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ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024: Pace-loving Callum Vidler will let his skills do the talking in crunch semi-final

Callum Vidler (Photo Source: Twitter)

A decade ago, a wide-eyed eight-year-old watched awestruck as a fearsome Mitchell Johnson curled up his moustache, stared down the English batters and returned with a bucketload of wickets in the home Ashes. 

When Ryan Harris’ corker had Alastair Cook dismissed off the first ball of the innings in the Perth Test, that young boy made a decision. He wanted to steam in with the ball in hand, and just bowl fast.

Today Callum Vidler is doing just that. And doing it well. He’s making heads turn at the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024, leading Australia’s wicket charts at the tournament. A large portion of Australia’s hopes of winning the title rests on him. 

“It’s hard not to be inspired to become a fast bowler watching that as a young kid,” Vidler tells ICC. 

“I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that’, you know? Bowl fast. Just run in and bowl fast. Watching them was my initial inspiration to take up cricket and fast bowling.”

Having been inspired to take up the ball by Johnson and Harris, Vidler went from backyard cricket through the ranks at Queensland, picking the brains of former Australia star Andy Bichel along the way, and more recently, Queensland’s Hamish Bennett. 

“They have been helping me keep it nice and simple, and bowl my best ball and back myself to deliver and hopefully change a game,” he says. 

Throughout his rise through age-group ranks, one thing remained constant – that love for fast bowling. It’s the “whole point” of taking up fast bowling, says the young Australian tearaway: Bowling fast.

“If anyone ever tells me to slow down, I am not listening to them,” he says. 

“Pace is my point of difference, my best attribute. I have also been learning to use it wisely, not having just pace, to swing the ball, using my variations and all. But if someone told me to slow down, it’s never working. The whole point is to bowl fast.”

Vidler says he clocked 143kph a few months before and believes he might be even faster now. He’s also picked up a few things additionally, like learning to ruffle up batters with the short ball every once in a while or pitching it right up with the new ball in pursuit of swing.

In the Super Six fixture against England, Vidler dismantled the opposition within the first ten overs of the chase by picking up four wickets. With overcast conditions in Kimberley, Vidler pitched the ball up to dismiss Theo Wylie and Ben McKinney, and then used the surprise short ball to send back Noah Thain and Hamza Sheikh. 

For someone who watched Johnson run in and bounce out batters with his intimidating pace, Vidler is a lot more subdued with his aggression. He aims to hit the right areas, attack the stumps and force errors with the odd variation in length. It’s what he did against England in what was his best performance in the tournament so far.

“In the first 10 overs I look to swing the ball and try and attack the stumps, but I also like using the bumper to surprise the batter and not get predictable with my length,” Vidler explains.

The youngster’s discipline is evident from his numbers too. No bowler in the ongoing tournament has a better bowling average than Vidler’s 7.81. The 11 wickets he has taken has come at a miserly economy of 3.55. 

Vidler, however, is quick to insist that that is a product of teamwork. “We have bowled our best when we have built pressure as a unit,” he says. 

“Tom Straker, Charlie Anderson haven’t quite been lucky in the wickets department, but they have built the pressure. And Mahli [Beardman] and myself have been able to be rewarded with a few wickets. Early on, we want to build pressure by attacking the stumps and keeping the heat on.”

Johnson and Harris might have inspired Vidler to take up fast bowing, but the 18-year-old models himself around Australia captain Pat Cummins – the nice guy who turns up and devours batters with immaculate skill. 

“In my younger teenage years, watching Pat Cummins, with his skill and pace, just being a class above everyone else, it’s inspired me and I definitely look up to him,” Vidler says.

He followed the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup final in India where Cummins led his side to a memorable title triumph and hopes to do something similar in South Africa with the junior team. 

“Hopefully we can continue the track record of Australia doing great in ICC tournaments,” he says, adding that his immediate focus was on the semi-final against Pakistan. 

His impeccable discipline with the ball and maturity on the field extends beyond cricket – Vidler is keen to pursue further studies alongside cricket. “My mom encourages me to keep studying and I put my head down at the final exams in school.

“It’s been crazy to then come over here and potentially play cricket for a living. I will be going back to study in the University and playing cricket alongside. I just want a course to fall back on because the competition is heavy and as a fast bowler, injuries are always a concern. It’s just the way it is.”

On Thursday, however, everything else will take a back seat as he goes up against a strong Pakistan side. It is a tough clash against a team that has come through difficult matches in the tournament, but Vidler believes that Australia’s strength – their bond and unity as a group – will see them through. 

“You recall the first game against Namibia? We thought we had done pretty well with the ball,” he says. “Bowled them out for 90-odd runs. But then, in the run-chase, there were a bit of nerves. 

“We wanted to probably chase it down quickly, but then wickets started falling. That was possibly our only hiccup in the batting department so far this tournament. But we came through that as a group. It won’t happen again.”

The unity has been forged through tough tours and predicaments on and off the field. “Pretty much all of our squad members have known each other before. The tour of England – playing ODI and red-ball games against another U19 side helped a lot,” he says. 

“It was the first away tour for cricket for a lot of us. You don’t just learn on the field with these trips, a lot of the learning happens off the field too. It’s helped the team bond, looking out for each other and ourselves on the tour.”

If unity is Australia’s strength, Pakistan will rely on strong individuals who have stepped up time and again in the tournament. 

Vidler believes the pacer Ubaid Shah, in particular, will be a big threat. “Pakistan have an awesome pace attack,” Vidler says. “Ubaid, Naseem Shah’s brother, has been taking many wickets and stepping up in the big games. 

“There are a few other tall guys, it’s going to be a great battle. But we believe our quicks can out-do their fast bowlers. The battle between us and their batters will be an intriguing one.”

Does he want to send an early warning to the Pakistan batters? “We are very confident of winning the semis, but I am not going to send out any message to the Pakistan batters though,” Vidler laughs.

“We want to have a crack at their batters and stick to our skills. But no message. I don’t think I have any intimidation in me. I am not tall enough or scary enough. I just want to focus on my cricket.”

Given how the tournament has gone for him, that’s all he needs to do. 

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