James Faulkner: From World Cup hero to Australia's forgotten man

SAM DALLING: Player of the match in Melbourne in 2015, things have not exactly gone to plan for the allrounder. But even if he never took to the field again, he has plenty to look back on fondly


James Faulkner would not change a single thing. Not one bit.

Six years ago, the all-rounder was at the MCG holding aloft the Cricket World Cup trophy following Australia’s 2015 World Cup triumph.  His 3-36 – including the key wickets of Ross Taylor and Grant Elliot – earned him the player of the match award. Aged just 24, this was meant to be just the start.

Fast-forward two years his Cricket Australia contract was lost and in October 2017 he made what was his last international appearance against India in Nagpur.

Most would forgive him for seeing his glass half empty, but he looks at it differently.  “I wouldn’t say darker times,” he tells The Cricketer when asked how the recent past has tested him. “Sometimes mentally it can be really hard,” he admits “but at the same time, it is very hard to get picked at certain times in certain teams around the world. I had a lot of my success a lot earlier than other players. It all comes out in the wash.

“Some players might be 32 or 33 before they start achieving and so I look at it the other way around: I was 19, 20, 21 and winning titles and probably not really understanding how big they were at the time.

“It is just a different timeline to others, and I wouldn’t change anything at all. I have been very fortunate and very lucky to be in the position that I am and do what I do. I am very content with that.”

As content as he might be, Faulkner is not finished just yet: “I am only 30. A lot of people forget that – they think I am 35 or something. I used to get that all the time in the IPL. People would assume I was years older than I was pure because I started so young.”

Faulkner excelled at Australian rules football growing up but was “too slow” to make it, and his heart lay with cricket anyway; “it was an easy choice at the end of the day, I’ve always loved the game.” He captained Tasmania Under-17s, while already playing for the state’s second string and then in 2008 was part of a star-studded Australian Under-19 World Cup squad that included Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Phil Hughes, Steve Smith and Marcus Stoinis.


Faulkner's Sheffield Shield exploits are often overlooked

Come the end of that season, a Tasmania rookie contract was his. “Pretty much the day I finished at Launceston Church Grammar, I moved to Hobart to live with a family down here. It’s pretty incredible how it has all ended up. I am best mates with one of their sons and it’s like I am part of their family. It has been quite surreal but has worked out beautifully.”

His professional debut came in December 2008, making him the second-generation Faulkner to appear for Tasmania: father Peter made 81 State appearances during the 1980s before serving as a selector between 1993 and 2008.

“When you have the old man as the chairman picking the main team, I suppose there is a bit of expectation and pressure when you are getting picked a couple of levels up,” Faulkner explained. “But I tend to not really look at it like that at all. I just thought if I go out and have a fair crack, I am going to be ok. I was very lucky I didn’t have any pressure from my family from anyone involved in cricket Tasmania to perform. They let me go and do my stuff.”

Faulkner’s first trophy win followed in February 2010, Tim Paine making a century as Tasmania secured the Ford One Day Cup. A season later the Tigers earned their second Sheffield Shield title, defeating an intimidating New South Wales side in the final, Faulkner making 71. His left-arm seam earned him 36 wickets at 17.72. 

That side was brimming with experience, the likes of George Bailey, Ed Cowan, Mark Cosgrove, Ben Hilfenhaus and Xavier Doherty all guiding Faulkner through. “Everyone in that squad at the time were looking out for me being the young pup on the block. I was 19 playing when everyone else was late 20s. They knew what they were doing, and I probably didn’t. They were all massive in my career and in the path that led me to play for Australia.”

Following that Shield victory, the IPL – more specifically Geoff Marsh - called, Pune Warriors needing a replacement for Angelo Matthews in 2011. With the Big Bash still embryonic, Faulkner had played just 11 domestic T20 games. “I think Angelo went for something ridiculous – like $950,000 and I got replaced on minimum price!” he recalls. 

“Swampy was the coach at the time and he made the call. I was never going to play. It was a massive eye-opener especially after India had just won the World Cup. India was high on cricket. To go over and see much it meant to them was huge. The Australian public love their cricket, but India is a different kettle of fish. That made me hungry. I just wanted to be involved in the IPL.”


His displays for Pune Warriors put Faulkner on the map

After a solitary appearance, he switched to Kings XI Punjab in 2012 where he played twice. He also made his T20I debut that year and took four wickets as Tasmania ‘lost’ a tied Ryobi One-Day Cup Final to South Australia owing to the Redbacks’ superior qualifying record.

Faulkner missed out on Australia’s T20 World Cup campaign in late 2012 but was recalled for the series against West Indies at the start of 2013, making his ODI bow against the same opponent.  That year also bought about another Sheffield Shield winners’ medal; Faulkner being named player of the match as Tasmania drew with Queensland in the final.

Ricky Ponting had made over 900 runs in the Shield having stepped away Test duty in December 2012; he had not previously won Australia’s premier domestic competition and was desperate to do so before retiring.  Tasmania were reduced to 15 for 5 in the second innings, leading by 209.  Up stepped Faulkner with a measured 89 from 207 balls to set Queensland a daunting 446. They finished 183 for 6 to leave the ex-Australia captain thrilled.

“When I was a kid Ricky was my idol and then I ended up rooming with him pretty much every time we went away.  To start with I sort of felt like I was treading on eggshells a little bit trying to make sure I didn’t say or do anything stupid. But soon you realise he is just a normal person – a knock around bloke. He was sensational and very supportive. To win something with him, for Tasmania, both having grown up in Launceston was pretty special.”

Did the apprentice serve the master? “It wasn’t like that at all,” laughs Faulkner. “It was more the other way – he would look after me. I don’t reckon I paid for dinner…well maybe once at most. Every morning he would be the first one knocking on the door walking back into the room with a cup of coffee. He was unbelievable. That was the side of those sort of players that people don’t see.”

When the 2013 IPL auction came around, Faulkner was snapped up by Rajasthan Royals for $400,000. Everything he touched turned to wickets, 28 of them in total at 15.25 a pop (161 dot-balls).  He outgunned fellow Australian left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson, with only Dwayne Bravo claiming more victims. Bravo’s 32 remains an IPL high, while Faulkner’s haul is joint third (with Lasith Malinga) in tournament history.


Injury struck again for Faulkner in the Big Bash

Faulkner has always painted an assured figure on the field, but that is a character trait developed during physical and mental examinations in the middle as a youngster.

“I’ve always had confidence – probably too much at certain times,” he concedes. “Once you’ve got it you never lose it. It might come across as a bad thing at certain times, but it helps you at the next level. 

“When you’re out there trying to strut your stuff, you are under an immense amount of pressure full stop. So, you need something about you that is different otherwise you get walked over at international level.

Of his grade cricket opponents, he added: “They all had superior confidence. The sooner a younger player can face men the better they are going to be. I remember facing First Grade bowlers when I was 13 or 14 and being hit in the head, getting broken noses and helmets. At the time you might be a little bit scared or timid, but it is what makes you as a player in the end.

“Likewise, if you’re bowling flat out and getting belted around because you’re too slow it is probably the best thing that happens to you. It hardens you up and gets you ready for the next level.”

The next level for Faulkner was a place in the 2013 Ashes squad, his Test debut coming in the series finale at the Oval. England already held an unassailable 3-0 lead but that mattered little. “It was a dead rubber, but everyone wants to a Test cap for their country, so it was a massive honour. When the squad was announced and I was in it, everyone was thinking ‘is he up to it?’ Any time you are challenged like that it is a good thing. It makes you switch and want it more.”

Faulkner continued to flourish that winter. An unbeaten 64 from 29 balls in Mohali saw Australia down India, the right-handed batter taking 30 from one Ishant Sharma over.  A few games on, he smoked a maiden international hundred, making 116 from 74 balls batting at No.7. It was, at that point, the fastest ODI hundred by an Australian, with only Glenn Maxwell having surpassed him since (51 balls v Sri Lanka in 2015).


