Sheffield Shield 2023-24 – Corey Rocchiccioli fights off flu to elevate his case to be Nathan Lyon’s heir

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On day one of the Sheffield Shield final, offspinner Corey Rocchiccioli woke up at 4am with a fever. He was feeling rotten to the core, but with Western Australia bidding for a hat-trick of titles there was no way he was going to remain bedridden.

“I was a little bit iffy…but came to my senses that if I was to pull out I’ve got five days of watching the boys hopefully win,” Rocchiccioli said. “I just wanted to contribute. I said, ‘Roll up and cop it. Just push through and [there is] plenty of time to relax after the final’.”

Rocchiccioli grittily took his place and was thankful that Tasmania decided to send WA into bat as he enjoyed precious rest on day one. When it was his time to bowl, Rocchiccioli produced a lionhearted effort with 22 overs on a pivotal day two and claimed the only two wickets in the middle session to thwart Tasmania, who could never recover.

Rocchiccioli finished with 4 for 48 from 28 overs to help WA gain a decisive 161 first-innings lead. His effort was even more heroic with Rocchiccioli also battling cramps in both his calves.

“It was pretty hard at times. At one stage I went through a litre of lemonade to get some sugar back into me,” he said. “I managed to get through it. Playing in a Shield final, you’ve got no excuses. You roll up and do your job. I found a way and that’s what makes me happy.”

Rocchiccioli helped WA clinch their third straight title in remarkable fashion when he tore through Tasmania’s lower-order just before the scheduled close of play on day four. He finished with 3 for 55 to punctuate a performance that might have been Shield cricket’s equivalent to basketball legend Michael Jordan’s famous flu game.

“I might have called it early doors,” he laughed when asked if the final was the ‘Corey Rocchiccioli flu game’. “I always joke and laughingly say that when I’m sick, I’m sort of out of my own head a little bit.”

Rocchiccioli’s affable personality might soon make him something of a cult figure in Australian cricket as he starts to make a serious claim to being the successor to Nathan Lyon in the Test team. He outshined Todd Murphy, who performed well in six Tests last year, during the season as competition heats up with Australia scheduled for a Test tour of Sri Lanka early next year.

Rocchiccioli finished the season with 46 wickets at an average of 27.60. Only Ashley Mallett and Greg Matthews have taken more wickets in a Shield season for right-arm finger spinners. Rocchiccioli has become a WACA specialist, and also performed more consistently on the east coast surfaces, as he utilised his 6 foot 3 [1.9m] frame to generate awkward bounce, while he can deceive batters through canny drift.

His performances would have caught the attention of national selector Tony Dodemaide, who was in the stands during the match.

“I was so sick that I stayed away from him [Dodemaide] as much as possible,” Rocchiccioli joked. “Gaz [Lyon] has the spot, Murph is probably ahead of me at the moment. My job is to take wickets for Western Australia, so it’s pretty simple as knock down the door and take the opportunity if it ever comes.

“Expectations I’ve probably put on myself are higher than anyone’s ever going to put on me. Obviously I want to play for Australia, but right now it doesn’t bother me too much.”

Rocchiccioli’s outstanding performances have consigned left-arm spinner Ashton Agar to the outer for WA. Agar’s last first-class match was the SCG Test between Australia and South Africa in January 2023, with his red-ball future in doubt. But Rocchiccioli paid an emotional tribute to Agar, who is his club cricket teammate and close friend.

“One of our [WA] values is humility. And if you ever want to see [that] exemplified it’s Ash Agar. He’s looked after me like I’m his little brother,” a teary-eyed Rocchiccioli said. “Even [on day four], I wasn’t bowling at my best, he came out and gave me a couple of tips that I could get my bowling back on track.

“I’m sure he wanted to be out there, but he kept showing up and kept giving me all the love…the respect.”

Rocchiccioli, 26, has something of the Midas touch having been part of a hat-trick of titles in his first three seasons. This overwhelming success was beyond his wildest dreams with Rocchiccioli not coming through WA’s strong pathway program. In his early 20s he worked at Bunnings – a prevalent hardware store in Australia – and also studied a sports science degree.

“I was able to contribute in the role that I had to play the whole year, which makes it the best out of the three [titles],” he said. “I’ve got three Sheffield Shield titles at 26. Yeah, this is pretty cool.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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