McGain grabs long-awaited chance
At 36, most first-class cricketers are winding down and perhaps trying to eke out a couple more years while their bodies and skills hold up. They are rarely considered exciting prospects, yet those are the words Australia's chairman of selectors used on Wednesday to describe Bryce McGain, the Victoria legspinner.
McGain turns 37 next March and has just been selected for his first Australia A tour, a trip to India in a fortnight. If he bowls well, the prize could be a spot in the Test squad that will attempt to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India a month later. It is a dream that seemed out of reach when he was overlooked for Australia's tour of the West Indies this year.
"This is the opportunity," McGain said. "You can't do it when you're running around the Tan [running track] in the middle of winter in Melbourne, you can do it when you get an opportunity to play cricket. Being across in India is the right place to do it."
He will have only two three-day games against India A to press his claims and two other slow bowlers will be doing the same. The squad also includes Beau Casson, the left-arm wrist-spinner who made his Test debut two months ago, and the Tasmania offspinner Jason Krejza.
They are both 25, yet McGain is the least experienced of the three at first-class level. He only established himself in the Victoria team last season with a strong Pura Cup campaign that brought him 38 wickets. This time last year he was working full-time in a bank, which he believes actually goes in his favour with the selectors.
"I know that players who have played a decade of first-class cricket and also other options, playing overseas and things like that, do get worn out," he said. "I guess I've been fresh for a long time.
"I plan to not hang around just for one or two years, I plan to prepare myself for beyond that. I think I've got a bit of longevity. I don't think it's a short-term fix, I think it could be a long-term option as well."
The only cricket McGain has played outside Australia came during a couple of seasons in England and a stint playing in Denmark, so the India trip will be as much a learning curve for him as for the younger men. He has been picking the brains of colleagues who have played in the subcontinent because he knows that with the attrition rate in Australia's spin ranks in the past two years, a Test call-up could come at any time.
"I'm still in there with a chance," he said. "It probably indicates that it still is open in terms of selection. I guess that goes for every position. It's a new-look Australian group and a new tier coming up behind the existing team so I'm just really excited to be a part of that."
The 14-man Australia A unit heads to Brisbane on the weekend for a short training camp before flying out for India in a week. The Test squad will be picked after the completion of the three-day games in Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo