In 2012, a 15-year old Jhye Richardson fancied a career in the Australian Football League (AFL). Growing up in Perth, he wanted to play for the Fremantle Dockers. He took steps towards his first goal when he was picked for East Fremantle, a development squad of the Dockers that plays in the Western Australia competition, below the national level. But cricket caught his attention before he could take the next step.
He didn't live too far from the WACA, and the generous dose of cricket stories he listened to helped him make his mind up to trade football boots for cricket spikes. It wasn't surprising that he chose to become a fast bowler. Six years on, it's a decision he's thankful for, having already played four ODIs and seven T20Is for the national team. Now, he's on Australia A's tour of India, trying to strengthen his case for becoming an all-format regular.
"I didn't watch a lot of cricket when I was younger, but the things that stood out were stories of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee bowling bouncers at WACA," Richardson says. "As a fast bowler, when you hear stories of how those guys hit sightscreens one-bounce, that's just ridiculous. It's awesome; I wish I could have been there to see that."
The one bowler he did see from close quarters was Mitchell Johnson, whose 'Summer of 2013' was as close as it got to what Richardson missed watching. Johnson, who was with the Perth Scorchers, took a special interest in Richardson after watching him bowl in a couple of net sessions. He took time out to chat with the rookie and even had good words to write in a newspaper column.
"He played so much international cricket and had such a good name behind himself, so to hear good things from someone like him automatically gives you the confidence," Richardson says. "I'd like to think I have a relatively good relationship with him now, just being able to learn off him at Scorchers, he's been amazing. Just having him around the group, he's a jokester, always good to have. He's an awesome guy. Reading his thoughts on me then did make me feel good inside."
Johnson's praise was particularly encouraging because all Richardson kept hearing when he switched to cricket was why he wasn't cut out to be a fast bowler. At 178 cm and 72 kg, many said he didn't have a typical "fast bowler's frame". Richardson didn't let the naysayers dissuade him, but is honest enough to admit he is "a little surprised" at his fast-tracking.
"I know one thing that Justin Langer has brought in already is ensuring that you need to do what the team needs for this ball, this situation. He often says, 'Your next ball is the most important thing in your life.' That's what me and the other guys are concentrating on." Jhye Richardson
Richardson is a product of the Fremantle Club in Perth, which has produced a number of Australia players, most recently the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell. It's a club he is emotionally attached to.
"That's a great club, I mean we have so many Australian representatives go through that club," he says. "We've got the Marsh brothers, guys like Ashton Turner, and every time I get to play club cricket, it's awesome. Often those guys have played there. The environment is obviously a little more relaxed than national cricket, so you can take a step back, take a breath and have casual conversations that you may not normally get to do in the national squad.
"I think that's probably the main factor, of why I guess why I've probably exceeded people's expectations and my expectations coming up, because I think it has been so fast-tracked. So just being able to learn off those guys from such an early age has helped."
Richardson's maiden international tour to South Africa earlier this year was overshadowed by the ball-tampering fiasco. Then, in England, Australia were whitewashed in the ODIs - experiences that could scar even seasoned cricketers. For Richardson, though, these were life lessons he accepted and dealt with calmly.
"I played football when I was much younger and before cricket," he says. "The thing I learnt from football from an early age is being around the team environment, learning not to be selfish around the team, learning to put the team first, and what the team needs. Learning that from a young age has definitely helped me to really engage within the team."
This is Richardson's first tour of India, and in the first one-dayer that his team got to play in, he singed India A's top order with three wickets in a searing new-ball burst. He says it was all down to the lessons he's picked up by chatting with senior players and watching his own team-mates prepare.
"For me, it's about being adaptable," he says. "I know I've fallen into the trap in the last few years of trying to blow the batsmen into the water. You can't just bowl fast and get away with it, you've to be really on the spot. For me moving forward, especially over the last few years, especially after getting the national call-up, that has been a major learning experience for me. If the wickets are going to be slow and low, that's the way to get the pressure on.
"A lot of the other guys I speak to to often say patience is the key in India. Wickets aren't probably good for pace bowlers, so I think it's about just not getting over-greedy and then staying patient with the bowling, hitting the top of off as much as you can and putting pressure on the batsmen."
Richardson knows how important this tour is if he wants to earn a national call-up for the tour of the UAE against Pakistan in October, but he's determined to not get ahead of himself. "There's a lot of hype on this tour about how important it is. If guys get carried away thinking about the future, then we're not going to perform in the present," he says.
"For now in this group, we've talked about trying to stay as level-headed as possible and not thinking to the future. I know one thing that Justin Langer has brought in already [as the Australia coach] is ensuring that you need to do what the team needs for this ball, this situation. He often says, 'Your next ball is the most important thing in your life.' That's what me and the other guys are concentrating on."