He put England to the sword at The Gabba in January 2014, turning near-certain defeat into victory with 69 not out from 47 balls before arthroscopic surgery on his right knee ruled him out of a trip to South Africa. “To get back from that was probably the hardest thing mentally and physically that I have done. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a time when I couldn’t watch cricket during that time.”

He battled back in time for the T20 World Cup that March, although he played just once. Things improved though and he finished the year as Australia’s leading wicket-taker in ODI cricket, while also serving a timely reminder of his red-ball prowess in June when skippering Australia ‘A’ in two games against their Indian equivalents. He made 94 in the second game and there was talk of him as a leader in waiting. 

World Cup year started with a bang, Faulkner striking the winning runs in the first game of an ODI series against England. The best finisher in the game? It was the sixth time he had done so in 35 outings and he averaged 133.33 batting second in ODIs. A side strain threatened his participation in the World Cup but fortunately, he recovered. “To be involved in that squad and hold the World Cup up in your home country – that is something every kid dreams of.  When I am hanging them up in a few years I can look back at it and be pretty proud. It wasn’t just the XI – it was a phenomenal, phenomenal squad, and not only for that campaign either, for the two years leading up to it as well.”

Later that year he tasted county cricket for the first time when signing for Lancashire. A maiden first-class century came against Surrey and he starred - 302 runs at 37.75 and 25 wickets at 12.64 – as the Lightning lifted its first and, so far only, T20 Blast title. “I love it there. Manchester is a great city, and it is a great club. If you need anything, they will make sure they look after you as much as they can. They treat everyone equally. It is one of the best teams I have ever played for. Whether I am there or not there I am always following them and always looking at their success and failure.”

The one blot on his copybook was a two-year drink-driving ban picked up after an evening with Paine. With the rain lashing down he made a mistake he says he will always regret. It cost him a spot in Australia’s white-ball squads that summer in England.

He returned to the ODI side for the home series with India in January 2016 but was then ruled out of the trip to New Zealand by a troublesome hamstring. In March, at the T20 World Cup in India, he became the first Australian to pick up a five-for in T20Is (5-28 v Pakistan). But the peaks and troughs continued; an ODI hat-trick against Sri Lanka in August was followed by another missed tour to South Africa due to injury.


Could Faulkner one day return to England?

The following April (2017) Faulkner was omitted from Australia’s central contract list and was last sighted in an Australia shirt a few months later. “It is all a bit of a blur to be brutally honest,” he explains. “Yes, it was fantastic, and I think any player would say that when they are full of confidence it all sort of clicks. Back then I was flying but that’s a long time ago.

“The hardest part is when things aren’t going well to be able to turn it around. That is when you are challenged. At international level, things change very quickly and there are lots of good players doing the same thing consistently flat out.”

November 2017 saw him play his is final first-class game came for Tasmania against Victoria at the MCG. “Mentally it can become quite hard. That is why I chose not to play four-day cricket. I thought ‘well I’m never going to play Test cricket again, so I’m going to concentrate on the shorter formats.’”

“A lot of younger players don’t get the chance to play a lot of first-class cricket and if you are picked you want to play so I might have pushed through a couple of little niggles or injuries that I probably shouldn’t have or wasn’t aware of. Even when I go to watch Tassy at Bellerive to I know that if I was fit, I could still contribute. But if your body is breaking down, your body is breaking down, and as I said, I wouldn’t change anything at all.”

Without an IPL gig, the past few years have seen Faulkner split his time between Lancashire, and Melbourne Stars followed by Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash. His return to Tasmania coincided with him dabbling in the pub trade, alongside the family who first took him in more than a decade ago. “I did my hamstring batting at the Gabba running between the wickets (in the BBL). I tried to bowl for a couple of overs but it was a pile of junk.”

Despite finding a new passion away from the heat of battle, retirement though is far from his mind. While many these days talk of leaving their future in the hands of fate, with Faulkner there is a sense he really means it. After all, even if he never took to the field again, he has plenty to look back on fondly.

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