Peter Nevill of the Renegades attempts to stump Chris Tremain of the Thunder. Photo: Getty Images
THE last time Peter Nevill spent an extended period in Melbourne was mid-2008, when he predicted – correctly in retrospect – the emergence of a 20-year-old rival named Matthew Wade would thwart his ambition to be Victoria's No. 1 wicketkeeper.
Four-and-a-half years on, Wade is still above Melbourne Renegades gloveman Nevill in the pecking order. Yet as the setting for that competition has switched from the Victorian team to the Test team, the 27-year-old, now entrenched in the New South Wales team, is well entitled to feel content with the trajectory of his career. It peaked in April with a call-up for the Test tour of the West Indies.
Before the 2007-08 season, Bushrangers coach Greg Shipperd said there was a genuine three-way battle for their Sheffield Shield and one-day wicketkeeping berths between Nevill, Wade and Adam Crosthwaite. While Nevill's club form with the bat had been prolific, he nevertheless finished third in season one of that three-way wicketkeeping battle – Wade claimed the shield berth, Crosthwaite the limited-overs matches – and saw the "writing on the wall that there wasn't going to be any opportunity".
Fortuitously, his desire for a new start coincided with NSW stalwart Brad Haddin succeeding Adam Gilchrist as Test gloveman.
"When 'Hadds' got picked to play for Australia there was only Dan Smith on NSW's books as a wicketkeeper so they got on the phone and were eager for me to come up and join the squad, so it was an opportunity I was always going to jump at," he said.
Nevill spent his first season and a half at the Blues as Smith's understudy. Quality of glove work was never a hindrance for Nevill – he is renowned as one of Australia's elite – but it was his form with the bat in early 2010 that sealed his position.
The elegant right-hander made 50 in his first innings and 105 in his second. From there his batting form blossomed, to the extent he reached 1000 shield runs in just his 29th innings. Among wicketkeepers, only Queensland's Leo O'Connor and Tasmania's Roger Woolley trumped him for speed to that milestone.
"It did come as a surprise, I wasn't aware of that at all," Nevill said of that feat. "It's always pretty gratifying to get a bit of recognition, no matter what you're doing in life. It has been pretty pleasing but it's not something I dwell on for very long."
Nevill's silky glovework, combined with his robust batting, persuaded national selectors to call him up as Wade's deputy for the West Indies tour this year after his NSW teammate Haddin was forced to withdraw because of a family crisis.
"It's nice to know you're on the radar [for Test selection] but obviously with Brad's situation . . . knowing that he was coming home for personal and family reasons, it made it quite sombre. It was certainly mixed emotion."
Despite not playing a Test he said he got a lot of benefit from the tour, as in exposure to the commitment required to reach the highest level.
Had it not been for Nevill's fine batting he could have been a casualty of Wade's elevation to first-choice national-team wicketkeeper as it relegated Haddin to NSW custodian. Nevertheless, both have seamlessly played in the same team all season, albeit with national selectors directing Haddin to take the gloves.
The only format where the two glovemen have not been able to co-exist, and Nevill has been the official understudy, has been in Twenty20. It was therefore no surprise that Nevill could be enticed to leave the Sydney Sixers, the reigning BBL and Champions League winner.
The Renegades' season-one gloveman, veteran Graham Manou, was arguably the most impressive of the competition behind the stumps but, by modern wicketkeeper-batsman standards, offered little with the bat.
In four-day matches, Nevill has earned attention for weight of runs. In limited-overs his lack of top-order action has meant the right-hander is renowned less for the runs he scores as for how he scores them.
Renegades coach Simon Helmot described him as a player who "hits 360 degrees with the bat". Practically, that is in reference to his ability to deftly spoon deliveries over the head of opposing wicketkeepers, typically referred to as lap shots.
"I remember seeing on TV Ryan Campbell do it for Australia A, playing against Sri Lanka. In my first year of under-19s I did it in a game up in Brisbane, and then while playing second XI for NSW we had a warm-up game against South Australia's first team in Twenty20 and I was foolish enough to try and do it off Shaun Tait. I think I got it for four but it came off the toe and my teammates have ribbed me ever since that I nearly got killed," Nevill said. "It can force a captain to change his field, which can open up an opportunity somewhere else in the field to score a boundary. I think you're finding those shots are becoming a lot more mainstream."
After electing to leave the Sixers, the likelihood of him enjoying his stint at the Renegades, who almost entirely replaced their squad after the first season, was the fact he was followed by his NSW and Sixers "partner in crime" Ben Rohrer, who has already proven to be one of the BBL's best recruits. And so far the Renegades have won all three matches, more than they won in all of last season.
"It's fantastic. It's a very fresh group . . . and what's been so impressive is the way the team's jelled," Nevill said. "Only having a few days to come together, the sense of unity and team is [palpable]. It's amazing how fast it's happened. It's a testament to all the people around the group and the players themselves."