Ren­shaw hop­ing York­shire school­ing will help him to teach Eng­land a les­son

Si­mon Briggs re­ports on the Aus­tralia opener who learnt his game on the Sh­effield club scene

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

From Sh­effield to the Sh­effield Shield. It is the jour­ney taken by Matt Ren­shaw, the 21-year-old opener who will bat at No 1 in the Ashes. No 1 for Aus­tralia, that is. Mid­dles­brough-born Ren­shaw is the one who got away. English cricket can hardly com­plain about the de­fec­tion of a pint-sized wannabe. Our se­lec­tors have im­ported many an un­pol­ished di­a­mond from South Africa, from Tony Greig 45 years ago to Dawid Malan on this very tour. Other re­cruits, from Craig White to Sam Rob­son, have had Aus­tralian roots. When out­back-raised Mar­tin McCague ap­peared on the 1994-95 Ashes tour, he earned in­famy as “the rat who joined the sink­ing ship”.

But Ren­shaw swims against the tra­di­tional cur­rent. Be­fore his fam­ily set out for Aus­trala­sia, he spent a for­ma­tive sum­mer in the hot­bed of club cricket around South York­shire, where his fa­ther opened the bat­ting and his play­mates in­cluded Joe Root’s younger brother, Billy. “The other opener was Matt Root, Joe and Billy’s fa­ther,” Matt Ren­shaw’s dad, Ian, re­calls now. “We stole a lot of sin­gles but he was more ag­gres­sive.”

With two Bri­tish par­ents, young Matt could eas­ily have turned out as a so­lu­tion to Eng­land’s top-or­der woes. Or in­deed as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller, like his cousin Paul Wool­ston, 19, a goal­keeper at New­cas­tle United.

Ren­shaw showed prom­ise in this field too, un­til he was 10, only for a tum­ble off his bike to sever his an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment and ef­fec­tively de­cide his sport­ing fu­ture. If we climb the Ren­shaw fam­ily tree, we find four sis­ters – the McIn­tyres, from North Shields – who all played hockey and squash. Matt’s mother, Ali­son McIn­tyre, met Ian when they were both study­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion at Leeds Carnegie Univer­sity, and the cou­ple then be­gan their pere­gri­na­tions around the world. To­day Ian is a lec­turer at Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, spe­cial­is­ing in “skills ac­qui­si­tion and sports psy­chol­ogy”. He also runs coach­ing cour­ses on be­half of Cricket Aus­tralia.

“I moved to Sh­effield in 2000 to work at Hal­lam Univer­sity,” Ren­shaw Snr told The Sun­day Tele­graph. “That’s when I played my sea­son for Sh­effield Col­le­giate [the club that pro­duced not only Root but also Michael Vaughan, al­most two decades ear­lier]. But it didn’t last long be­cause some­body put a job on my desk that was based in Auck­land. Two months later we were mov­ing to New Zealand. Four years af­ter that, we were in Bris­bane.” Matt Ren­shaw’s skills have thus been honed in three coun­tries. More than any­thing, though, he is his fa­ther’s son. As Aus­tralia team-mate Us­man Khawaja told him: “You’re just your dad’s ex­per­i­ment.”

“My big thing is about how the en­vi­ron­ment shapes be­hav­iour,” Ian ex­plains. “For in­stance, if you hit a golf ball on the range and then take the same club on the course, your swing changes com­pletely. Which raises the ques­tion, why do we spend so much time on the range? The same thing is true of cricket nets, where you don’t see where the ball goes. So I would work with Matthew in the mid­dle, us­ing cones to mark the po­si­tion of field­ers. I’d have 70 or 80 balls in a bag and I’d send them down, bowl­ing an over of spin and then us­ing a dogth­rower to sim­u­late an over of seam and swing. The idea is to fo­cus on the out­come, not whether you’re hit­ting the ball with a high el­bow.”

