“HE’S not a bad bloke for a Pom!”

For an English cricketer, it is surely the ultimate compliment.

But that was exactly the tribute paid to Jaik Mickleburgh after the teenage Essex batsman spent last winter with Newton & Chilwell Cricket Club in the Australian city of Geelong.

Having arrived Down Under as a wide-eyed 17-year-old, Mickleburgh travelled home four months later as an adopted Aussie.

Such was the Norfolk-born youngster’s popularity at the club that when he made his first-class debut for Essex in last month’s LV County Championship win at Leicestershire, his former club-mates were up in the middle of the night to listen to him make a stylish half-century on the internet.

“We had about 30 or 40 blokes getting up in the wee small hours to hear how Jaik was getting on on the BBC Essex commentary,” explained proud club president Warwick Hadfield, the man behind Mickle-burgh’s Australian adventure.

“We are just a bunch of keen amateurs, so it was a great thrill to have Jaik play with us. We would hope, in some way, to have helped him develop both as a player and as a person.”

But, had it not been for a chance meeting between Hadfield and Essex president Doug Insole, Mickleburgh would probably have never heard of Newton & Chilwell.

Hadfield was staying at Sydney’s Observatory Hotel during the Fifth Ashes Test in January 2007 when he fell into conversation with old friend and MCC secretary Keith Bradshaw.

Bradshaw introduced Hadfield to Insole, who lamented the lack of mental toughness in England’s cricketers as they slumped to a 5-0 series defeat.

The Australian replied by offering Insole the chance to send Essex’s youngsters to spend the winter with his club and, following discussions with Academy director John Childs, Mickleburgh was beginning a journey that would change his life.

And from his first day in Geelong, a port of 160,000 inhabitants situated 50 miles south-west of Mel-bourne, the Norfolk-born youngster was impressing his new colleagues.

“The first day he got here, he was obviously a bit jet-lagged, but he was straight down to the ground to help us install some new water tanks under our practice wickets,” Hadfield remembered.

“That’s the sort of guy he is.”

“This was a 17-year-old kid who had travelled half the way around the world to enhance his career, and he did it with amazing calmness and maturity. Whatever challenges he faced both on and off the cricket field, he never got flustered.”

Mickleburgh even joined in the Australian tradition of sledging his opponents with witty put-downs, no doubt following in the footsteps of legendary Australia captain Lind-say Hassett, who also played for Newton & Chilwell during the 1920s and 1930s.

The youngster’s approach impressed his new team-mates, as did his propensity to score a bucket-load of runs from his position at number three.

“He made the most amazing impressing during his time with us,” added Hadfield.

“When he left, he had more leaving parties than Dame Nellie Melba (the Austalian opera singer who held a famous world-wide “farewell” tour).”

Mickleburgh is spending this winter at the Aus Cricket Academy in Perth, with fellow Essex Academy player Michael Comber taking his place at Newton & Chilwell, but he has promised to return to Geelong during his Christmas break.

“The guys will be delighted to see him again. He’s a wonderful ambassador for Essex and for himself,” added Hadfield.

“I’d have to say, to give him the greatest compliment coming from an Aussie, he’s not a bad bloke for a Pom!”

l Mickleburgh has signed a two-year contract extension with Essex County Cricket Club, taking him up to the end of the 2010 season.

The 18-year-old had previously been on an Academy-Professional contract but has been upgraded following a fine 2008 campaign.

“I believe this contract is a reward for my progress over the year, including my performances in the seconds,” Mickleburgh said.

“I then couldn’t have asked for a better start to my 1st XI career and hopefully I can do that on a consistent basis.

“Making my debut for a team that I’ve been working my way towards for years was obviously the highlight of my year but that was topped off by scoring a half-century on debut.”