January 24, 2002

No more of Mr Nice Guy as Reiffel departs

It was at about this time last season that Australian cricket lost another of its most dedicated servants in Tom Moody.

The retirement of Paul Reiffel does not represent the end of a career of quite such a giant in physical terms. But his general stature in the Australian game was equally marked.

From the time of his first-class debut in early 1988 before a small crowd in the northern Tasmanian city of Launceston, Reiffel has won over a legion of admirers with his pace bowling, lower order batting and unflappable approach to the sport. His decency and his modesty were also trademarks.

Rarely was he demonstrative about the game but rarely was he ineffective at it, either. Sheer consistency was his trademark: at first-class level, he claimed the imposing total of 545 wickets yet only snared five wickets in an innings 16 times. Moreover, he never took more than six wickets in an innings. Both sets of numbers point to his sustained - rather than occasional - value to an attack.

His considerable prowess as a bowler and defiant lower order batsman not only won him the nod for 35 Tests and 92 one-day internationals but also made him a key figure at each of those levels as well.

His role in Australia's triumphant tour of the Caribbean in 1995 - a campaign which netted the country the Frank Worrell Trophy for the first time in two decades - was especially significant. His hauls of 3/48 and 4/47 in the deciding match of the series in Kingston were crucial to Australia's 2-1 triumph.

Similarly, few players or supporters close to the 1997 Ashes team underestimate his contribution to the success of that tour. When called up to the squad as a late replacement, the Australians were down 1-0, had already lost a one-day series and were struggling to garner momentum; when he arrived, he began to capture wickets with frequency; when he left, the Ashes had been comfortably retained. His return of 5/49 at Leeds helped present Australia with a series lead that it never relinquished.

He was also a key member of Australia's victorious World Cup party of 1999, providing - with Moody - dependable lower order batting as well as bowling which was rarely expensive.

Even two of his more memorable errors at international level - which came in the space of an excruciating half hour as he dropped catches in the closing stages of the 1999 World Cup semi final tie against South Africa - have become the stuff of fond memories.

Legend has it that he turned to his teammates in the dressing room after that game and, in typically laconic style, observed that they would never have been involved in such a dramatic finish nor achieved such an exalted place in history if it had not been for his intervention.

The ultimate in self-sufficiency, he has been a player who has barely ever sought headlines and a player who has provided a definition in yeoman service. The Reiffel of the late 1980s was a bristling young paceman with a rushing, energetic run-up; the Reiffel of the 1990s became an increasingly canny bowler, shuffling to the wicket and relying on subtle variations of pace and movement both ways off the pitch.

In the latter stages of his career, he also translated his own inimitable mix of skill and quiet determination into his work as a captain. His appointment in late 1999 to Victoria's leadership post - ahead of Shane Warne and Darren Berry - was considered a surprise at the time, but he honoured that investment of faith by producing the state's best results in a decade.

Though the state struggled at one-day level during his two years in charge, appearances in back-to-back first-class finals were a measure of his success in the role. They were also a tribute to the new-found sense of assurance and confidence that he brought to a side that had not reached such a stage in any of the preceding eight years.

The 2001-02 season has turned into a disappointing postscript; he was injured early in the summer and the state now finds itself in a clear last place on the Pura Cup table with the closing games of the season approaching.

Health problems in his family; the side's struggle to recapture its best; and a lack of motivation have reportedly made for an unhappy end. Yet there still remains little to detract from Reiffel's contribution to either state or country.

Albeit that the contentedly low-key Reiffel would probably be uncomfortable about it being talked up in any way at all, it has been a distinguished career.