THIS is James Faulkner’s first trip to the British Isles, let alone the first time he has set foot in Scotland. So he is learning on the job. But it was three weeks ago that he got his first taste of a Scots attitude to and appetite for sport. At Wembley.
Australia’s exciting new all-rounder was suitably impressed. “It was actually my first-ever soccer game so it was a pretty big game to go to,” he says of that ding-dong friendly, which ended in a 3-2 win for England. “Scotland got off to a great start by scoring first, which was obviously a bit exciting, and we thought we had a game on our hands, which we did. It was just a shame England won, because we were rooting for Scotland.
“I think any time the Scots are supporting their country they are pretty passionate about it, so it was no surprise to see how passionate the fans were at Wembley – and how they express it a lot more than the crowds back home in Australia.”
At the time, that night gave the 23-year-old Tasmanian a break from essentially doing nothing. He was an Ashes extra who did not know just how close the big time beckoned. A Test debut followed at The Oval, and now he will have his chance to build on the prolonged opportunity he was given to establish himself in the one-day team last winter against West Indies.
“So far in the ODIs I’ve really enjoyed the contest and the challenge of playing against the world’s best players. I didn’t do exceptionally well against West Indies – I was just pretty solid – but more importantly we won the series, which was a great thrill and a high,” he recalls.
“Any time you get the opportunity to play for your country you’ve got to stamp your authority. If you can do well in your first couple of games it keeps you in pretty good stead. So far I think I’ve done reasonably well, but you can always do better.” Michael Clarke’s Australia trained early yesterday morning before taking the afternoon off. This quadrennial match in itself is nothing more than a useful exercise to them, but the bigger picture is that these players are charged with salvaging the reputation of a great cricket nation that has fallen on hard times.
The last time the Australians came here four years ago, the team contained Brett Lee, David Hussey and Cameron White. Eight years ago, it was Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Matthew Hayden. Clarke apart, none of the present squad has yet done enough to be ranked alongside those vaunted names, so is it a less daunting place to cut one’s teeth?
Faulkner, who counts George Bailey Snr – father of the Australian Twenty20 captain who will be back on his former stomping ground at Portgower Place today – as one of his most important influences, believes there is never any need to be overawed by fame.
“I was never lucky enough to be in the changing rooms with the heroes who played when I was growing up – I only watched them on TV – and the players in the changing rooms at the moment are quite young,” he admits. “Hopefully in the Australian public’s eye we can one day try and be the heroes.
“I think any time you represent your country there is an expectation and pressure – it’s probably just a matter of how you cope with it. That’s the difference between the alright players and the really good players – they can cope in that pressure situation.”