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no one loses like Victoria

List A cricket is so unimportant to the world; the finalof the Ryobi Cup is on a Wednesday. When the final started, there were roughly 120 people in the ground, and you had to do two and a half laps of the G to even find any overpriced food.

 

But perhaps the reason that so few people made their way out to the G wasn’t the overpriced food, the weird Wednesday final or even the fact that most people don’t know List A cricket still exists, but because Victorian fans are so used Victoria losing finals.

 

They knew the result before they even went. Coming into the final, Victoria had lost six of the last seven Australian domestic limited-overs tournaments. They’ve lost Ford Ranger Cups and Ryobi Cups. Twice before they have lost to Queensland.

 

So when watching Victoria in this final, the few people at the ground, or the few more watching on Foxtelwere just wondering how Victoria were going to stuff this up.

 

They started well with the ball, getting plenty of movement and keeping the Bulls scoring pretty slowly. It was only extras who looked like scoring early on.

 

“Too many extras. We’re going to lose because of extras, aren’t we.”

 

Then young allrounder Jason Floros came in and actually started scoring. The first Bulls’ player to look like he could make any runs.

 

“Floros, bloody hell, what the hell is a Floros.”

 

In the Bulls final over, Floros went six, four, six. 16 runs in one over, let alone 3 balls, is huge in a match where only one other player scored at better than a run a ball.

 

“Now we’re going to be beaten by a guy who should be batting at number five for the Canberra Comets.”

 

While 147 in 32 overs seems an easy enough chase, the ball was moving around, Ryan Harris was in form, and there was the pressure of a final chase.

“147, bloody hell, we’ll never get there now, 120 is the most we could ever chase with confidence. And that’s in 50 overs. “

 

When Quiney left early, Finch got a dodgy lbw, and Hill and Hussey went to poor pulls, the total of 147 looked a long way off.

 

“I told you we’d lose. Our only chance of winning now is if the rain comes before the Duckworth Lewis kicks in at 20 overs. But the umpires won’t do that, they hate Victorians.”

 

Then Peter Hanscomb and Cameron White built a small confident partnership, they edged their way up on the total, keeping it at a run a ball-ish so that Victoria had the chance to improve their record in the finals.

 

“Don’t be an idiot, this is just giving us false hope, we aren’t going to win this. We’ll stuff it up, just wait.”

 

Then even when White and Hanscomb went out, Victoria kept up the pace as McKay started bouncing balls off the nylex sign and Sheridan looked good as well. They did so well that they made the equation five off ten with three wickets in hand. A winnable hand in any game. Victoria had finally done it.

 

“We can still lose, not sure how, but we will”.

From there, Victoria lost three wickets for two runs to lose their seventh final of the last eight.

 

“I can’t believe we lost that. Oh, yes I can. Of course I can, it is what we do, we lose finals like champions. No one loses like us. Mind you, it was the umpires fault, they hate Victorians, the whole cricket world is biased against us. Chris Rogers hasn’t played a Test since he became a Victorian. How is Cameron White not Test captain yet? Why is there a final anyway, we are clearly the best side in every game that isn’t a final, it’s bloody rigged mate. I blame New South Wales.”

 

If Cricket Australia really want crowds to come back to the Ryobi Cup, forget about playing the finals on weekends, tinkering with the rules or even getting the big named players to turn up. What they have to do is make sure Victoria is in every final, and that the final isn’t played in Melbourne.

If your team was playing Victorian in a final in your home town, why wouldn’t you turn up, you’d be all but guaranteed a victory and your chance to see the Vics embarrass themselves.

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Why it’s always Bryce McGain

I grew up in the People’s Democratic Republic of Victoria. I was indoctrinated early. Dean Jones was better than Viv Richards in Victoria, and had a bigger ego as well. Darren Berry kept wicket with the softest hands and hardest mouth of any keeper I have ever seen. Ian Harvey had alien cricket. Matthew Elliott could score runs with his eyes shut. The first time I saw Dirk Nannes bowl, I felt like Victoria had thawed a smiley caveman. And even though I never saw Slug Jordan play, I enjoyed his sledging for years on the radio.

