There’s 50 balls in a bucket. It takes 10 minutes to finish one round in the bowling machine. Repeat for two-and-a-half hours every day, bar 10, over three years in a home-built cricket net at Cardiff South.
“You can do the math there, but that’s a lot of cricket balls,” 19-year-old NSW batsman Jason Sangha told the Newcastle Herald.
“There’s some sort of rule, you improve something if you repeat it 10,000 times and I reckon I’ve practiced cover drives more than 10,000 times on that.”
Roughly, that’s facing 813, 750 balls. And they’re just the ones in the backyard between the ages of 14 and 17.
Not to mention hitting across the road in the community nets at Ulinga Oval, junior practice at Warners Bay or Southern Lakes, senior sessions at grade club Wallsend, representative commitments with various Newcastle sides and school cameos at Hunter Sports High.
But at the heart of it all was the backyard net, a field of dreams running out of the garage. Primarily a training facility but also housing many a sporting battle – cricket, soccer, hockey, touch footy and whatever else – with the likes of best mate Joe as well as neighbours Josh and Lachlan.
“I look back at most of my early teenage years when I was in Newcastle and that net has so many memories,” Sangha said.
However, it was the love, sweat and tears behind the backyard net that have enabled Sangha to move beyond Newcastle, into the senior state squad and within reach of earning a coveted baggy green cap.
This year’s Australian under-19 World Cup captain finished school in 2017 and has secured full-time professional contracts with both the Blues and recently Big Bash League T20 franchise the Sydney Thunder, but says family remains a major influence.
His father Kuldip and mother Sylvia regularly play virtual tag-team along the M1 Pacific Motorway between their son’s new Sydney base in the eastern suburbs and their popular Indian restaurant chain in Newcastle, featuring Raj’s Corner on Beaumont Street.
Older sibling Sharon left work early from the state capital’s CBD last month and caught an Uber to Moore Park to see her brother notch up his maiden Sheffield Shield century at the SCG.
“Cricket means just playing for my family,” the level-headed teenager said.
“Playing for everyone that has helped me to get where I am today. I think I just play for them.”
Physically, it was dad Kuldip who made the backyard net a reality after the summer of 2012-13, as he orchestrated the renovation of an unlikely, slanted and garden-dominated space into a cricket haven. He even introduced modifications along the way to reduce the amount of noise up against the metal framework and rubber padding.
“If I showed you a photo of what our backyard was like before that, you wouldn’t believe it,” Sangha said.
“I don’t know how we got a cricket net in that area. I remember when he first told me, I thought he was joking and thought ‘well that’s not going to happen’.”
In the years prior, Kuldip purchased a bowling machine. It was dad who would muscle it around.
And of course Kuldip was sending down all those thousands of balls, one at a time, occasionally by throwing but most often feeding the machine.
Mentally, those lessons have struck a chord with Sangha. A hard work ethic and the ability to find a way. Much like his old man did when younger, secretly trying to pursue athletics in native Punjab.
“I look at someone like my dad, who was a national champion in India for running, 200 and 400 metres,” Sangha said.
“Back then, in those times in India, sport wasn’t as big and it was more pursuing an education. In a family of eight, he used to wake up at 3am and go for a run with no shoes on, just barefoot. Twenty kilometres up and 20 kilometres back. Then sneak back home, quietly get into bed and go back to sleep. I reckon his parents and all the family only knew about five years after that.”
Now, Sangha wants to repay the faith showed in him by his father.
“He [Kuldip] almost made it,” Sangha said. “I realise how close he was to literally going to the Olympics. So what playing sport means to me is probably trying to take him on that journey of what it is to be a professional athlete.”
Sangha finds himself in the midst of that journey.
Many have touted him as the “next big thing” in Australian cricket, such is his potential with willow in hand.
His prowess was identified at an early age, making his first grade debut at 13 just a few years after arriving in Newcastle. District chairman Paul Marjoribanks said Randwick-born Sangha always seemed “destined”.
Not long after, in 2015, former international player Dean Jones wrote: "There is a boy from Newcastle named Jason Sangha . . . The kid can play, I can assure you”.
Around the same time one of Australia’s most successful captains Greg Chappell, who has continually backed and promoted Sangha in his role as national talent manager, also praised the Novocastrian.
“Jason is a very talented cricketer. He is an elegant stroke-maker with a touch of class that is the hallmark of the very best players. I look forward to watching his game develop over the next few years,” Chappell said.
These calls have only heightened, particularly following this year’s “sandpaper” controversy in South Africa and consequent bans for Steve Smith and David Warner.
A first-class ton against the touring Ashes squad in Townsville 12 months ago, becoming the youngest to reach three figures against England since Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar, added to that noise.
As did a hundred in just his third Shield appearance last month, bouncing back from a pair the game before.
"Jason Sangha. If he was a thoroughbred, his breeding would be Joe Root out of Virat Kohli," former Test spinner turned commentator Kerry O’Keeffe said.
“This is a player of the ages. He is the best, technically, we’ve had since [Ricky] Ponting.”
Sangha’s opportunities in a swag of teams, such as the Cricket Australia XI, Prime Minister’s XI and even NSW, have also drawn criticism from the likes of former Test paceman Stuart Clark, suggesting younger players are being fast tracked rather than earning spots through weight of runs.
So how does he deal with those added layers of pressure?
“A lot of people can take it two ways,” Sangha said.
“That what you’re doing is perfect and that’s enough or you get so worked up about what people are saying and you try and impress them too much.
“For me, I’ve always taken it as reinforcement, because obviously I’m doing something right that’s impressing those types of people. So keep doing that and keep expanding on that.
“Positive or negative, either way, when someone who has been there at the highest level actually has the time to come out and say something to you, you know they obviously care for you.”
Australia host India in an upcoming four-Test series, starting on Thursday.
The right-handed batsman and leg-spin bowler, a clash of both country’s cultures having been raised in Australia with Indian family heritage, dreams of making that “special” XI one day.
“In terms of looking far ahead and seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, it definitely is the baggy green,” he said.
“Whether I get there or whether I don’t is another question I guess, but I’ll obviously work as hard as I can to get there. To get the baggy green one day would be amazing. Just to play one game for Australia would be amazing – one-day, Twenty20 or Ten10 if it ever happens the way cricket is going now.”
It has been a roller-coaster ride already for Sangha, with the promise of plenty more to come. And the backyard net at Cardiff South will always be central to that journey.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.