Overcoming Adversity — Matthew Bullen, Off The Pitch

Matthew Bullen has long been touted as a rising prospect of Australian cricket. Bullen is a Victorian under 20’s cricketer striving for the pinnacle of success, with aspirations to go far in his sporting career.

However, through a history of being dogged by injuries, Bullen has found himself facing a tough mountain to climb. The young gun is more determined than ever to overcome the obstacles in front of him and reach his goals.

Introduced to the game in his childhood years, Bullen says he developed a burning passion for the game. “When I was younger there’s no doubt it (cricket) was my favourite sport, I absolutely loved it and everything about it. Watching so many stars in such a dominant era of the Australian cricket team was really inspiring to me, and I guess even since that age I’ve loved the thought of becoming a professional cricketer.”

That passion eventually translated into the next phase of his life. For many of Bullen’s adolescent years, the young man essentially breathed all things cricket.

It didn’t take long for people to start noticing him and the skill set he possessed when he had the cricket ball in his hand. The fast bowler has been seen by many to be an up and coming star of the game with loads of potential.

Such expectations could be daunting for some, but Bullen doesn’t allow himself to be overly phased by it.

“I just try and brush it aside, I don’t really like the expectation to be a superstar at all. I’ll put my head down and work hard, but that’s about it.”

His performances and skills earned him a deserved spot in the Victorian cricket academy, where he has been able to showcase his skills on a bigger platform.

When he isn’t representing the state, Bullen plies his trade at club level for Fitzroy Doncaster, where he is currently in his sixth year at the club.

On paper alone, Bullen comes across as a gem of a player with years worth of potential dominance in front of him.

However, the last few years have had a damning effect on his body, to the point where the speedster simply hasn’t been able to consistently get out onto the oval.

As talented a sportsman as Bullen is, injuries have not been kind to him. He has experienced more than his fair share of injuries, riddled by a wide range of cruel blows. His history of damages includes two broken ankles, a torn groin, and nerve damage in the back. All of those injuries happened in quick succession, negating his prospects of returning to fitness whilst confirming long and tiring stints in the rehabilitation process.

The experience has understandably been extremely taxing on the young athlete, sometimes to the point where he has contemplated giving up the game for good.

“I’ve thought about giving up on cricket before, purely because from a mental point of view, coming back from injury after injury is so hard.”

“You play to actually play the game. When you’re sitting in the Doctor’s office or on the physio’s table getting needles put in your ass you sort of wonder why you even bother anymore.”

The mental strain and exhaustion as a result of his injuries exposes a darker side to the game of cricket, yet more importantly the darker side of being an athlete/sportsman. Whilst there are certainly jubilant highs and moments of pure ecstacy, their are also excruciating lows contained with sheer agony.

As a result of these significant speed bumps, the little boy who had grown up loving the game and wanting to emulate his heroes had seen his love for the game decline, and had begun viewing the game from a different perspective.

“I think with all the injuries and what not I’ve had I actually did lose a lot of love and joy for the game. I guess when was associating me playing cricket it wasn’t simply about playing the game anymore, it actually takes me back to the rehab process and to the pain you’re in for the majority of the year.”

The last twelve months in particular have been hugely defining for Bullen and his prospects of not only becoming a professional cricketer, but simply getting back out onto the park and playing. There is no doubt that he was at the crossroads.

Bullen went in for surgery late last year for a tear in his hip, where astonishingly he was informed that he was also suffering from osteitis pubis. This left him requiring a whole six months to recover from. Upon returning from these debilitating injuries, Bullen then had to spend three months working on changing his bowling action and altering his running process until it felt normal once again. All in all it wasn’t until this year, nine months later, where he had became fully fit again.

You could understand and empathize with Matt if he had decided to call it a day and move onto the next phase of his life, with his body simply not agreeing with him. Yet he has seemingly done the opposite, with Bullen becoming more determined and motivated than ever to overcome the adversities that have plagued and dogged him over the majority of his developmental years.

Bullen explained that while he was relieved to be back to his peak fitness, it was an extremely tough nine months to endure in order to get to where he is today, and what steps he took to ensure that he did.

“The time on the sidelines really hit me quite hard. I Didn’t really want to see anyone or talk about it, I just made sure I did everything I needed to do behind closed doors in order to get myself right again.”

“I went to Saint Kilda beach multiple times for recovery early in the morning by myself as a way to just ease my emotions. It may not seem like it’s a hard thing to do but being on the sidelines when the big time is so near kills you mentally.”

