The night that made Rob Quiney
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.
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 Phillip 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 existed in 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 dugout 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, and yet Quiney had more pressure on himself than at anytime in his career. He thrashed a brutal 89 off 57 balls, and 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.
Fourteen runs came from Brett Lee in the third over.
Clark's next over went for 12.
The last over, also by Lee, 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 when Quiney started believing in himself.
Since the Argus report, club cricket's health in Australia has been much discussed. It was the centrepiece 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 he 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 sculpted through the academy or under age 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 something untidy about them, but not in a bad way.
Quiney's first venture up from club cricket was playing against a World XI attack of Shoaib Akhtar, Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Daniel Vettori, Shahid Afridi, Shaun Pollock and Muttiah Muralitharan in their warm-up for the 2005 'Super Series'. He was run out for three.
It took three years for Quiney to make a first-class century. His highest score is 153. He seems more like the person who will make a classy half century (he's 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 doesn't inspire too many people.
But if you've seen Quiney on a good day, like that day against NSW or in the 2010 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 saw another of his good days when he made 85 against Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir and the Dale Steyn.
Leading the run scorers in last year's Shield, averaging 49 and picking up the Domestic player of the year award couldn't get Quiney on the A tour to England. Even through injuries and squad departures, he never made his way onto that trip. Even Hughes and Usman Khawaja, learning the ropes at county sides, seemed far ahead of him. Now he is one injury from a Test cap. It's either a wild hunch by a selection 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 review player in a post-Argus world. The immensely talented club cricketer who's made it to the 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, once in a generation Australian batsmen. Quiney's a decade distant from 20, and is not a 10-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.
Clarke, now Australia's captain, 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 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.