His tech­niques are in­creas­ingly in de­mand. Only last week­end, he was at St George’s Park, near Bur­ton-onTrent, to give two pre­sen­ta­tions to the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board’s coach­ing con­fer­ence. The sec­ond sketched out the wide va­ri­ety of tech­niques he and his son have used in train­ing. Young Matt has be­come a walk­ing case study.

Was there never any prospect of this tal­ented emi­gre re­turn­ing to his roots? You might have thought so af­ter the 2010-11 Ashes Test at The Gabba, when he car­ried the flag for the Eng­land team. “He was just a kid from the Queens­land de­vel­op­ment sys­tem,” Ian says. “He got lost on the way out be­cause no one had di­rected him, Rick Ponting had to say, ‘Over there, son’.”

As soon as Matt had grad­u­ated from Bris­bane Gram­mar School, the rump of the fam­ily sug­gested he might fancy spend­ing a sum­mer with Durham. “We tried to get him over two or three sea­sons ago,” said Steve Wool­ston, his un­cle. “But the Aus­tralian set-up were wor­ried about him play­ing on his Bri­tish pass­port.”

He did end up com­ing over to Eng­land for the sum­mer of 2014. But he rep­re­sented MCC Young Crick­eters in­stead, where he was re­united with Billy Root. This was seen as a com­pro­mise by the Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties keen on over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence but not the po­ten­tial re-as­sim­i­la­tion that might go with it.

“When Matt came back, he said ev­ery­one at Lord’s had called him an Aussie,” re­calls his fa­ther. “I think he knew then which way he wanted to go, even though he prob­a­bly didn’t want to tell us.”

The Durham con­nec­tion might still be con­sum­mated but Ren­shaw – av­er­ag­ing 36 from 10 Tests – would now be an over­seas player. “It would be great if it came off,” says Wool­ston, whose brother, Paul, re­cently joined the club’s board. “He has so many per­sonal con­nec­tions here.”

The Ren­shaws have per­sonal con­nec­tions through­out English cricket, it seems. One of them is Liam Plun­kett, the Mid­dles­brough-born fast bowler who will take part in Jan­uary’s one-day in­ter­na­tional se­ries. “When I played in North Shields, Liam was one of the kids at the club,” says Ian. “His dad was tall and nib­bled it around and used to nick me off for fun. The joke was that I coached Liam’s bat­ting so he be­came a bowler.

“This sport can be a small world. At Sh­effield Col­le­giate I played with Michael Vaughan’s brother, David, and the cap­tain was Richard Ket­tle­bor­ough, who was one of the um­pires last year when Matt made his Test de­but in Ade­laide.

“Joe was about 12 then, and al­ready be­ing talked about as the next Vaughan. Tech­ni­cally, ev­ery­thing was in place. Billy stayed at our place when he came out to play grade cricket, and has a very dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity to Joe.

“We caught up with them again on the 2013-14 Ashes tour. I re­mem­ber Joe walk­ing out to bat at The Gabba, and there was this un­be­liev­able noise. I was think­ing, ‘How do you deal with that?’ We went down to Mel­bourne for the Box­ing Day Test, and the whole fam­ily was stay­ing in an apart­ment, but the wheels had come off the tour by then.”

And so to the in­evitable ques­tion. Who will Ian be cheer­ing for when the first ball is bowled? He chuck­les. “It changes your view when your son’s in the team. Some­one asked me this the other day and I said, ‘Who is Trevor Bayliss sup­port­ing?’

“Ide­ally, though, you want a good con­test, like the one Aus­tralia had in In­dia last win­ter. If it goes down to the fi­nal ses­sion, I’ll be happy.”

‘When he went back, ev­ery­one at Lord’s called him an Aussie, Matt then knew which way he wanted to go’

‘We tried to get him over to Durham, but Aussies were wor­ried about him play­ing on his Bri­tish pass­port’

English ex­port: Matt Ren­shaw showed prom­ise as a young crick­eter in South York­shire but his fam­ily em­i­grated Down Un­der and the Mid­dles­brough-born bats­man is now poised to open for Aus­tralia in the Ashes

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