Zero to hero: Ellis's wild ride comes full circle | RopSport
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Zero to hero: Ellis’s wild ride comes full circle

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Ellis claims hat-trick on international debut

Of the 97 men to have preceded Nathan Ellis in representing Australia’s T20 side, surely none had encountered as much rejection before their debut. 

Ellis made history on Friday evening in Dhaka when he became the first man to take a T20 International hat-trick in his first game, hardly 90 minutes after being presented with his maiden Australia cap by fellow New South Wales native Mitchell Starc.

The hat-trick was arguably the most uplifting single moment Australia have had on an extended limited-overs tour that has now seen them give up unassailable 3-0 T20 series leads twice in the space of a month.

Ellis had been playing pool the previous evening at Australia’s bio-secure hotel team room when he was informed by Justin Langer he would be playing the third T20I against Bangladesh.

It was a far cry from when he was told when he was 14, during the first of numerous snubs from NSW underage sides as a teenager, that he “wasn’t a turf wicket bowler”.

And it comes only four years after what he now smilingly refers to as the “lowest moment” of his employment history, an unsuccessful stint as a door-to-door fundraiser for the World Wildlife Fund. 

Given his home state’s rich tradition of producing elite cricket talent, Ellis is not the first NSW reject to find a home in Tasmania and flourish into an international cricketer, a group of players that includes Jackson Bird, Ed Cowan and Jason Krejza. 

He is however an outlier in the sense that his rise has come after moving to the Apple Isle not only with no assurance of playing at a higher level beyond club cricket, but also because he initially had to get by in his new hometown dealing with the lingering possibility that his car might run out of petrol on the way to training. 

Ellis was seriously considering returning to Sydney in 2019 after shining for two seasons with Lindisfarne in Tasmania’s Premier competition and still not getting a look-in at state level when then-Tigers coach Adam Griffith invited him to train with the state squad over pre-season.

Hat-trick hero Ellis re-lives his ‘surreal moment’

“There were no promises or anything, but it was, ‘If you train well and play well, you’ll get the chance’,” Ellis told cricket.com.au later that year. “That was enough for me.”

Ellis’ love for cricket, which began after he followed friends into playing in the Sutherland Shire after unsuccessfully trying his hand at tee-ball, had already flourished when his first setback in the game occurred.

“I remember after playing four years on synthetic wickets I missed out my Under-15s rep side because we had just moved to turf wickets and they said I wasn’t a turf wicket bowler,” he recalled recently. 

“Thinking back now I just think, as a 13 or 14-year-old kid, it’s just ridiculous.

“Then you move on through the pathways and it’s, ‘You’re not tall enough’. They’re always looking for that certain kind of build, so it’s always something that I’ve had to deal with.

“But it’s also not something that I’ve let get in the way or spend too much time losing sleep over. It’s a stereotype of the game, but I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all, and I think it’s becoming increasingly less important as the game evolves.”

Raw vision: Bangladesh celebrate historic series win

While some of his better credentialled, and more physically imposing, fellow fast bowlers moved through the state’s pathway programs and into the NSW Blues system, Ellis started on the bottom rung of Premier Cricket.

After a couple of games in fifth grade as a 17-year-old, he was promoted to the fourths for the rest of a season he still counts as one of his fondest in cricket. 

Ellis was an established first XI bowler by the time he shifted to storied club St George to open the bowling with the man who would turn out be one of his most important mentors and something of a kindred spirit, Trent Copeland. 

Copeland’s own journey of persistence had seen him progress from club-cricket wicketkeeper to handy seam bowler to eventually earning a Baggy Green, the highlight of a standout domestic career that now has him ranked third among NSW’s all-time leading Sheffield Shield wicket-takers. 

Had it not been for the Blues’ overloaded pace stocks Ellis may well have joined him after taking 160 wickets in four first-grade seasons with Randwick-Petersham and St George.

Instead, fresh off winning the Kerry O’Keefe Medal as St George’s best player in 2017, Ellis moved to Hobart with no guarantee of a look-in at the level above and, less importantly at the time to the singularly-focused Ellis, no job. 

He found a succession of bosses in landscaping, construction and removalist roles were unsympathetic to the unusual requests of a wannabe first-class cricketer, those being Saturdays off to play club games and the odd afternoon to bowl in the nets to the Tasmanian state squad.

Before he found a job as a teacher’s aide helping boys with learning difficulties at St Virgil’s College, Ellis was out hitting the pavement trying to convince suburban Hobartians to think about the endangered animal species they could save with a kind donation.

Aussie efforts overshadowed as Bangladesh claim series

Unsurprisingly he was met with that familiar feeling of rejection.

“The only people you’re knocking on the doors of are home sick from work or have got young children or babies,” he recalled of his brief stint working for the WWF. “So you’re waking young kids up or you’re waking people up who are sick, so I just got the door slammed in my face for eight hours a day.”

Griffith’s lifeline in 2019 proved the catalyst for a rapid series of events. 

Blooded during that season’s Marsh One-Day Cup, Ellis could hardly have scripted it better when he took his first domestic five-wicket haul in just his fifth game against a star-studded NSW side. 

The paceman was unearthed as one of BBL|09’s breakout stars, with his back-of-the-hand slower balls and skiddy yorkers providing the Hobart Hurricanes with a significant point of difference, and there was little drop-off the following summer as Ellis established himself as the one of the Big Bash’s most dependable death bowlers. 

It was enough to earn him a spot on Australia’s tours of the Caribbean and Bangladesh as a travelling reserve, before Riley Meredith’s side strain saw him join the main squad for the five-match series in Dhaka. 

“I was just so excited to at the very least get some Australian training gear and hopefully get some time with the Aussie coaches and meet some of the guys,” he said.  

“I’m under no illusions – I know it’s taken a global pandemic and a few guys needing some time off and some guys getting injuries for me to be here, but it takes nothing away for me.

“It’s a dream of mine and to be here and meet some of the guys and the coaching staff. I’m so honoured and I feel so lucky.”

In a way Ellis had come full circle when Starc, one of those more credentialled fast bowlers ahead of him in the NSW pecking order when he departed Sydney, handed over that magical gold cap while the gentle rhythm of Friday prayer music echoed out over the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium from a nearby mosque.

“In a nutshell he was one of the reasons I had to go (to Tasmania) – they’re such a strong state with a lot of depth,” said Ellis.

“It was really cool – Starcy’s obviously one of Australia’s greats and someone I’ve looked up to for a long time and someone, especially in white ball, I’ve tried to emulate. 

“It’s just a moment I’m going to cherish forever.”

Qantas Tour of Bangladesh 2021

Australia squad: Ashton Agar, Wes Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Dan Christian, Nathan Ellis, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Riley Meredith, Josh Philippe, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, Matthew Wade (c), Adam Zampa. Travelling reserve: Tanveer Sangha.

Bangladesh squad: Mahmudullah (c), Soumya Sarkar, Naim Sheikh, Shakib Al Hasan, Nurul Hasan Sohan, Afif Hossain, Shamim Hossain, Shaif Uddin, Taskin Ahmed, Shoriful Islam, Nasum Ahmed, Shak Mahedi Hasan, Mustafizur Rahman, Mohammad Mithun, Taijul Islam, Musaddek Hossain Saikat, Rubel Hossain

(all matches at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, Dhaka)

First T20: Bangladesh won by 23 runs

Second T20: Bangladesh won by five wickets

Third T20: Bangladesh won by 10 runs

Fourth T20: August 7, 6pm (10pm AEST)

Fifth T20: August 9, 6pm (10pm AEST)

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