So my favourite player has to be a Victorian. But my other love is cricket’s dark art, legspin. I wish I knew whether it was being a legspinner that made me love legspin, or seeing a legspinner that made me want to bowl it. Everything in cricket seemed easy to understand when I was a kid, but not legspin. And that’s where I ended up. I’m not a good legspinner, far from it, but I think that any legspinner, even the useless club ones that bowl moon balls, have something special about them.

The first legspinner I ever fell for was Abdul Qadir. I’m not sure how I saw him, or what tour it was, but even before I understood actual legspin, I could see something special about him. His action was theatrical madness and I loved it.

Then the 1992 World Cup came. I was 12, it was in Melbourne (read Australia), and this little pudgy-faced kid was embarrassing the world’s best. I was already a legspinner by then, but Mushie made it cool. This was the age where we were told spinners had no place; it was pace or nothing. Limited-overs cricket was going to take over from Tests, and spinners had no role in it. Mushie made that all look ridiculous as he did his double-arm twirl to propel his killer wrong’uns at groping moustached legends.

By worshipping Mushie I was ahead of the curve, because from then on, in Melbourne, Australia, and eventually England, Shane Warne changed the world. Mushie and Qadir had made legspinning look like it was beyond the realms of understanding, but Warne made it look like something humans could do, even if he wasn’t human himself.

It was through Warne I got to Anil Kumble. He bowled legspin in such an understated way. It was completely different to Warne. His wrist wasn’t his weapon, so he had to use everything else he had. Warne was the Batmobile, Kumble an Audi A4. Anyone could love Warne, his appeal was obvious. But to love Kumble you needed to really get legspin. The legspinner’s leggie.

When I was young, my second favourite was a guy called Craig Howard, who virtually doesn’t exist. Howard was the Victorian legspinner who Warne thought was better than him. To my 13- and 14-year-old eyes, Howard was a demon. His legspin was fast and vicious, but it was his wrong’un that was something special. Mushie and Qadir had obvious wrong’uns, subtle wrong’uns, and invisible wrong’uns. Howard had a throat-punching wrong’un. It didn’t just beat you or make you look silly; it attacked you off a length and flew up at you violently. I’ve never seen another leggie who can do that, but neither could Howard. Through bad management and injury he ended up as an office-working offspinner in Bendigo.

But good things can come from office work. It gave me my favourite cricketer of all time. A person who for much of his 20s was a struggling club cricketer no one believed in. But he believed. Even as he played 2nds cricket, moved clubs, worked in IT for a bank, something about this man made him continue. A broken marriage and shared custody of his son. His day job had him moving his way up the chain. The fact that no one wanted him for higher honours. His age. Cameron White’s legspin flirtation. And eventually the Victorian selectors, who didn’t believe that picking a man over 30 was a good policy.

Through all that, Bryce McGain continued to believe he was good enough. Through most of it, he probably wasn’t. He was a club spinner.

Bryce refused to believe that, and using the TV slow-mo and super-long-lens close-ups for teachers, he stayed sober, learnt from every spinner he could and forced himself to be better. He refused to just be mediocre, because Bryce had a dream. It’s a dream that every one one of us has had. The difference is, we don’t believe, we don’t hang in, we don’t improve, and we end up just moving on.

Bryce refused.

The world would be a better place if more people saw McGain as a hero and not a failure. He just wanted to fulfil his dream, and that he did against all odds is perhaps one of the great cricket stories of all time

At 32 he was given a brief chance before Victoria put him back in club cricket. Surely that was his last chance. But Bryce refused to believe that. And at the age of 35 he began his first full season as Victoria’s spinner. It was an amazing year for Australian spin. It was the first summer without Warne.

Almost as a joke, and because I loved his story, I started writing on my newly formed blog that McGain should be playing for Australia. He made it easy by continually getting wickets, and then even Terry Jenner paid attention. To us legspinners, Jenner is Angelo Dundee, and his word, McGain’s form and the circumstances meant that Bryce suddenly became the person most likely.

Stuart MacGill was finished, Brad Hogg wanted out, and Beau Casson was too gentle. Bryce was ready at the age of 36 to be his country’s first-choice spinner. Then something happened. It was reported in the least possibly dramatic way ever. McGain had a bad shoulder, the reports said. He may miss a warm-up game.

