ULLADULLA United product Matthew Gilkes proved why he is considered one of the top wicketkeeper/batsman prospects in the country, during this Big Bash League debut last Thursday.
After being part of the Sydney Thunder’s squad for the majority of the season, Gilkes was finally handed his debut cap at Optus Stadium, when his side played the Perth Scorchers.
“I was originally brought in to the squad to replace Pat Cummins, who was going to be with the national team all summer,” Gilkes said.
“And after being in the 13-player squad for the Sydney derby before Christmas, it only made me hungrier to keep working hard and force my way into the 11.”
His chance came when Jos Butler (with English national side) and Jay Lenton (fractured finger) were both unavailable.
“I felt really sorry for Jay but it open up a spot, which I thought I could fit into,” Gilkes said.
“After Jay got ruled out (against the Melbourne Renegades on January 22), the coach [Shane Bond] rang me and told me I’d be in the 11 for our next game.
“I was pumped and rang my parents straight away – I was so excited.”
At first, the former Ulladulla High School student who has 489 runs at an average of 54.33 for his UNSW side in NSW Premier Cricket this season, didn’t know how he would fit into the side.
“Originally, I didn’t know where I’d be in the batting line-up. I assumed I would just fill Jay’s role in the middle order,” he said.
“However, on the flight over, the coaches told me I’d be open the batting – a challenge I was really looking forward to.
“Facing the new ball suits my style and it allows a young player like myself to play his shots, with the field up – as the ball is brand new and comes off the bat the best.”
After Gilkes was presented his debut cap by Thunder skipper Shane Watson, his roller coaster match started.
“I started the game quite disappointingly after dropping Shaun Marsh, who we all know was such a big wicket – I’m just not used to the bounce over there and the ball came on a bit quicker than I expected,” he said.
“However, I put that behind me when I opened the batting with Shane [Watson], who was a great mentor for me out there.”
Going on to play his shots, he made 51 from 35 balls.
“It was a great way to rebound and contribute to the team winning, which is obviously the most important thing,” he said.
“It was great to be able to bat with players like Shane and Callum [Ferguson], who have played at the highest level and they definitely helped me at the crease.”
Following the Thunder’s six-wicket win in Perth, they will now shift their attentions to Wednesday’s clash with the Renegades at Marvel Stadium.
"After the game, one of the coaches pulled me aside and told me that Jay had been ruled out for the rest of the Big Bash series, so there’d be an opportunity for me to play the next few games,” Gilkes said.
“I hope I get another shot but it’ll all depend on what’s best for the team.”
Gilkes, who has also 349 runs for ACT/NSW Country in the Futures League this season, credits his success to his work during the winter.
“This off-season was probably one of the biggest I’ve had and I moved to Darwin to try and get as much game time as I can,” he said.
“The biggest thing as a young player is to spend as much time as you can at the crease and continually work on your game.
“This laid a strong platform for me going into the Sydney season with UNSW.
“In the past, UNSW haven’t been one of the stronger sides, until this year, and it’s exciting to be able to help them return to near the top of the ladder.
“We have a balanced side, full of great guys and I hope we can finish out the season on a high.”
After his Thunder commitments for the season wind up, he will return to the Bumblebees, which he hopes can lead him to higher honours.
“Obviously making my debut with the Thunder in the Big Bash was a big goal of mine but now that I’ve got a taste of playing at this level, I really want to cement my spot in the side,” he said.
“From here, I just want to keep making runs and working on my keeping skills, which will hopefully lead to higher opportunities presenting themselves.”