By Tyler Lewis
At the crease is where every batsman wants to spend his Saturday, unless James Nanopoulos is at the top of his mark.
Nanopoulos is in sublime form and is closing in on the Dandenong Cricket Club’s wicket record – currently held by Roger Gill with 313 scalps.
As a youngster, Nanopoulos lived and breathed cricket, and it wasn’t long before he was spotted by Dandenong club champion Warren Ayres. Ayres welcomed Nanopoulos to the first XI with a clinical batting display – with three tons in his first three games as youngster.
“As a kid growing up, cricket was always on the TV in summer and footy in the winter. Every Christmas photo there is a photo of me with a new bat,” he said.
“I always tried to do everything – I love fast bowling, even though I am not fast, I like watching the fast bowlers go about it.
“I love batting just as much as well.
“I came down (to Dandenong) in 2004, there was an open day and I got an invitation from Warren Ayres and played the next season and that was it.
“After he (Ayres) came off in my first game, after he made 190 – he came up to me and goes ‘you haven’t seen me bat before have you?’, I said ‘no I haven’t really’, he goes ‘it is pretty good isn’t it’ – I didn’t know what to say really, I thought spot on and then the next two games he made hundreds as well so I was like yeah he is unbelievable.
“All the old blokes just said ‘yeah that’s Warren’, he knew he was good and he was good, we couldn’t believe it, we just thought yeah there is ‘Ayresy’ making another hundred, it was more a surprise when he went out early than when he made a hundred.”
Despite closing in on the milestone, Nanopoulos still shakes off the title of the Panthers’ best ever bowler, while saying he had no idea he would reach the record when he picked up Shaun Craig and Rob Quiney as his first scalps as a fresh-faced debutant.
“I don’t think I am the best ever bowler – there has been much better than me, I just didn’t go to a higher level,” he said.
“All the Pattinsons and Siddles have gone on to represent Australia and Victoria a lot more, so it won’t really sink in until I have retired, it is kind of bittersweet, not being able to play any higher but also being able to play for 15 years for Dandenong and enjoy every minute of it.
“I never would’ve thought coming as a batsman who never bowled much my first four or five years, it has been a long road but very enjoyable.”
Although being a consistent performer at Victorian Premier Cricket level, often one of the first picked in the Team of The Year at season’s end, Nanopoulos never was granted the opportunity to play for his state, although he was keen to.
“Absolutely – if you are not aiming to play as high as you can what is the reason for playing nine months of the year and training for no real benefit?” he said.
“You go to Premier Cricket to play as high as you can, to try and get far as possible, but I reached my pinnacle unfortunately.
“Something I can’t really control, but to play with ‘Sidds’(Peter Siddle), ‘Jimmy’ (Pattinson) and Darren (Pattinson) and all the other international blokes we have had over the years has been fantastic.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better time in my life than my 15 years at Dandenong.”
Over his time at Dandenong, Nanopoulos has made some lifelong friendships – none more-so than another successful Panther who bowls and bats with similar style and aggression.
“I am pretty close with Jimmy (Pattinson) – we are pretty much the same age and we have a lot of stuff outside of cricket in common,” he said.
“We have got to know each other pretty well over the past 15 years – he is a great fella.
“It has been more satisfying watching him get back and reach his pinnacle with all the injuries he has had than other blokes who may have been getting an easier ride.
“To watch him work his way back from Premier Cricket nearly every time – come back and help us out as much possible then go on to bigger and better things – has been fantastic.”
This season, Nanopoulos is claiming poles for fun – including snagging career-best figures of 7/43 against Geelong.
But while his numbers suggest he is in career-best form and is a raging-hot favourite to take home the Panthers’ prodigious McArdle Medal, Nanopoulos believes he has just reaped the rewards this year without his form changing drastically from previous seasons.
“I think my past three or four years have been really consistent,” he said.
“Obviously I have taken a fair few wickets this year, but I have probably bowled better.
“I have been able to get a few more rewards this year, which has been nice.
“Over the past three or four years I have been pretty consistent with my bowling and I have been able to contribute a fair bit, which has been good.”
James Nanopoulos has claimed 24 first XI wickets so far this season – six more than the next best (Carlton’s Evan Gulbis with 18) – but more importantly he is only seven wickets from the club record, and will no doubt be ticking that milestone off sooner rather than later.