Wildermuth embraces debut challenge

“Time flies,” Mark Waugh told Jack Wildermuth when presenting him with his first Australian cap on Friday (July 6), “so enjoy the ride.” It was to the point from the former great, in Zimbabwe for his final tour as a national selector. For some, an international career can be just that as well: over in an instant. The challenge, per Waugh’s words, is to embrace it from the get-go. On this new all-rounder’s first day in the yellow shirt, that’s precisely what he did.

In the moments after pulling on his new hat, Justin Langer arranged for a call to be put into Queensland so that the 92nd man to represent Australia in the format could break the news firsthand to his mother that her boy was going to be making his debut. With the locals electing to buck with the trend of the tri-series and bat first at the toss, not long after he was striding out in his gold shirt, carrying the number 24 most recently worn by Adam Voges.

Having played just the 20 games of professional T20, Wildermuth was the surprise selection for this tour. There is always at least one when Australian limited-overs teams travel abroad with an eye to the future. Averaging a wicket a game in the Big Bash with his right-arm seam, and having scored a couple of First Class tons, the 24-year-old is exactly the type of cricketer selectors like to back in case they go onto become the next dual-threat match winner.

But Wildermuth wouldn’t be scoring a goal with his first kick. Instead, on an even colder Harare morning than the day before, he misjudged a catch at third man in the second over. As they are taught, he tried to take the ball fingers-up, but the swirling breeze got the better of him. Heart doubtless racing, another top edge flew his way four overs later. This time, though, he took a wonderful diving snaffle only centimetres from the turf. As much as his hands must have stung, the embrace of his new teammates would have made that an afterthought. He was in the game.

For the tenth over, the freshly-painted sign with Wildermuth’s name was moved into the spot of the old Harare Sports Club scoreboard that belongs to the man at the bowling crease when Aaron Finch threw him the ball. “I just really wanted to keep it as simple as possible,” he told Cricbuzz after the game about that first delivery. He did, hitting the seam immediately. Up against the in-form Solomon Mire, a man who has shared the dressing room with at Melbourne Renegades, he located an inside edge before beating the bat of Peter Moor. A more than serviceable start.

It proved impressive enough that Finch, as he shuffled his bowlers, also landed on Wildermuth to send down the final over of the innings. For a player less sure of himself, that could be a mixed blessing. But he nailed it. The reward came from his final offering, Wellington Masakadza miscuing a slower ball into the hands of Marcus Stoinis and into the book he went. “To get his first wicket for Australia in his first game is outstanding,” Glenn Maxwell said after play. “It took some people a little bit longer, I think it took me about 40 games to get my first!”

Listed to come in at number seven, Wildermuth could reasonably have anticipated watching the chase of 152 rather than participating in it after what Finch did to Zimbabwe on Tuesday. Even after the captain, and his deputy Alex Carey, were both gone inside five overs as Maxwell and Travis Head enjoyed some time in the middle to take the sting out of the game. But then, a twist: a flurry of wickets. Australia were five down in the penultimate over still 13 runs short.

In response to the suddenly tense situation, the more experienced Ashton Agar went in before Wildermuth, even if that escaped the ground announcer who declared that our subject was on his way. No, he was still on the balcony, now furiously shadow batting with his helmet on in the event he might be required for some last over heroics to save his side’s blushes.

It didn’t come to that, Stoinis sticking the landing with a ball to spare. Had Wildermuth been required, though, he saw it as an opportunity to triumph rather than a risk of failure. “If I had the chance to go out there and score the winning runs for Australia it would have been pretty cool,” he joked. A sentiment that Waugh, no doubt, would approve of. On the evidence of one morning in the big time, this international journey could turn out to be a long and productive one.

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