It doesn’t take a long time speaking to him until you quickly realize the character he possesses and just how strong willed he is. Bullen is an extremely driven young man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals and to prove his body, and his doubters, wrong.

He does not live the everyday life of your average 20 year old, most of whom are hard-partying, financially-struggling university students. In contrast, Bullen has his head firmly on his shoulders, and appears to be going about it with the correct mindset.

“Everyday I wake up and it’s (cricket) the first thing I think about, every decision I make sure that whether it be with socializing with friends or choosing which dinner to have is revolved around how it effects my preparation, my training and my recovery.”

The mantra that he lives by is one of his main motivations.

“I have a wristband that has the letters LYME. ‘Leave your mark everyday’ is what it stands for and I see that every morning when I get out of bed.”

Bullen also credits an American motivational speaker for helping him maintain his desire, explaining that the impact he has had on him has been particularly profound.

“I watch a guy called Eric Thomas. He’s a motivational speaker from the states. I guess he got me to realise that in order to make a career out of anything that is perceived to be difficult, or that the majority don’t achieve, you have to give it your all. I think his motivational speeches have helped me a lot in many different instances and not just for cricket, but also for my studies and when I need a bit of a boost.”

You can watch a video of Eric here:

When asked about his long term goals and aspirations, Bullen responded with a rather blunt yet simple ultimatum.

“If I don’t play at the highest level I will feel I have failed in life.”

With that in mind, Matt has been working as hard as he physically can to ensure that he doesn’t end up perceiving himself as a failure of any sort. Since regaining his fitness, Bullen has put his levels of commitment and dedication on display for all to see.

Three times a week he will wake up at 5am to go for his morning training session at the MCG, as a part of his commitments to Cricket Victoria. Something which has quickly become no less than routine for the youngster.

When quizzed on the role of Cricket Victoria and what his playing roles there entail, Bullen went into more detail.

“Similar to how it works in AFL with academy systems etc, we are Cricket Victoria’s academy system. We are the next generation of players they are breeding to play when the current guys decide to give it up.”

It comes as little surprise that Bullen and co. could be the next generation of cricketing superstars. The fast bowler has been associated with Cricket Victoria for several years now, proving an integral part in the under-17’s national championships in Hobart, which Victoria won.

The up and comer has also been training with the Melbourne Stars and Melbourne Renegades — both of Melbourne’s Twenty20 cricket teams in the Big Bash League. As a result, he has found himself rubbing shoulders with some extremely notable names, such as James Pattinson, Cameron White, Aaron Finch, as well as previously training with Lasith Malinga and the biggest of all, Muttiah Muralitharan, who is arguably the greatest bowler of all time.

Not a lot phases or daunts him, however this appeared to throw him off guard a bit more than usual.

“It was pretty surreal to be bowling next to someone like Malinga” Bullen laughed.

“You see these people on TV and next thing you know, you’re next to him talking about bowling to batsman, different plans etc. It was pretty cool”

Attached is a video of the aforementioned James Pattinson giving tips for the Cricket Victoria YouTube channel. The video is filmed at the MCG training headquarters, where Bullen trains for Cricket Victoria.

More recently, after the nine month injury layoff, Bullen was selected to participate in the under 20’s Vic squad to take on the New South Wales team in two Twenty20 matches and two one day matches, both of which went really well for Bullen, showing glimpses of him being back to his best as he took multiple wickets and notched some runs on the board too.

His performances completely justified all the hard work, all the rehab and tears of frustration shed along the way, proving that it was all worth it. It was at this moment that it became clear that Bullen had redeemed himself and was truly on the right track once more.

That being said, Bullen will not become complacent and content with what he has achieved thus far. Instead, he will continue to put his heart and soul into cricket to prove those who doubted him wrong.

Humble in nature, he didn’t delve into the prospect of what heights he could reach. Matt comes across as someone who is prepared to take it one day at a time.

“Who knows what the future holds.”

Perhaps most importantly above all else is whether or not Bullen has regained his love for the sport, a sport that is central to all of his life decisions and actions. So does he love it again?

“Yeah I have found my love again, I wouldn’t be getting out of bed at 5 o’clock in the morning if I didn’t love it and didn’t see myself playing professionally in the near future. I was intent on getting the love and passion for the sport back and I’ve achieved that. I think without that love for the game it would be awfully hard to forge a career out of it.”

With a fully fit body and a recovered love for his sport of choice, it won’t be long before Matthew Bullen starts to become more of a household name.