MARK STONEMAN has the chance to live out a dream which took hold more than a decade ago on his first visit to the SCG to watch England in the Ashes.
Back then, he was still a teenager yet to make his professional debut and testing the water in grade cricket - a young hopeful from Tyneside.
England were on their way to a 5-0 whitewash defeat, but Stoneman did not let that stop him lapping up the “top-dollar” atmosphere and daring to dream he could one day be a part of it for real out in the middle.
That day is about to dawn for the opener as England try to stave off a 4-0 series defeat this time in the fifth and final Test.
In the intervening years, Stoneman returned several times to Sydney for stints with Bankstown and other clubs, met his wife Serene and made many friends here - before more recently upping sticks from Durham and heading to Surrey to further a career which has brought him his first seven Test caps over the past five months.
Casting his mind back to January 2007, when Andrew Flintoff’s tourists were about to lose one more time, he said: “It was incredible. The Barmy Army were in full voice, and Brett Lee was steaming.
“I was thinking how good it would be to be out there.”
He was past 30 by the time he made his Test debut, but insists he would not change a thing about his hard-earned progression.
“I dreamed about it,” he added. “It was certainly a long way off. It’s been a long and winding road in between - but looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Stoneman has had something of a ‘nearly’ tour this winter, by his own admission - with two 50s and an average just under 30 - but how fitting it would be if he has saved his best for last back at the SCG.
As much you try to compartmentalise and take each game as it comes ... it was always going to be the icing of the tour on a personal note, to come back to Sydney, where I’ve spent a lot of timeEngland’s Mark Stoneman
“As much you try to compartmentalise and take each game as it comes ... it was always going to be the icing of the tour on a personal note, to come back to Sydney, where I’ve spent a lot of time,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of friends and family, and it’s something I’m very much looking forward to.”
His youthful trips to Australia have gone a long way to making the man.
“It was massive, on a personal and cricketing front,” added Stoneman. “The two go hand in hand as you mature and learn a bit more about yourself. You take your game in various directions, and Sydney’s been a massive part of that.
“I met my wife out here, and she’s been a fantastic support as well - especially when things got a bit tough back home with the move down to Surrey.
“She’s always been 100 per cent behind me, and that’s played a big part at times when things aren’t going as well as you’d like.”