YOUNG DASHER: Matt Hartmann cracks another boundary. Whether behind the stumps or batting, Hartmann is always in the game.
YOUNG DASHER: Matt Hartmann cracks another boundary. Whether behind the stumps or batting, Hartmann is always in the game.

The brash youth


WHEN South Services wicketkeeper-batsman first took up cricket playing for his primary school's Under-12 team, by his own admission said: "I was hopeless back then."

Two weeks ago, the 16-year-old scored a brilliant 95no against Westlawn Grafton Hotel in the Bananacoast Community Credit Union Premier League major semi-final to almost single-handedly win the game South.

Hartmann's rise to prominence has been rapid to say the least.

Agile, with a sharp eye and burgeoning array of strokes, Hartmann has graduated to represent various school teams, the North Coast Under-16 team, the Clarence River Cricket Association First XI, picked in the Emerging Blues training squad, currently playing his second season in Premier League and ranks number one in terms of wicketkeeper dismissals.

This weekend Hartmann will be one of the key figures in the young, spirited South team when they again take on Westlawn in the premiership decider at Ellem Oval.

Hartmann comes from a large family, large indeed. Sport has always been part and parcel of his upbringing.

John and Michelle Hartmann have a family of nine ? six boys and two girls.

"I'm right in the middle. My brothers and sisters range from seven to 27 and we've got another one on the way," Hartmann said. "All our cousins are into sport. We're a big sporting family."

Hartmann's brothers are Michael, Luke, Jason, Jack, Joe and Andrew with sisters, Katie and Amy.

"Luke plays third grade cricket, Jack is in the Under-12 North Coast side and Jason used to be right into boxing. He was a State champion," Hartmann said proudly.

"Everyone else, even Mum and Dad, are into some sport or another."

Before taking up cricket, soccer was Hartmann main sporting passion.

"We played a bit of back yard cricket when I was young but I didn't really get into it until I was in primary school," he said. "For some reason I used to be able to keep a bit, then started having a bit of a bat, eventually moving up the order and by the end of Under-14s, my keeping and batting just got better."

The diminutive Hartmann is a conspicuous figure standing behind the stumps, gloving balls with monotonous ease from some of the Valley's fastest bowlers.

Wicketkeeping is a fine art. Normally kids swap and change roles as youngsters, but Hartmann has always been a glove man.

"Brad Robertson (current South first grader) was keeping for our Under-12 side and decided he didn't want to keep doing it," Hartmann said.

"Our coach Les McLennan asked if anyone wanted to take over and I put my hand up. I've been there (behind the stumps) ever since.

"I love keeping. I reckon it helps my batting too.

"You get to see different bowlers' actions and learn what kind of deliveries they're bowling. You get to see the line of the ball and get a general idea of what's happening."

Hartmann attributes a coaching clinic with former Australian wicketkeeper Phil Emery in Yamba last year as a turning point in his career.

"It was terrific. I learned so much," he said. "We learned about footwork and stances.

"Since then I've been much more confident. I've been able to stand up on the stumps to a lot of the medium pacers."

Fortunately Hartmann has avoided major injury to date.

"Yeah you get struck with the ball sometimes but for a wicketkeeper flying bails can be the worst," he said. "Sometimes they fly off and get you in the face or eye. I've had a bung eye before but nothing too much."

The youngster credits his father John and "everyone I've played with" as major influences in his career thus far.

While not yet in the Adam Gilchrist dasher mould, Hartmann has notched two centuries ? both in Under-16s ? but missing a 'ton' against Westlawn, when he ran out of partners, was agonising.

"Oh God, I was spewing," he winced. "I just wanted to get the boys home. I wasn't fussed at the time about the century but a couple of hours later I realised how close I was.

"I thought we had it (a win) in the bag. Everything turned around so quickly.

"It would be nice to get a ton this weekend, win the game and rub it into Westlawn.

"I think we just slipped up a bit last time, lost focus.

"We'll be switched on this time. We've got to back ourselves.

"Last year it was a bit different. We had some more experienced players helping us (the young blokes). There's a great spirit in this team.

"We're not trying to depend on one person. We all get behind each other and chuck in.

Westlawn have won the past three Premier League titles. Hartmann believes it's time for a changing of the guard.

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