Nov 252016
 
Lockie Ferguson was clocked at 153kmh and 155kmh during pre-season matches at Lincoln.

WILLIAM BOOTH/PHOTOSPORT

Lockie Ferguson was clocked at 153kmh and 155kmh during pre-season matches at Lincoln.

Bowling fast to a big crowd had Lockie Ferguson hooked before he'd even left school.

As a 16-year-old, before a near full house at Wellington's Basin Reserve during an England cricket test in 2008, Ferguson chased the title of New Zealand's quickest secondary school bowler.

An original field of 600, in a nationwide search to find the new Shane Bond, was whittled down to the final few.

A 16-year-old Lockie Ferguson at a 2008 national schools fast bowling competition alongside future Black Caps Jimmy ...

DAVE LINTOTT/PHOTOSPORT

A 16-year-old Lockie Ferguson at a 2008 national schools fast bowling competition alongside future Black Caps Jimmy Neesham, right, and Ben Wheeler, left, at the Basin Reserve.

He ran second, by 1kmh. His conqueror, an Auckland Grammar schoolmate one year ahead, is now a New Zealand team-mate who'll join Ferguson on the plane to Australia next week to defend the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

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Fast bowling is a tough gig, says Lockie Ferguson.

PHOTOSPORT

Fast bowling is a tough gig, says Lockie Ferguson. "You get given a bit of talent in terms of bowling those speeds but being able to do it for a long time and actually stay on the park is a whole other ball game."

"Jimmy [Neesham] actually pipped me," Ferguson recalled.

"That was pretty cool, during a test match down there and we had a full crowd surrounding our run-ups. It was the first time I'd experienced anything like that.

"In the final I was 132kmh and he got 133 with his last ball. He bowled a beamer and he beat me. That's how things go, he was sort of my big brother through school."

The speed gun and Ferguson have flirted ever since, with New Zealand Cricket nodding in approval from afar. In September at Lincoln, for the Emerging Players pre-season matches against the New Zealand XI, the radar confirmed what everyone knew. He can be rapid with Kookaburra in hand.

"They had some software there and I don't know how accurate it was, but I got clocked at 155kmh and 153 which I was pretty happy with. It was coming out OK that day."

The ability to bowl fast is only gifted to a few. Genetics gave Ferguson a strong headstart, with mother Jan a sprinter and netballer and father Doug a rugby playing sporting allrounder.

And in echoes of Ben Wheeler, another future Black Cap who contested that school fast bowling competition, Ferguson scrapped in brutal backyard tests against an older sibling.

Brother Mitch, four years older, was a star at Auckland Grammar.

"My brother was a quick bowler and naturally I wanted to be better than him. Since I was a young fella I tried to bowl quick. I opened the batting too and tried for the best of both worlds.

"I used to play a lot of cricket with his mates, playing against the older boys and we had a lot of very competitive, aggressive backyard battles for sure."

Young Lockie was pitched into the first XI at the end of the fourth form, his pace already turning heads.

But no fast bowler's story is complete without injuries. Ferguson rattles off a few: stress fracture at 18, side strains, torn obliques. Then there was one he thought had ended his career in the 2012-13 season, caused by his back foot landing on his toes.

"I had a foot blowout which was apparently a freak accident. The pressure of one spike must have gone through the joint capsule and it burst and basically messed up all the soft tissue on my right foot.

"I had surgery and was out for four months and there was a lot of talk I might not be able to play again because it might keep blowing out. It took a bit to come back from that, with the rehab and then I was just lucky in the sense that it's holding up allright."

At age 25 Ferguson's career comprises just 22 first-class matches, 14 Twenty20s and eight list-A (50-over) matches. His list-A debut for Auckland was on December 27, 2015 (he took 16 wickets at 28 in eight matches). Less than a year later he could be bowling for the Black Caps in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne.

"I've worked hard at it [bowling fast] for a long time. You get given a bit of talent in terms of bowling those speeds but being able to do it for a long time and actually stay on the park is a whole other ball game.

"I'm fortunate that I have been able to stay on the park lately because I have battled injuries in the past. I try and bowl as fast as I can as accurately as I can. Speed is a big weapon for me so I want to use that to the best of my ability just like guys use swing."

The topic of short-pitched bowling and intimidation is a sensitive one, with a spotlight on concussion and batsman safety. A Ferguson bouncer sidelined Otago's Ryan Duffy this season, then he received a wakeup call when clanged on the helmet by Canterbury's Ed Nuttall last week. It's a tricky but regular discussion topic among the fast bowlers' club.

"Part of the game is we want to be aggressive and we don't want the batsman to be comfortable and if it means bowling short to muck up their footwork and put them out of position then that's what we've got to do to win the game.

"Obviously hitting them in the head, we don't want them to be hurt. A few dents and a few bruises is all good, that can heal. Anything further than that, we don't want any long term damage. It is a bit touchy but I don't think it takes away from how we play the game."

Former Black Cap Andre Adams - another supremely gifted cricketer, straight shooter and combative individual on the field - is now his trusted mentor. They honed his action which has a bit of Adams about it, a medium pace run-up, pause then snap of the shoulder, seam and bounce his weapons at a speed quicker than anyone in New Zealand. It's reaped him 18 Plunket Shield wickets at 22 this season.

Said Ferguson of Adams, the Auckland bowling coach: "We didn't hit it off at the start, we butted heads a little bit and then we became good mates. We've got similar personalities. He's been a huge help, just keeps things simple."

Ferguson's his own man, too. Lauchlan became Lockie as a youngster because he liked the unconventional spelling. He completed a business degree in marketing and worked in advertising - including work on the NZC account - before the on-field action became his fulltime focus. Newly announced in the Black Caps he was one of the best interviews you'd hear from a newcomer. No media training required here.

That big goal of cracking the international ranks was ticked off when Ferguson missed a call from selector Gavin Larsen on Thursday morning before taking the field for Auckland in Rangiora.

"You always dream of getting that phone call and when it happened it was like 's..t this is real'.

"I had to keep it quiet all day, and not even tell my family and I thought 'you're killing me'. But it was all good and I managed to tell the family on [Thursday] night and tell them to keep it secret."

That was tough for father Doug, a golf nut who was in Melbourne's Kingston Heath for the World Cup of Golf and took a call from his excited son. "He was on the 17th hole and he was like 'you beauty' and I could hear the golf going on in the background. He was pretty happy."

Now with Adam Milne sidelined, Ferguson is the fastest gun in black, selected to provide a point of difference in a land that churns out fast bowlers like a production line. He's excited, knows nerves will be a factor but won't be overawed if summoned.

"It's the ultimate challenge and I'm pretty excited to play on some Aussie pitches that hopefully have pace and bounce. I'm confident of competing with these guys and our squad has some serious talent."

And, at last, some serious speed.

 - Stuff

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