Star Faulkner aiming high
James Faulkner. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
JAMES Faulkner's international experience, a sole Twenty20 International last summer where he bowled only two overs and didn't bat, was trifling compared the majority of the Melbourne Stars squad of which he is a key part. Such a scenario would understandably overawe many 22-year-olds, yet a lack of self confidence is an affliction the all-rounder is never likely to suffer from.
Faulkner's promising development has been barely heralded outside of his native Tasmania. Four years into his professional career he boasts a batting average of about 27 in both four-day and one-day cricket. The left-armer's 50-over bowling average is an unexceptional 31.82, but in the Sheffield Shield he has 107 wickets at 22.82.
Faulkner has arrived for his second Big Bash League stint for the Stars in impressive batting form, having made vital half-centuries in each of his Shield and Ryobi Cup innings against Western Australia earlier this month. Nevertheless, it is with the ball that Faulkner is expected to have the most impact for the Stars. That went awry in last week's Melbourne derby but returned on Wednesday as he claimed the vital top-order scalps of Perth's Herschelle Gibbs and Simon Katich.
The Launceston-born bowler's success last season, finishing equal third in the competition wickets tally with 13, was one of the bright spots in a largely underwhelming debut season for the Stars. While his state captain George Bailey elected to leave the Stars to join Hobart Hurricanes - his team's opponents on Saturday night at the MCG - Faulkner said that was never a consideration for him.
"After the first year of BBL ... I had a look at it and realised how much I'd enjoyed it in Melbourne. It breaks up the year a lot," he said. "As much as I love playing cricket for Tasmania ... to go over to Melbourne and play with the players I did and in front of big crowds really helped my cricket, and it gave me a lot of confidence coming back to state cricket. I didn't really have to think twice about signing again.''
Despite only converging for seven weeks a year, Faulkner insisted a sense of camaraderie was already present throughout the Stars squad.
"From the first day I walked into the 'G change-rooms as a Star I knew everyone was there wanting to not just play Twenty20 cricket but to win the thing," he said.
"I really enjoy being in the rooms with the boys. When you're out on the ground it's like having 10 girlfriends with you, everyone's that close."
Faulkner has given himself the best chance of improving on his solid season-one form in the BBL by embarking on a disciplined off-season fitness campaign which has delivered him a conspicuously leaner physique, a legacy of being a back-up player for Punjab in the Indian Premier League and being confined to his hotel for long stints.
"I just did some gym, there's not much else you can really do," he said.
One of the unique characteristics of his bowling is his ability to get steep bounce despite only being of average height, courtesy of his very high bowling action.
Despite Faulkner's promising Shield record he has had little reward for it, besides an Australia A call-up in mid-2011 that he had to decline due to glandular fever. Test cricket remains a key aim for him, but so too is getting a chance behind last summer's T20I cameo against India in Sydney.
"It was obviously great to make my debut but then with the situation of the game I wasn't required to bat and only for a couple of overs," he said. "Any time you get to play for your country you get a taste [for it]. I got to see how everyone operates and how the system was at the next level. I know I definitely want to get back up there, in whichever form it may be."
An apparent hindrance for Faulkner in earning public recognition is his lack of pace, especially compared to specialist-bowler peers Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. He nevertheless said he was content with his greater reliance than subtle variety in his bowling.
"People like watching fast-bowlers, but I haven't really thought about 'What if I was 5km/h quicker?'. I know if I want to bowl 5km/h quicker I can but ... I wouldn't have played a quarter of the games I've played and done what I have [if I did]," he said. "It's about getting the right balance, and knowing when you can crank it up to certain gears and when to hold back."