James loves his new life in Oz!

James Skeels A secure full time job, searing sunshine, and a guaranteed game of cricket every weekend, writes Fraser Watson.

If you’re currently based in Pembrokeshire, fed up with the freezing post-Christmas weather, and dubious as to where your next game of team sport is going to come from - then you can be forgiven for directing a few pangs of jealousy towards James Skeels. 

The former Lamphey and Lawrenny cricket player headed out to Mandurah in Western Australia in October 2019 with girlfriend Phillipa Warren, originally as he put it ‘for a bit of a holiday’.

Some holiday – it’s now a life style where cricket plays a huge part!

It’s turned into quite the vacation. And one that has incorporated an ongoing stint at Halls Head Cricket Club. 

“I started off this season as B grade skipper,” said Skeels, following a frantic few minutes where we both set up a Zoom call with minimal efficiency. 

“We had a reasonably good start with three wins on the trot but then due to boys flying out to work up north, and other commitments, we fell by the wayside a bit. 

“But the second half of season is going ok. Personally I’ve had a few knocks and been in the 40s a few times – I just haven’t been able to get past the 50 mark yet.” 

Big changes for James on the field

Of course, there have been big changes to what he is used to. The conditions are different, and so is the environment. 

“The weather is the main thing,” he admitted. 

“You hear about the bounce in the pitches in Australia - and then when you start playing on them you realise it’s true.  

“And it’s more intense. You’re facing 11 players who all want it as much as you do.” 

Definitely not part of the original plan

Skeels happily playing cricket down under in early 2021 wasn’t part of the original plan. But while Covid-19 left many UK residents stranded abroad last year, the 27-year-old was fortunate to have already secured reliable employment. 

“The first plan was to come here for a year, play a cricket season, and then decide where to go from there. When Covid hit it was panic stations a bit, but me and Phillipa were both working full time in the mining industry, which was considered essential work – so we were pretty lucky. 

Made very welcome by club – and by Dave Lovell

“We were also staying with the Club President at the time, Ashley Wyborne, and he was really helpful to us so that made things easier.” 

Wyborne is not the only friendly face at the club. Also involved is an Australian who needs no introduction to Pembrokeshire cricket followers – a certain Dave Lovell. 

“He’s a great man and is still doing really well,” said Skeels. 

“He’s come back this year from surgery so is fighting fit and healthy. He still loves playing.” 

Watching great cricket – but still thinking a lot about home

James Skeels playing at Pembroke RFCSkeels has also been able to enjoy another pastime which currently seems an alien concept on these shores. He’s been attending professional games, regularly watching the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League at the Optus Stadium. 

And yet he admits following events 9000 miles away, where the impact of coronavirus has been significantly greater than what they have endured in Australia, has been somewhat surreal. 

“It’s been tough for people in a little village like Lamphey. But from speaking to family and friends they’re doing pretty well for what’s been thrown at them to be fair. A few of my mates have caught Covid or are still trying to sway out of the way of it but everyone seems to be pretty mind strong.” 

Recommends experience to other local cricketers

Skeels of course, will be back in these parts at some point, even if just for visiting purposes, but for now he will continue to enjoy a transition that he 100% recommends to any cricketer presented with a similar opportunity. 

“I originally thought it was going to be a bit of a holiday over here, but it’s by far the best move I’ve ever made. I’ve met so many contacts and friends from different areas and also, it has helped my cricket massively.” 

Since the curtailment of overseas players appearing in our leagues, opportunities like the one Skeels has indulged in have become a rarity. But clearly, there would be benefits to embracing a system whereby the likes of Lovell can help young players can leave our county, enhance their cricket (and life) education, and one day return to these parts with their ability and knowledge of the game enhanced. 

Good on James Skeels for reaping the benefits of a brave move.  And come this Saturday when his main sports-related concern is what strength sun block to use as he heads out for 50 overs in the field – then I'm sure he'll spare a thought for us ...........

James and Andrew Skeels