(Photo by Sarah Ansell/Getty Images)
By Jon Botham
NATHAN Sowter found himself on the outside looking in on Middlesex’s relegation decider with Somerset last week.
But, for a man whose career was all-but written off by everyone, dad William included, back in his native Australia a few years ago, being overlooked for the do-or-die clash is just another challenge on his cricketing journey.
Sowter was happily trying to make his way as a medium-pacer Down Under, until his coach informed him his brand of ‘dibbly-dobblers’ just wasn’t going to cut it.
Without a flicker, the ebullient youngster declared he would simply revert to leg-spin.
Both dad and aforementioned coach poured scorn on the idea, the former, desperate though he was to encourage a sporting dream, suggesting a career change might be in order.
Undeterred, the now 24-year-old turned to his and every Australian’s idol of the era Shane Warne in search of reinvention.
Armed with videos of Australia’s leading Test wicket-taker his homework of choice became studying every nuance of the bewitching ‘leggie’.
This in turn led to hours of solitude in the backyard with a specially produced Shane Warne plastic ball, designed to ‘turn’ his research to practice.
“Shane Warne was the idol around that time for anyone wanting to do spin bowling, so I studied those videos for hours and hours on end,” he said.
“Then I pretty much grabbed the ball in the backyard and started trying to bowl leg-spin.
“The ball had numbers on it which showed you if you put your fingers on them or had your wrist in this position it would go one way, or the back of your hand facing fine leg it would go the other direction.”
Reinvention passed stage one and Sowter travelled to England to try to forge a career in county cricket. And even when the breakthrough didn’t materialise immediately he was bold enough to turn down Daniel Vettori’s invitation to represent Brisbane Heat in the 2017 Big Bash, so as not to become classed as an overseas player on these shores.
The cricket gods chose to smile on his conviction when Vettori, clearly an admirer of his raw talent, began a three-year deal as Middlesex’s T20 coach this summer and immediately installed Sowter as his primary spin option.
The New South Wales man could not have been happier to have a real-life mentor of the spinning art.
“I get on well with Dan and like to talk to him about anything from international cricket to cricket in general, my own game and just about life,” he said.
“Obviously we have talked about my bowling and about how you develop skills in T20 cricket.
“I’ve been trying to get the ball more into a hard area and not get it too full because if you pitch up too much you get hit back over your head.
“If I can get players playing off the back foot as much as possible and then make them come at me the wickets will look after each other.”
Fourteen wickets at 25 apiece in his first full T20 season made him one of the few successes of another disappointing campaign in the game’s shortest format for Middlesex, two of those victims being snared by his first ball of the respective games.
Both sparked exuberant celebrations, suggesting he has learnt something of the art of showmanship associated white-ball cricket.
“I like taking wickets and the excitement of T20, plus I get a buzz off the crowd a little bit,” he said. “I carry on a little, but try not to get too carried away. Just a little bit of exhibitionism for the fans.”
Despite this initial white-ball success, Sowter knows if he is to make his mark in English county cricket he must master the red-ball art, too, and not just when it comes to leg-spin.
The modern game, for better or worse – a debate for another time – demands he build on some fledgling batting talent illustrated by a century for Middlesex seconds earlier this season.
Cricketing fate may have smiled on him here, too, as again Vettori should prove the perfect role model.
The former New Zealand skipper matured into a Test all-rounder, becoming the highest run scorer from the No.8 position in the game’s longest format, scoring four centuries in the process.
The bespectacled Kiwi also became a pivotal figure in one-day cricket, batting as high as five. Not surprisingly then, Sowter has quizzed his mentor on how to polish up his somewhat rudimentary approach to life with willow in hand.
“My batting is a bit hit and miss as I like just trying to hit the ball as hard and far as I can,” he added.
“I found it interesting how Dan turned himself from a lower-order batsman to being sometimes a top-six player, so I’ve tried to pick his brain about it.”