INTERVIEW: Sam Whiteman out to make most of ‘awesome opportunity’ at Northants

Sam Whiteman is determined to make the most of the 'awesome opportunity' he has been handed by Northamptonshire to fulfil his dream of playing in the English County Championship.
Sam Whiteman has joined Northamptonshire for the 2023 seasonSam Whiteman has joined Northamptonshire for the 2023 season
Sam Whiteman has joined Northamptonshire for the 2023 season

A Yorkshireman by birth, Western Australia skipper Whiteman has always dreamed of playing a full season of county cricket, but the chance had never come up until he received a call from Northants before Christmas.

And it didn't take him long to make up his mind on the offer to turn out for a five-month stint at the County Ground.

"I got a phone call back in about December and I was offered the opportunity to come over for the summer and play in the County Championship and one-day stuff," said Whiteman.

Sam Whiteman is looking forward to his first season in English cricketSam Whiteman is looking forward to his first season in English cricket
Sam Whiteman is looking forward to his first season in English cricket

"It's an awesome opportunity and something I have always wanted to do, and I want to try to make the most of it.

"I have played a couple of years of club cricket over here, once when I was 18 and one when I was about 26, but my career has been an interesting one.

"I started as a wicket-keeper, and then finger injuries turned me into an opening batsman, and it's probably only the past two or three years that I have really got close to working out opening the batting and trying to score 100s.

"So this is the first time the chance has come up to play in England and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Hopefully I can repay the club by scoring some runs."

Sam Whiteman has captained Western Australia to Sheffield Shield success for the past two yearsSam Whiteman has captained Western Australia to Sheffield Shield success for the past two years
Sam Whiteman has captained Western Australia to Sheffield Shield success for the past two years

It hasn't been the greatest of starts in terms of runs for the 31-year-old, with just one half-century from six innings, but he is here for the long term and will be aiming to succeed in Northampton.

But it must be something of a shock to the system to be playing under a hot sun at the WACA in Perth one week, and then under a chilly, grey April sky in the UK a matter of days later?

"It has been a huge change, especially as I am someone who has played at the WACA a lot where your first instinct is to go back and you try not to come forward as much as possible," said the left-hander.

"It is probably the complete opposite on these wickets, where if you go back a lot you are going to get bowled or trapped lbw.

Sam Whiteman will also play for the Steelbacks in the One Day CupSam Whiteman will also play for the Steelbacks in the One Day Cup
Sam Whiteman will also play for the Steelbacks in the One Day Cup

"So that has been the hardest adjustment for me and I am still making a conscious effort in training to try and get forward, and I am getting there."

It was only in mid-March that Whiteman was leading WA to a second successive Sheffield Shield title, but he had to quickly switch his attentions to a new life on the other side of the world, and says he is already beginning to feel at home.

"I was a quick turnaround between seasons, and I probably only had about eight or nine days between games, and that first game down in Kent when it was wet and miserable, that hurt a little bit," he admitted.

"But I have been in Northampton a while now, I have got the house set up, I'm getting into a bit of a routine, and everybody at the club has been really nice and made me feel very welcome."

Sam Whiteman has scored one half-century for Northamptonshire so farSam Whiteman has scored one half-century for Northamptonshire so far
Sam Whiteman has scored one half-century for Northamptonshire so far

Whiteman, whose family have now arrived to join him in Northampton, is of course not the first Australian left-hander to rock up at the County Ground, the move working out well for Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey back in the 2000s.

Indeed Whiteman's move to Northampton was given the seal of approval by Hussey, a fellow WA man.

"I did speak to Huss at one of the Big Bash games," revealed Whiteman.

"And he did speak very highly of county cricket, and Northants as well. I also spoke to Matt Kelly who was here last year, and he said the same thing.

"He was really complimentary of the club and the group, and I am enjoying everything so far."

Being an overseas signing carries with it a weight of expectation, as the pressure is on to perhaps perform to an even higher level than those around you. But Whiteman says it is all just part of the job.

"You always have that expectation as a professional cricketer, that you want to do well," he said. "So coming into a new team, you want to prove to your team-mates that you are good enough to be here.

"But on the other side of the coin, you have the whole summer so you try not to put too much pressure on yourself and just let things happen naturally."

So will he be setting himself any targets?

"When I was younger I used to set a lot of personal goals, but now it is more around doing my role in the team," he said. "Whether that is trying to graft through the new ball, and that even if you are not cashing in, the lower order get the benefit of facing an older ball.

"Ideally, hundreds are nice, but as I have gotten older the focus has been more on the team, and helping the team."

A big bonus for Whiteman about his spell with Northants is that he is going to be able to spend time with the English leg of his family.

Born in Doncaster, Whiteman moved with his family to Australia when he was a toddler, and revealed he has already returned to his birthplace.

"I have been," said Whiteman. "In between the Kent and Middlesex games I ducked up there for a night, because my dad still lives there, and my grandma. I went up there and it was nice.

"My dad moved back to Doncaster basically when I first started playing professional cricket about 10 years ago. So he pretty much hasn't really seen me play, and he came down last week to watch which was great.

"He also drove down to Kent, and I said to him 'that's a long way to come', and he said 'well I normally have to fly for 20 hours', which is a fair point!"Sam still has a big Australia ambition

Sam Whiteman is still dreaming of making his Test debut for Australia.

The left-handed opener, who turned 31 last month, has in the past represented the Australia A side but has yet to break into the senior set-up, and that ambition is still very much on his bucket list.

Whiteman, who in March skippered his state side Western Australia to a second successive Sheffield Shield title, has joined Northants for the 2023 season.

It is his first professional season in English cricket, and he admits he would love to follow in the footsteps of two fellow Aussies who starred for Northants before going on to become Baggy Green legends.

Matt Hayden and Mike Hussey both shone in separate spells at Wantage Road before breaking on to the international scene and going on to enjoy brilliant careers for Australia, and Whiteman is hoping he can do likewise.

Asked if he still has ambitions to play Test cricket for his country, Whiteman said: "Anybody who plays professional cricket is kidding themselves if they don't have that desire any more, and I am definitely no different.

"Being an opening batsman you are always only half a decent season away from banging the door down, and I would love to play for Australia.

"This (playing for Northants) is a great opportunity for me to play cricket all-year round, experience different conditions as well, with the Dukes ball swinging around a lot, and it seems to be swinging nicely this year.

"So this is a great opportunity for me to get better as a cricketer, hopefully win some games for Northants and see where it takes me."