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Most teenagers opening the batting with Will Pucovski in Premier Cricket would be happy just to be gracing the field with a Test player let alone feel the need to give advice — but not gun young cricketer turned AFL draft prospect Harry DeMattia.
The pair were opening the batting for Melbourne in Pucovski’s eagerly awaited comeback to competitive cricket in January last year. Twelve months earlier, Pucovski made his only appearance to date in the baggy green.
Dandenong’s Harry DeMattia is also an excellent cricketer.Credit: AFL Photos
Undaunted by his more experienced and accomplished teammate, DeMattia played the role more befitting a seasoned pro than a 16-year-old in only his second game of first grade, calming down Pucovski, who was returning from a shoulder reconstruction and another head knock.
“He was a bit on edge and agitated,” DeMattia said. “I told him to just breathe and focus on the next ball and stay in the present. Between balls and after overs we’d talk about cricket and completely different stuff other than cricket to try and get his mind off it and have a laugh.
“He said he was very happy and grateful I did that.”
Anyone familiar with the work of cricket satirists The Grade Cricketer or the supposed pecking order in a cricket dressing room would appreciate how DeMattia’s actions had the potential to upset the status quo. In this world, baggy green No.460 is the alpha male, and a kid with DeMattia’s lack of experience a part of the pack.
What this anecdote does reveal about him is an emotional intellect beyond his precious years to recognise a teammate’s vulnerability, the confidence to speak up and address it, and the empathy to deliver in a manner receptive to a senior peer.
They are traits that will hold DeMattia in good stead in this year’s draft, so too the lessons he learned being part of a high-performance program in another code.
If DeMattia’s selection in junior state teams and national pathways squads does not convince you of his ability, consider that he outscored Pucovski – 48 not out off 61 balls to 40 off 68.
Cricket Australia thought highly enough of him to give him the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being the 13th man for last year’s Boxing Day Test against South Africa.
His duties included running drinks and shoes out to the team, delivering bats to Marnus Labuschagne, and donning a mitt to take warm-up balls for Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc. He was David Warner’s partner for a game of spikeball against Steve Smith and Labuschagne, and came oh so close to taking the field for Cameron Green, who had left the field for a bathroom break in between overs. Not wanting to disappoint, he even signed autographs for kids.
“I remember when I was in their position back in the day, I wouldn’t care who was signing them,” DeMattia said. “If it’s someone out there walking around with drinks I’d love it.”
His take home message from watching Steve Smith and Labuschagne bat for six hours on Christmas Day was that “perfect practice makes perfect”.
“It was pretty special,” DeMattia said of his short stint with the Test team. “They embraced me and accepted me and made me feel part of it, which was great.
“It was always a dream to put on the baggy green for Australia, and that’s probably as close as you can get to it.”
If his football career goes according to plan, it will be.
Cricket and footy had happily co-existed for DeMattia, his allegiances switching depending on seasons, but that changed during the COVID-19 years of 2020-21.
“We missed those two footy seasons, that’s when I realised I wanted to be an AFL footballer,” DeMattia said.
Appointed captain for Dandenong Stingrays in the NAB League, DeMattia’s on-field leadership has caught the eye of recruiters. Blessed with pace, the left-footer can play defence, midfield and forward.
He has Carlton in his blood. His maternal grandfather, John Defteros, played in the seconds for the Blues during Serge Silvagni’s days. His paternal grandfather grew up in Carlton. He was in the stands for the semi-final win over Melbourne. He would love to become a Blue but would be happy just to be drafted.
And if he doesn’t?
“I’ve always got cricket to fall back to,” De Mattia said.
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