Melbourne, Nov.20 : The story of Australian off-spinner Jason Krejza's rise to stardom is the stuff of sporting folklore.
His introduction to cricket began with an uninvited knock on the front door when he was in primary school.
Standing outside his family home in Lurnea, near Liverpool, was neighbour Garth Nolan.
The junior coach from Prestons cricket club was seeking recruits and enquired about young Jason.
Up until then Krezja played soccer, sometimes in nearby Amalfi Park alongside Mark Bosnich. A professional footballer during his former life in Czechoslovakia, Krejza's father George knew the Bosnich family well.
As unlikely as it seemed, the son of an immigrant fitter and turner quickly fell in love with bat and ball. But it would be more unlikely that he would ever spin the latter.
During his early days the kid they called Krazy was obsessed with pace.
Unfortunately, his body wasn't up to speed. By his 13th birthday, Krejza developed a spinal fracture because, according to George, "he never had a follow-through".
"The physio told him to go and do something else - that it put too much pressure on his back," his father said.
Given the risk of debilitating injury, it was unlikely that Krejza would continue. But he did. Here was teenager who walked to a different beat. According to the Daily Telegraph, Krejza never let any opponent intimidate him, be it a bad diagnosis or a big-hitting batsman.
Unlikely as it was, he began to dabble in the slow arts upon graduating to district side Fairfield-Liverpool. His former coach Richard Gerdes recalls the afternoon Australia's latest spin sensation was born.
"Jason came on in the nets and they turned a mile," Gerdes recalled.
The secret to such amazing results first up? "His hands," Gerdes replied. "Jason has the biggest hands I've seen. Big long hands and massive fingers that wrap around the ball and give it a huge rip."
The unlikely discovery put Krejza on a familiar trajectory to the top.
He made state rep sides, earned a rookie contract with NSW and attended the Australian Cricket Academy. Then came another unlikely intervention - Aussie rules.
In 1999, Krejza joined brother George at the South West Sydney Magpies. Secretary Ian Granger is still adamant his former centre half forward could have reached AFL level. At 184cm, Krejza gave away serious height to opponents. Again, it was his big hands that grabbed everyone's attention.
"He could take a mark," Granger said. "And boy could he kick. He kicked goals from 55 and 60 metres as a 17-year-old.
"I've got no doubt he would have been picked up by the Swans or another AFL club if he'd stayed."
Krejza improved so rapidly that he booted 53 goals in just 18 top-grade appearances. When the Magpies travelled to Grey Gums Oval to meet Penrith midway through 2000, scouts were taking notice.
"Jason did his knee that day," Granger said. "It was just a normal contest for the ball, but he came away badly and was taken to hospital."
On top of his dodgy back, Krejza now had a serious anterior cruciate injury to contend with. It spelled season-ending surgery that would finish his AFL career.
"I tried to convince him to return, but Jason wouldn't hear of it," Granger said. "He loved cricket too much to take the risk."
It took several years and was rarely easy. Stranded behind Fairfield's No. 1 spinner Anthony Clark, Krejza defected to UTS Balmain in 2004-05 and debuted for NSW in the midst of a stellar first-grade season. But just when his progression looked set to blossom, the familiar sense of unlikely descended once more.
Latent complications from his childhood back problems emerged the following season, ruining any chance of him cementing a state spot.
But worse was to come. At the start of 2006-07, Krejza was drinking with a group of mates and their girlfriends in the Sydney CBD when he began feeling weird.
"Jason started to get really whoozy all of a sudden," one friend said. "He had to go straight home."
Krezja knew something was amiss when he woke the following morning. Suspecting the worst, he fronted the NSW team doctor and demanded a blood test to circumvent a compromising situation. It returned traces of cocaine, confirming fears that either his drink had been spiked or he had picked up the wrong glass.
Two further tests came back negative and Blues officials took Krejza on trust. But while he escaped sanction, his days in Sydney were numbered. Behind the scenes Krejza split with his girlfriend, a personal upheaval that made an offer to join Tasmania more tempting.
Krejza moved to the Apple Isle for a fresh start, but his problems followed. In July last year he was arrested for speeding through Hobart. Police then conducted a roadside breath test. It read 0.092 - nearly twice the legal limit. A contrite Krejza told officers he was "showing off" to impress a female passenger.
Tigers management weren't so impressed. Their mainland recruit was banned from pre-season training and slapped with a drinking ban.
And this is where the measure of the man emerged. Where the unlikely baggy green finally became his destiny. Condemned to personal training exile, Krejza was told his new contract would be terminated if he returned to the Tigers "so much as one gram overweight".
Although shattered and alone, he met their conditions. And the rest is history.
Story first published: Thursday, November 20, 2008, 16:58 [IST]
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