Quiney's slow-burn to the baggy green
Nearly four years ago, Rob Quiney learnt just how fleeting some opportunities can be. At 26, he was called into Australia's Twenty20 squad for a one-off match against New Zealand when Michael Clarke was injured. Quiney didn't make the starting line-up and quickly faded back into domestic cricket, having come tantalisingly close to representing his country. Few people would have predicted back then that his first match for Australia would be in the baggy green.
Like many young batsmen who emerged in state cricket in the early days of Twenty20, Quiney made his name in the shortest format. His call-up for Australia came after he blasted 91 from 56 balls in the 2008-09 Big Bash final. Within a few months he had an IPL contract with the Rajasthan Royals. A T20 deal with Auckland followed in 2010. In the longer format his record remained modest, but as a tall man with a powerful front-foot repertoire he was seemingly made for Twenty20.
Now, he is preparing to walk out at No.3 for Australia in a Test match at the Gabba, where he will face Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, the world's best red-ball pace attack. It is no place for a T20 slogger. But over the past two seasons, Quiney has shown that he is much more than that. In 2010-11, he compiled 724 Sheffield Shield runs at 42.58, second only to Mark Cosgrove, and last summer, he topped the Shield run tally with 938 at 49.36.
"My last two years have been my most consistent," Quiney said in Brisbane on Monday, barely an hour after learning he would make his Test debut this week. "I knew there might have been a little window of 12 or 18 months where I could try to get my foot in. I've needed to continue to make runs. I've never given up. If anything [my desire] has probably grown stronger because beforehand I may not have believed that I could make it to this level."
For a time, Quiney wasn't even convinced he belonged in Victoria's Sheffield Shield line-up. When he was emerging, the state had an impressive batting roster that featured Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Cameron White and Andrew McDonald. His first century - incidentally, scored on an early-season Gabba pitch - didn't arrive until his 15th first-class match. By the time he had played 30 first-class games he had managed only two hundreds.
"It's been a slow-burn and an education," Quiney's state coach Greg Shipperd told ESPNcricinfo of Quiney's progression. "If you come in through the shorter forms of the game it does take a while to click, to manage the way you go about your business in four-day cricket. You need some technique and you need the ability to apply your technique and make good decisions for longer periods of time. For somebody who hits the ball so freely and so very well, it's been a work in progress.
"I think it was about establishing a technique to deal with the new ball and making that as pure as he can. Right now, he's at the best technically that I've seen him. He's very organised and with the last two years under his belt, he's quite confident he can balance that defensive and attacking side of his personality and his game.
"Back-foot play was something he worked on. You need to be able to play a back-foot defensive stroke on bouncy wickets. What that does is it also opens it up for you to be an even more free-scoring player because you bring into play the cut shot, the pull shot, the work off the hip - they're all shots that he's now quite adept and comfortable at playing. He was a very powerful front-foot player but once he's added the ability to go back and change the length of the bowler and give himself more time."
The more rounded 2012 version of Quiney was on display at the SCG on Friday, when he handled Steyn and Philander with impressive poise. To watch Quiney in the longer format these days, it is clear that he has become a mature batsman, comfortable with his game, and that he knows he belongs there. A lack of self-belief might have been an issue early in his career, but the quiet confidence Quiney has developed was one of the factors that attracted the selectors.
"I wouldn't want to disrespect any nation, but against a nation like South Africa right now, and we'd probably do the same against England and India, you want an experienced head to come in," Australia's coach Mickey Arthur said. "It's not a case of blooding a youngster. You can't blood a youngster against a team like South Africa. We want a guy who is very confident in his ability, a guy who knows his game backwards, and a guy that has got a little bit of experience. That gave Rob the nod."
Then there's also Quiney's Gabba form. Two of his seven first-class centuries have come at the venue, where he averages 42.10. In one-day cricket, his record there is even more impressive - one hundred and two fifties out of four innings. It's no coincidence that the Gabba is a ground where the fast bowlers do the bulk of the work.
"He's never been a player who has baulked from the speed contest," Shipperd said. "If anything, the challenge for him has been to learn what his plan is to spin. He's made some great strides with that over the last couple of seasons. Improvement has followed him on the back of some really strong focus and hard work."
All of which has led him to the point where he will become Australia's 429th Test cricketer on Friday. And as unlikely as it seemed four years ago, a man who will own a baggy green but not a T20 international cap.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here