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Change in role serves Copeland well

It might seem strange given his outstanding performances with the ball for Northamptonshire, but it is not all that long since Trent Copeland was aiming to carve out a career as a wicketkeeper-batsman.

The tall Australian flew back to his homeland this weekend, having concluded a hugely successful two-month stint at Wantage Road by moving level with Worcestershire’s Alan Richardson as the leading wicket-taker in Division Two of the LV= County Championship.

In seven first-class appearances for Northants, who have established a healthy early lead in the race for promotion to the top-flight, Copeland picked up 36 scalps at 16.25, a record that appears even more impressive when you consider his first three outings yielded only five breakthroughs.

He also leaves England as the most prolific bowler in the Yorkshire Bank 40 with 14 wickets, yet such success could hardly have been anticipated a few years ago, when Copeland was struggling to convince his third-grade skipper in Sydney to give him a bowl.

In an exclusive interview with ecb.co.uk prior to his flight home, the 27-year-old said: “When I first came down to Sydney after I left school I was originally playing third grade as a wicketkeeper-batsman.

“I did that for a good three or four years, then when I was about 20, 21, I decided to give away the keeping gloves. I had broken too many fingers and there wasn’t really an avenue for me to progress there, so I just gave the gloves away to focus on my batting.

“Next year our captain, who hadn’t bowled me even though I had hassled him and hassled him, had to go to a wedding early on a rain-affected day and I hounded the caretaker captain to give me a bowl. He did and I took a few wickets that day, three for one or something like that.

“I ended up opening the bowling in the third-grade team that won the premiership for St George, took 50-60 wickets and was playing first-grade the following season.”

Copeland has since enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence and his impressive performances for New South Wales were recognised when he was called into Australia’s Test team in 2011.

In three matches on unresponsive Sri Lankan wickets, the seamer played a useful holding role - taking six wickets, including the scalp of Tillakaratne Dilshan, pictured below, and maintaining an economy rate of just over two.

However, he has not been called on by his country since, perhaps surprisingly given his excellent first-class bowling average of 24.

Rather than expressing bitterness towards Australia’s selectors, Copeland remains upbeat when assessing his international career.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t continue to play, but that’s cricket isn’t it? I’d like to play again for my country but if that doesn’t happen no-one can take that baggy green away from me and I’m extremely proud to have got one,” he added.

“There weren’t many injuries, if any, so I was really happy that I was able to represent my country at a time when everyone was fit and available, (but) since I made my debut, guys like James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc have come in and done extremely well.

“Over the last 10 years it has been very much about fast bowlers and guys who bump that 90mph mark and hit the deck hard, so I guess I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved so far and, for it to happen so quickly, it certainly wasn’t my expectation.”

Copeland also concedes he did not expect to make such a stunning impact at Northants.

A rangy seamer operating in a similar manner to countryman Steve Magoffin, who has enjoyed similar success with Sussex, Copeland adapted quickly to English conditions and formed part of a devastating seam attack with David Willey and Steven Crook.

The trio already boast a combined tally of 91 championship wickets - together with an abundance of lower-order runs - and Copeland believes Northants will continue to flourish in his absence, such is their strength in depth.

“I couldn’t have really asked for a better time over here,” he admitted.

“I wanted to pull myself out of my comfort zone. I could quite easily have just sat at home and played the domestic season with New South Wales like I do each year, but I think I needed to become a better cricketer and I’ve tried to come out of my comfort zone in different conditions, with the Duke’s ball, and slower, lower wickets over here. I’m really thrilled with how it’s gone.”

He continued: “I have no doubt that the team can continue to prosper. The whole bowling unit has really worked well - and I think we’ve got the bowling depth there with Muhammad Azhar Ullah, Lee Daggett, Luke Evans and Olly Stone.

“We’ve got lots of guys there waiting in the wings to come in and be a part of that unit, so I’ve got no doubt they will be able to keep it up once I’ve gone.

“I’d love to be able to stay and continue what we’ve started, but it’s one of those things where there are so many issues within cricket. It’s not just (a case of) turning up to a game and playing. My season back home has to be the priority and I’ve got to get my physical and mental state right for a long season back home, where I need to perform.”

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