Saturday, February 24, 2024

Meet Callum Vidler, the teenage tearaway whose ‘mind games’ helped Australia reach the Under-19 Cricket World Cup final

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During Thursday’s Under-19 World Cup semi-final in Benoni, Australian bowler Callum Vidler, having just beaten Shahzaib Khan’s outside edge, walked up to the Pakistan opener and pointed towards his head.

The 18-year-old, a self-confessed “pest” in the changerooms, noticed the left-hander had started backing away from shorter deliveries, with footwork heading towards the leg side. So, Vidler generously warned that his next delivery would be directed at the helmet.

“I can sometimes get a little bit emotional, a little bit fired up,” Vidler explained to Fox Cricket.

“I thought I could use some intimidation, try and get in their head with some mind games.

“I’ve done it a fair bit in my junior cricket back home, and I thought I may as well give it a crack, signal to him where he should think it’s coming.”

Khan prepared himself for a bouncer, but instead, Vidler dished up a half-volley outside off stump, which the Pakistani awkwardly scooped towards rival captain Hugh Weibgen at point.

“Watching the footage back, his feet were well outside leg,” Vidler said with a chuckle.

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Vidler, who has been clocked at over 140km/h, has been Australia’s equal leading wicket-taker during the ongoing tournament in South Africa, taking 12 scalps at 10.75 with an economy of 3.88.

Despite being one the quickest teenagers in the country, the Queenslander confessed he’s developed a reputation for being “too nice” to his opposition, something that’s drawn the ire of his captain and coach at Valley District Cricket Club.

“I seem to smile a bit too much,” Vidler said.

“I’ve gotten in trouble a few times by my captain back at home in first grade, and the coach.

“That’s something I’m working on, trying to have a bit more aggression and trying to use that intimidation. I didn’t really know how much that bouncer plays in the back of the batsman’s mind and how it can change the footwork and cause wickets.”

Vidler finished the semi-final with figures of 1-43 from nine overs, but his contribution with the bat was arguably more valuable. Chasing a 180-run target for victory, Australia was reeling at 9-164 when he walked out to bat at No. 11, joining all-rounder Raf MacMillan in the middle.

“It was pretty nerve-racking … I hadn’t batted all trip,” Vidler admitted.

“I was quite upset with my performance with the ball … those wides I bowled, those half-volleys I bowled, probably could make the difference.”

However, in tense scenes at Willowmoore Park, Vidler and MacMillan combined for an unbeaten 17-run partnership to secure Australia’s spot in the final, with the winning runs coming from a fortuitous inside edge.

“I was able to block a few, but (MacMillan) deserves all the credit,” Vidler continued.

“He was certainly fired up when he hit the last four. It was quite a crazy moment, I haven’t seen him that excited before.”

The Australian squad enjoyed a few tunes on the bus ride home, but the young crop of players knew the job was far from done – a final against powerhouse nation India still awaited them.

India has won three of the six most recent editions of the tournament, while Australia hasn’t lifted the trophy since 2010 when Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood headlined a talented squad of future superstars.

“We’re fully focused on this final coming up. It will be the most important game of all our careers,” Vidler declared.

“That will be a big chance for us to hopefully do something special.”

During his youth, Vidler was comfortably the quickest bowler in Queensland’s GPS competition, playing alongside Weibgen at Brisbane Grammar School. Inspired by the feats of fellow Queenslanders Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris during the 2013/14 Ashes series, Vidler decided he wanted to bowl fast from an early age.

Harris’ famous dismissal of former England captain Alastair Cook during the 2013 WACA Test might be the most played clip on his YouTube account.

“I reckon I’ve watched the compilation of the wickets from that Ashes series more than 50 times. They’re my favourite videos to watch,” Vidler said.

“They absolutely carved up the Poms at home. It’s hard not to be inspired by bowling like that.

“The intimidation and pace of Johnson, then the skill and swing of Harris, it’s something I hopefully one day can be something like.”

Valley bowler Callum Vidler. Picture, John GassSource: News Corp Australia

Although pace has never been a problem for Vidler, learning to control movement through the air initially proved challenging. Over the past 18 months, he spent time with childhood hero Harris and former Black Caps seamer Hamish Bennett to develop his swing bowling, which has come leaps and bounds.

“I used to just run in bowling, and whichever side the breeze was, I’d hold it seam up and it would go the way of the breeze,” Vidler laughed.

“I’ve been able to learn how to swing it, be deliberate and get that late swing. And try to go both ways if I get greedy, which sometimes I do.”

The additional training has paid dividends, with Vidler producing an assortment of hooping deliveries throughout the Under-19 tournament, most notably his dismissal of Namibia opener Johannes de Villiers.

Following last year’s Youth Ashes campaign in England, where he finished as Australia’s equal leading wicket-taker with 14 scalps at 16.00, Vidler was signed by the Brisbane Heat as a local replacement player, training alongside the likes of Xavier Bartlett, Spencer Johnson and Michael Neser before flying across to South Africa last month.

With the assistance of Heat assistant coach Andy Bichel, another legendary Queensland fast bowler, Vidler refined his bowling action and white-ball skills ahead of the Under-19 World Cup campaign.

Only upon arriving in South Africa did Vidler realise he was starting to imitate Bichel – not just his bowling action, but also his attire.

“I bought a sweatband over here because I was sweating immensely due to the heat,” Vidler explained.

“Then I realised when I was watching (Bichel highlights) that I’ve got the same kind of look as him. But not quite as intimidating.”

Bichel, who famously took 7-20 against England during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, would have watched on with pride last week as Vidler steamed through the old enemy in a blistering spell of 4-29 in Kimberley.

Vidler was with the Heat squad when the Gujarat Titans picked up Johnson for $1.78 million at the recent Indian Premier League Auction. On the same evening, Australian quicks Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins were signed for $4.4 million and $3.7 million respectively.

It bodes well for Vidler, who will focus climb through the ranks of Sheffield Shield cricket with Queensland before even considering pursuing opportunities in overseas T20 leagues.

“It was pretty awesome to be there the day after Spencer went in the auction for $1.8 million. It was pretty crazy to see,” Vidler said.

“It’s hard not to be inspired by that journey, it’s pretty cool.

“I think it’s quite far away. I definitely need to work on some T20 skills.”

However, Australian cricket fans will be happy to hear that Test cricket remains the ultimate goal for Vidler and his Under-19 teammates, who aspire to don the baggy green one day.

“I quite enjoy four-day games at the moment, running in all day,” Vidler said.

“My dream would be to play for Australia in a Test match. There’s something different about Test matches that you don’t get in T20s.

“There’s been a lot of talk about Test cricket and its future, but it’s the ultimate form of the game. As a bowler, there’s nothing better than running in with a red pill all day … well maybe, half a day.”

The Under-19 World Cup between Australia and India gets underway at Benoni’s Willowmoore Park on Sunday, with the first ball scheduled for 7pm AEDT.

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