Mark Stoneman has the chance to live out a dream which took hold more than a decade ago on his first visit to the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch England in the Ashes.
Back then, he was still a teenager yet to make his professional debut and testing the water in grade cricket – a young hopeful from Tyneside.
England were on their way to a 5-0 whitewash defeat, but Stoneman did not let that stop him lapping up the “top-dollar” atmosphere and daring to dream he could one day be a part of it for real out in the middle. That day is about to dawn for the opener as England try to stave off a 4-0 defeat this time in the fifth and final Test which will begin at 11.30pm GMT tonight.
In the intervening years, Stoneman returned several times to Sydney for stints with Bankstown and other clubs, met his wife Serene and made many friends here – before more recently upping sticks from Durham and heading to Surrey to further a career which has brought him his first seven Test caps.
Casting his mind back to January 2007, when Andrew Flintoff’s tourists were about to lose one more time, he said: “It was incredible. The Barmy Army were in full voice, and Brett Lee was steaming in. I was thinking how good it would be to be out there.”
He was past 30 by the time he made his Test debut, but insists he would not change a thing about his hard-earned progression. “I dreamed about it. It was certainly a long way off. It’s been a long and winding road in between – but looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Stoneman has had something of a ‘nearly’ tour this winter, by his own admission – with two 50s and an average just under 30 – but how fitting it would be if he has saved his best for last back at the SCG.
“As much you try to compartmentalise and take each game as it comes it was always going to be the icing of the tour on a personal note, to come back to Sydney, where I’ve spent a lot of time,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of friends and family, and it’s something I’m very much looking forward to.”
Injured fast bowler Mitchell Starc could return for Australia. He worked out in the nets yesterday but captain Steve Smith didn’t train because of a sore back.
Starc missed the drawn fourth Test in Melbourne because of a bruised right heel but is hoping to return for Sydney. He took part in fielding drills then spent more than half an hour bowling off his full run-up.
Starc was replaced in Melbourne by Jackson Bird, who failed to take a wicket in a pace combination with Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
“I haven’t spoken to him but he looked like he was bowling quick, running around and not limping,” Cummins said of Starc’s return.