When City United No.3 Tom Fitzgerald walks to the crease in a one-dayer against South Tamworth at Riverside 1 on Saturday, he will do so with a newly sourced confidence that has suddenly made him one of the competition’s most prized wickets.
The “very nervous” 16-year-old who played his first full season of top grade in 2015-16 has become a confident 19-year-old who has benefited greatly from a stint last year with Yorkshire-based amateur club Filey in the Bekkit League’s division one.
It was a life-enhancing experience in the north of the county, where he initially strained to understand the accent but allowed a new culture to wash over him, leaving an indelible mark.
In essence, the boy has become the man, and the unremarkable batting average of 22 last season has become an eye-catching 50.8 this season.
In eight first-grade innings this season he has scored 305 runs, with a career-best highest score of 122. His previous highest score was 73, which he made in 2016/17.
This season he has also scored 69 and 53 not out. Only North Tamworth skipper Brendan Rixon (393) and West Tamworth skipper David Mudaliar (321) have scored more runs in 2017-18.
The player who had searched “too hard” for big scores and was “scared” of getting out now “plays balls on their merits”. “I’m really happy with the way I’m playing at the moment,” he said. “I think it [the Filey stint] was very influential.”
“I’m thinking about the game a lot differently,” he added. “It’s more about the game situation, when it’s okay to be aggressive, when it’s not okay. I’m playing a lot better.”
City United captain Brad Smith said Fitzgerald returned from England a more “patient” player who “excelled at putting away bad balls”.
“He has really matured as a batsman, and I’m chuffed for him,” Smith wrote in a text. “I think he has done enough to secure a red cap (a Central North birth) for next year but time will tell.”
Aside from Fitzgerald himself, the biggest beneficiary of this palpable maturity spike has been City United.
When City beat Bective East in round one on October 7, it was their first win since the opening round of the 2015-16 season. City’s defeat of Bective at No.1 Oval last Saturday was their third win for the season. They are less than five points behind fourth-placed North Tamworth.
Fitzgerald said: “I feel a lot more confident. And I feel the City team at the moment feels very confident of making the finals. We’re very much in contention. If we play like we did against Bective last week, we can make the top four and do very well this season.”
Fitzgerald – a tennis coach at Northwest Tennis Academy – will return to Filey this year, marking four seasons of non-stop cricket.