“Who is this guy?”
Usman Khawaja, watching from the Australian Test team’s hotel room in Bangalore, was in disbelief as Scorchers teenager Cooper Connolly smacked his second six over the mid-wicket boundary during the Big Bash League final at Perth Stadium.
The 19-year-old, playing just his fourth BBL match, plundered an unbeaten 25 (11) against the Brisbane Heat to help the Scorchers chase the 176-run target with four balls to spare on Saturday evening.
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Khawaja wasn’t the only one asking where this kid came from — Connolly had only faced 11 deliveries in Big Bash cricket before the dramatic five-wicket victory, spending most of the season running drinks on the sidelines.
Yet, chants of “Cooper, Cooper” echoed around the venue as Connolly collected his premiership medal — anyone unfamiliar with the young gun before Saturday’s thrilling finale certainly knows about him now.
“Talk about cult heroes, he’s just absolutely made himself one,” Scorchers teammate Cameron Bancroft told Fox Cricket.
“It will go down as one of the best cameos to win a game.”
The Scorchers were in dire straits when Connolly waltzed to the crease in the 17th over, with captain Ashton Turner (53 from 32 balls) back in the sheds following a cataclysmic run-out.
The hosts needed 38 runs from 18 balls for victory with two new batters in the middle, one of which had never cleared the boundary rope at Big Bash level.
But Connolly was up for the challenge — facing Heat paceman James Bazley, he cleared the front leg and slapped his second delivery over long-off for six, prompting roars from the 53,886 spectators.
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Unfazed by the mounting pressure, he then pulled a short delivery through the vacant mid-wicket region before the game-changing moment — a booming six that sent the Perth crowd into a frenzy and ensured he became a household name in the West Australian capital.
The left-hander had raced to 19 in seven balls, and the Scorchers were suddenly in the box seat with 20 runs required from the final two overs.
Nick Hobson got the job done at the other end, and the Scorchers were crowned Big Bash League champions for a fifth time.
“You talk about fairytales, you could not dream this stuff up,” former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist said on Fox Cricket.
“I sent Cooper Connolly a message yesterday, last night. I just said, ‘All the best, you’ve done everything you can. Just go out and enjoy it’.
“He messaged back and said, ‘I can’t wait to go out and soak it all up’. He’s got a lifetime memory there.”
Injured Scorchers all-rounder Mitchell Marsh revealed that Connolly had predicted he would emerge the final’s hero before the first ball.
“I said to him before the game today, ‘If you get an opportunity, make sure you take the game on, enjoy yourself, enjoy this crowd’,” Marsh told Fox Cricket.
“He turned around to me and said, ‘Don’t worry mate, I’ll be there at the end with my arms up in the air’.”
Cooper, who has been dubbed a “surf rat” by his teammates, captained Australia at last year’s Under-19 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies but struggled with the bat during the tournament, scoring 73 runs in six matches.
The young all-rounder, who plays grade cricket for Scarborough, served as a substitute fielder during Australia’s recent Test against the West Indies at Perth Stadium, but is yet to make his first-class debut.
However, a Sheffield Shield debut beckons, and Turner has no doubt that Cooper is destined for higher honours.
“We’re trying to develop players to play for Australia and we want to make this competition the toughest competition it can be,” Turner told reporters after Saturday’s triumph.
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“We want players who are battle-hardened and ready for the international stage.
“What better opportunity than the Big Bash final to throw your name up in lights. Someone like Cooper who’s probably been starved of opportunity in all formats to have the confidence to put into practice what he’s been working on behind the scenes.
“There are a lot of good players who have the skill that play at this level, but can you translate that in big moments and big games into outcomes and win games for your team? That’s the question on everyone’s lips, and I think he’s answered that pretty comprehensively tonight.
“When you put your name in lights, then opportunities might present themselves.”
Cooper, who joked that he doesn’t expect to pay for a beer in Perth this weekend, had nothing but praise for his teammates and the record crowd that braved the heat to support him.
“It just gives me that extra boost that I can play at this level,” Cooper told reporters after the match.
“A couple of games ago I wasn’t too sure and this was like I can play on the big stage and I’m confident in myself that I can perform under pressure.
“Not many 19-year-olds get to play in front of 50,000 so I’m just here to soak it all in and enjoy the moment.
“I’m so grateful for the crowd because they helped us get over the line.”
— with Catherine Healey
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