No, he missed more than that. He missed months. As White, Jason Krezja, Nathan Hauritz and even Marcus North played before him as Australia’s spinners. This shoulder problem wouldn’t go away. And although Bryce’s body hadn’t had the workload of the professional spinners, bowling so much at his advanced age had perhaps been too much for him. He had only one match to prove he was fit enough for a tour to South Africa. He took a messy five-for against South Australia and was picked for South Africa. He didn’t fly with the rest of the players, though, as he missed his flight. Nothing was ever easy for Bryce.

His second first-class match in six months was a tour match where the South African A team attacked Bryce mercilessly. Perhaps it was a plan sent down by the main management, or perhaps they just sensed he wasn’t right, but it wasn’t pretty. North played as the spinner in the first two Tests. For the third Test, North got sick, and it would have seemed like the first bit of good fortune to come to Bryce since he hurt his shoulder.

At the age of 36, Bryce made his debut for Australia. It was a dream come true for a man who never stopped believing. It was one of us playing Test cricket for his country. It was seen as a joke by many, but even the cynics had to marvel at how this office worker made it to the baggy green.

I missed the Test live as I was on holidays and proposing to my now-wife. I’m glad I missed it. Sure, I’d wanted Bryce to fulfill his dream as much as I’d wanted to fulfill most of mine, but I wouldn’t have liked to see what happened to him live. South Africa clearly saw a damaged player thrown their way and feasted on him. His figures were heartbreaking: 0 for 149. Some called it the worst debut in history.

I contacted him after it, and Bryce was amazingly upbeat. He’d make it back, according to him. He was talking nonsense. There was no way back for him. Australia wouldn’t care that his shoulder wasn’t right; he couldn’t handle the pressure. His body, mind and confidence had cracked under pressure. He was roadkill.

But Bryce wouldn’t see it that way, and that’s why he’s my favourite cricketer. I wasn’t there for all the times no one believed in him, for all those times his dream was so far away and life was in his way. But I was there now, at what was obviously the end. Bryce McGain saw the darkness but refused to enter it. That’s special. That is how you achieve your dreams when everything is against you.

Before I moved to London to embark on my cricket-writing career, I met Bryce for a lunch interview. It was my first interview with a cricketer. We were just two former office workers who had escaped. At this stage Casson had been preferred over him for the tour to the West Indies. In the Shield final, Bryce’s spinning finger had opened up after a swim in the ocean. He was outbowled by Casson and the selectors didn’t take him. Surely this was it. Why would anyone pick a 36-year-old who had been below his best in his most important game?

Bryce knew he may have blown it. But he still believed, of course. We were just two former office workers with dreams. Two guys talking about legspin. Two guys just talking shit and hoping things would work out.

At the time it was just cool to have lunch with this guy I admired, but now I look back and know I had lunch with the player who would become my favourite cricketer of all time.

The world would be a better place if more people saw McGain as a hero and not a failure. Shane Warne was dropped on this planet to be a god. Bryce McGain just wanted to fulfil his dream, and that he did against all odds is perhaps one of the great cricket stories of all time.

Bryce is one of us, the one who couldn’t give up.

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Quiney the club cricketer

Before the 28th of November 2007 Rob Quiney was just a club cricketer.

When he started club cricket he was a chubby kid who people at his club thought was named Bobby. At first all he wanted to do was go beyond St Kilda’s fourths, and later he fit in Victoria training around working in a factory while getting a few games mostly as a fill in. On the night of the 28th, Quiney was playing in his 29th match for Victoria, and there was a very real chance it might be his last. One more failure and he was back to club cricket forever.

That night on a typical MCG wicket, too slow to make batting or bowling an enjoyable spectacle, New South Wales made 259 from their 50 overs. A young almost unknown Phil Hughes was far from free flowing in making 68. Simon Katich used all his chest hair and grit to push around for 58. And the player who would become an agent Dom Thornley slapped a few around at the end for 49.

Dirk Nannes and Bryce McGain played in that match, two men who played club cricket until their late twenties and early 30s before Victoria made them regulars. Michael Clarke missed because of illness, but watched the whole game from the dug out looking sick and unimpressed.

Michael Klinger, still in his underachieving Victorian phase, made a trudging 50. David Hussey made 80, but it wasn’t pretty or like a normal Hussey innings for Victoria. When Klinger went out, Quiney came in ahead of Andrew McDonald to face an attack of Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Nathan Bracken and Nathan Hauritz. It was an odd decision. In less than 18 months time Andrew McDonald would be playing for Australia. And Quiney was a player in his mid twenties without any big achievements behind him who’d not showed much when playing for Victoria.

