For West End Redbacks Assistant Coach Luke Butterworth, Bruny Island was exactly that; the gateway to a world of possibilities and experiences worth more than any tangible treasure. Born in the Tasmanian capital as the youngest of five brothers, Butterworth’s passion for sport began in the backyard, but it developed into a career path on the cricket pitch of a picturesque island resting in the Tasman Sea.
With a population of well under 1000, Bruny Island’s Cricket Club, the Penguins, were always on the lookout for new players. During their search, they found the Butterworth brothers. For Luke, it began a journey that would take him as far afield as Scotland, Zimbabwe and Pakistan, in addition to three State titles with hometown Tasmania.
“In school I didn’t know what I was going to do if sport didn’t eventuate… There was nothing that I really had a passion for other than sport. I had a real passion for cricket in particular and growing up with four older brothers there was always plenty of competition in the backyard.
“We played in a competition down on Bruny Island and we played in the men’s team when we were about 10 years old just because it was such a small island. There weren’t many players and so we got in. That’s when the passion really started.”
Debuting for Tasmania in 50-over cricket at the age of 21, Butterworth would go on to play more than 150 games for the Tigers, including a Player of the Match performance in the state’s first ever first-class title. Making this achievement even more remarkable is that it came in just the allrounder’s fifth appearance in long form cricket.
The story goes that Australian captain and Tasmanian legend Ricky Ponting, after captaining Butterworth in a 2006 clash, made no secret of his belief that the impressive youngster should be given more opportunities. A few months later, Butterworth was named in the 2006-07 Pura Cup Final, held at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. After winning the toss and electing to bat, Tasmania were battling at 6/173 when Butterworth made his way onto the familiar surface. Showing incredible composure and determination, the left-hander fought his way to 66 from 139 deliveries; his first half century in first-class cricket and a performance that wrestled Tasmania back into the contest.
Butterworth went one better in the second innings, notching a maiden century after striding to the crease with Tasmania in the remarkably similar position of 6/176. When combined with his four-wicket haul in NSW’s first innings, the decision to award Butterworth Player of the Match in a victorious side was an easy one. Despite Ponting not taking the field for Tasmania that week, Butterworth is glowing when he speaks of the impact the once in a generation player had on the team, even though at the time he had no idea just how supportive he was personally.
“I didn’t know about Punter pushing me forward until the last couple of years. Spending time and playing with him was amazing for our group. Every time he came back, he set the standard with training. When one of the best players in the world, the Australian captain, is working harder than everyone else, you can’t slack off in any department. He holds you to a higher standard and that was massive for our group.”
In 2011, Tasmania were in the midst of a golden period that saw them claim six titles in little over a decade, with Butterworth on the team sheet for three deciders. Feeling the call of adventure, the 27-year-old signed up for a pilgrimage that many Australian cricketers have made through the years: a northern hemisphere season. Agreeing to join Scottish side Grennock, Butterworth traded Tasmanian winter for European summer and scallop pies for helpings of haggis.
“I signed up to play in Scotland which was a great experience; I’d always wanted to play out that way and everyone had told me it was a great thing to do for life experience. That was the main reason I went, and I was also lucky enough to play a couple of games for Scotland in the English competition. That was more for a bit of travel and life experience, but I really enjoyed it and have friends out there still. You make lifelong friends through cricket, which is something I am really thankful for.”
During that summer sojourn, Butterworth received a call that began his next adventure – a tour of Zimbabwe with Australia A. The opportunity was Butterworth’s second to wear national colours, following a tour of Pakistan with the same side four years earlier. In addition to broadening Butterworth's horizons, the journey to southern Africa provided an opportunity to reconnect with a popular figure in Australian cricket that he would eventually go on to share an Adelaide Oval office with.
“I was really young when we went to Pakistan, I was about 23 and it was a senior Aussie A group. Dizzy [Redbacks Head Coach Jason Gillespie] was in that team actually. He was playing in that team, and then he was assistant coach with the team I went with to Zimbabwe. We’ve crossed paths many times and so we already had a good relationship, so I was really excited when he got the job to join the Redbacks.”
Butterworth retired from first-class cricket in 2016 after 13 brilliant years representing his beloved Tasmania, and after a short stint coaching in Canberra, the always positive and faultlessly kind Butterworth found his way to South Australia as the Redbacks bowling coach. With several changes both on and off the field recently, Butterworth is able to reflect on his time with successful Tasmanian teams as he and his fellow coaches plot a course into the future.
“Looking back over the last couple of years, I’ve been asked what the difference was, and I think it was the leadership in that group. We had George Bailey, captain for most of my career, and Tim Paine was in there, current captain of Australia, plus some really senior players with great leadership.
“For us now, you can see it in the younger guys like Harry Nielsen, Nick Winter and Henry Hunt, who have great leadership ability. We have lots of young guys that are, and will continue to be, good leaders. But that comes with experience as well. We’ve got a reasonably young group, so we need to be patient and teach that along the way. It’s really important that we drive that.
“This is Dizzy’s first chance to have a preseason and it’s been great so far. We had a really good review of our program and Stubbo [Batting Coach Stephen Stubbings] came on board which is a great appointment. He is fantastic. He has such a passion for the game and puts in long hours working one-on-one with batters and has that personal connection with them.”
The Redbacks preseason began with a trip to Kangaroo Island that focused on connecting with the local community as well as each other, and Butterworth has seen signs already that the group they have assembled are capable of great things in the coming years.
“Those trips, you look back on those at the end of the year and they can be the start of a really successful period for a team. Camps like that are not so much about the cricket side, it’s about getting to know each other and finding out more about your teammates on a personal level. That’s what builds a strong team.
“There are really good players coming through and we’ve picked up a few recruits which will bolster that as well. There is a really exciting feeling around the group at the moment. We’ve picked up a couple of guys from QLD who have been successful over the last couple of years, plus some lads from NSW, WA and Victoria in addition to the local guys. We’re getting different perspectives and ways of looking at things, which is great for our program.”
The coming season, now under two months away, will be the South Australian Cricket Association’s 150th as an organisation. The magic of that milestone coming at a time when the Redbacks are refreshing their stocks and their methods is not lost on Butterworth.
“The Redbacks haven’t had the success we have wanted recently. But I want to be part of something special, a really special period for South Australian cricket, and if that falls on 150 years it would be a great bonus. It feels like a fresh start, it feels like something special. Hopefully it is for the 150th season.”
The West End Redbacks begin their Marsh Sheffield Shield season on 28 September against Western Australia at Karen Rolton Oval. The Marsh One-Day Cup commences for South Australia on 11 September at CitiPower Centre against Victoria.
28 July 2021