A Bolton amateur cricketer recently fulfilled a lifelong dream by playing and coaching in Australia.
Sam Pendlebury, 23, of Sedgley Drive, Westhoughton, played ‘down under’ for Perth’s Halls Head Cricket Club (CC) from September 2017 for six months.
In his youth, the batsman rubbed shoulders in the local district sides with current Lancashire and England international Haseeb Hameed before, from the age of 16, regularly featuring for Daisy Hill CC’s 1st team, his boyhood side.
This experience showed him that his overseas ambition could become a reality: “the (English) leagues are inundated with foreign imports; Australians, South Africans, Indians, New Zealanders, who come over here to play cricket for the summer.
“It has always been a keen interest of mine to go to Australia and the cricket gave me a tool to facilitate going over there.”
As a result, in July 2017, Pendlebury contacted Halls Head CC to finalise a short-term deal.
An immediate reality check
But before he had even donned the whites, there were noticeably stark differences between Britain and Australia.
“In English cricket, every ground has changing rooms- I didn’t think that was a big deal” admitted the Bolton batsman.
“(But) so many clubs I played (at) in Australia (were) just fields with cricket squares so you’d be getting changed on the side of the pitch.”
Alongside temperatures as high as 40-45 degrees, this becomes a daunting prospect for someone acclimatised to the rain of Greater Manchester.
At the crease
After an initially difficult adjustment period, Pendlebury averaged 42.33 runs in Australia; his best season to date.
But the batsman’s most impressive run hauls were an unbeaten 105 and a match-winning 86 not out against White Knights Baldivis.
In particular, the 23-year-old believes that mastering the pull and hook shots (both leg side strikes), was vital.
“With the amount of sun and dry heat you get (in Australia), it’s expected that the pitches are going to be harder, quicker and bounce up a lot more.
“As an Englishman, Australians did tend to try me out with a short ball… but learning to play (the pull and hook shot) was probably the biggest key to my success.”
The 23-year-old was also appointed coach of Halls Head’s under 14s, devoting time to help the under 17s as well.
“I had to wake up Saturday mornings at 6.30… go down to the games, which were four hours long, from 7.30 and then have to leave their games at 11.30 and play my own… for seven hours in the afternoon”, he recalls.
“I had never been solely responsible (for a team)… and had to personally pick the teams, selections, batting orders and tactics.”
Despite the added pressure that coaching brought, Pendlebury enjoyed the experience.
He said: “It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it was really rewarding to see the improvements in the players… it is definitely something I would consider doing again.”
Playing with an England international
He lived and breathed cricket, he looked a million dollars every shot he played
Bolton has recently produced several high-profile sporting names, including 21-year-old Lancashire and England cricketer, Haseeb Hameed.
Hameed and Pendlebury are former district teammates and the international clearly left a lasting impression.
In their first game together, a 12-year-old Hameed scored 139 runs against players two years his senior.
“He lived and breathed cricket, he looked a million dollars every shot he played” Pendlebury remembers.
“It was always obvious he was going to go onto big things.”
“I keep up to date with his scores… hopefully he’ll get back in the England setup sometime soon.”
What’s next for the Bolton batsman?
Moving forward, the next challenge for Pendlebury is six months of playing and coaching cricket in New Zealand from September.
And despite jokingly dismissing the possibility of a future in the professional game, coaching remains an attractive proposition.
With a grin painted across his face, he said: “Playing with (Hameed) from such a young age made me realise that I was never, ever going to be a professional cricketer.
“The coaching side was certainly something that interested me (though) and something that I will look into.”
Nonetheless, whatever he decides, the next chapter in the Boltonian’s cricketing career could be the most exciting yet.
Word Count: 731