It was a low-pressure game. There were few hundred fans at the ground, a few thousand more watching on TV, it was an unimportant early season game, and yet Quiney had more pressure on himself than at anytime in his career.

Quiney brutally thrashed 89 off 57 balls, Victoria won by four overs and six wickets.

It all started in a batting powerplay. While many fans and officials don’t like the powerplay, Rob Quiney’s Test call up might never have happened without one.

Quiney brutally thrashed 89 off 57 balls, Victoria won by four overs and six wickets.

It all started in a batting powerplay. While many fans and officials don’t like the powerplay, Rob Quiney’s Test call up might never have happened without one.

The reason Victoria had pushed Quiney up the order was as a pinch hitter who could use the early batting powerplay to get them above the rate. You’ve all seen this scenario before; generally the pitch hitter walks off after soaking up too many balls and the new batsman has to face up with all the fielders in the circle.

When the powerplay was called, Quiney was 11 off 15 balls.

The powerplay started with Nathan Hauritz, 14 runs off his over.

Stuart Clark bowled over number two for eight runs.

14 runs came from Brett Lee in the third over.

Clark’s next over went for 12.

And Lee finished the last over went for another 12.

When the powerplay finished, Quiney was 57 from 35 balls.

Quiney had gone from a no one to a player to watch in one night. It was the might where Quiney started believing in himself.

Since the Argus report, club cricket’s health in Australia has been much discussed. It was the centerpiece of Gideon Haigh’s Bradman oration. And many think that until club cricket improves its quality Australia will struggle.

Quiney is a club cricketer. You couldn’t say Quiney batted like a first class or International player. He played like a club cricketer with serious talent. It was raw and unkempt. A classic shot could be followed by a horrible slog. It was instinctive and natural. Entertaining to watch, frustrating to bowl at. He wasn’t formed through the academy or underage systems, he just sort of appeared in 2006 as a 24 year old batsman because he made so many runs for St Kilda. You can see the difference between Australian cricketers from club or country backgrounds compared to the academy and underage players. There is an unclean nature about them, but not in a bad way.

His first venture up from club cricket was playing against a World XI attack of Akhtar, Kallis, Ntini, Vettori, Afridi, Pollock and the Murali. He was run out for three.

It took three years for Quiney to make a first class century. His highest first class score is 153. He seems more like the person who will make a classy half century (the man has collected many scores around 80) and then give it all away. His career has seven first class hundreds, and an average of 37, when combined with his age of 30 it doesn’t inspire too many people.

But if you’ve seen Quiney on a good day, like that day against NSWales or in the 09/10 Shield final against Queensland, you feel you’ve seen a special player. He imposes himself and dominates, can score anywhere and when in form looks like a run out or stupid shot is the only way to get past him. Rod Marsh and John Inverarity might have seen another of his good days when he made 85 against Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir and the Dale Steyn.

Leading run scorer in last years Shield, averaged 49 and picked up the Domestic player of the year award still couldn’t get him on the A tour to England. Even through injuries and squad departures, he never made his way onto that trip. With Hughes and Khawaja seemingly far ahead of him. Now he is one injury from a Test cap. It’s either a while hunch by a slection committee that likes form, or an unconventional decision by a group of men who value hard, work, talent and perseverance. An 85 and a middling average don’t usually propel you that quickly.

Quiney is a pre-Argus player in a post-Argus world. The immensely talented club cricketer who’s made it to Australian set up with a weight of 80 odds. He’s had experience playing New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the IPL, and is coming off two solid years of domestic cricket. His selection will upset those who thirst for 20 year-old one in a generation Australian batsmen. Quiney’s far from 20, and is not a ten year player. He ’s been around now for a while without exciting many or getting headlines. But he has been getting better every year and was consistent and lucky enough to make it this far.

Michael Clarke was never a club cricketer. He was born with a baggy green in his mouth. These days he is pretty busy, and chances are on his day off he doesn’t sit in a dugout watching a List A game. But luckily for Quiney, when the other selectors brought up his name, there’s a strong chance that Clarke’s mind went back to that night at the MCG.

It was one great night for Quiney, and it may mean he joins a far more exclusive cricket club on Friday.

 

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