "Scott Boland told me to concentrate on nailing my batting and bowling and the rest will fall into place, so I try to lead by example."
Sutherland's emergence as leader encapsulates Victoria skewing young marked by a raw pace attack boasting exciting quicks Mitchell Perry and Fergus O'Neill.
"This will be the team that takes us forward. We're going to be a formidable force," he said.
Sutherland believes Victoria can claim silverware immediately although a familiar foe likely stands in the way.
"The challenge of playing in Perth is in the back of our minds," said Sutherland about powerhouse Western Australia, who claimed last year's Shield title after a drawn final against Victoria and currently sit on top of both competitions. "We need to get some revenge because they've had the wood on us for some time."
It's a gruelling stretch ahead and there will likely be no breather for Sutherland after the Australian season as he eyes a county stint amid Ashes fanfare in the UK.
"It will be a good time to be there with the Ashes on and I want to keep improving all aspects of my game," he said. "I'm just really enjoying my cricket at the moment."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth