Shaun Tait exits state cricket

A sorrowful parting

Few batsmen will lament the fact, but plenty of others will be sorrowful that Shaun Tait has slung down his final ball for South Australia

Daniel Brettig

October 10, 2011

Comments: 16 | Text size: A | A

Shaun Tait appeals for an lbw, Western Australia v South Australia, Twenty20 Big Bash, Perth, December 29, 2009
Shaun Tait: South Australia's tragic hero no longer © Getty Images
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Australia's emissaries at the Twenty20 Champions League returned home with a sense of the hollow. Neither New South Wales nor South Australia quite deserved the fates that befell them, as subcontinental opponents chased down tall totals. For South Australia there was the added gall felt by any team that concedes defeat to a six from the final ball.

Something else was lost too, and once the disappointment of a less substantial tournament pay cheque has dissipated it will be much the more significant hole for South Australia's cricketers to fill. It will be cause for sorrow among all those who follow state cricket that Shaun Tait has slung down his final ball for his state team. As of this season, Tait will only play T20 for a range of franchises, including the Melbourne Renegades in next summer's Big Bash League. He signed off with 5 for 33 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, a suitably fearsome finish.

That loss was also oddly fitting, for Tait seemed perpetually cast as South Australia's tragic hero. He never won a domestic trophy, coming closest in 2006, when a ferocious 6 for 41 could not prevent New South Wales from winning the domestic one-day title after they bowled his team out cheaply in moist morning air.

Though Tait will be bowling in Australia this summer as a signing for the Renegades, he will not do so in the colours that have always been those of home. Like David Hookes and Darren Lehmann in the generations preceding his, Tait - especially in his younger days - was a cricketer with a particular affinity to South Australia and the Adelaide Oval. That team, and that ground, saw the very best of him, however much he terrified international batsmen on the days when he was in suitable sync.

An unfortunate truth of Tait's career is that by the time he was picked for Australia, on the 2005 Ashes tour, his body and mind had already started to waver. Up to that point his bowling for SA had been little short of extraordinary, and it was a privileged few who watched his white-knuckle spells at the Adelaide Oval, often with only a handful of runs to defend. In all, he would take 320 wickets for his state across three formats. No fewer than 146 were bowled or lbw.

As a youthful quick with South Australia, Tait was blisteringly fast, swung the new ball out and the old ball in, and was relaxed, happy and fit enough to bowl in stints far longer and more consistent than perhaps anything he managed for Australia. It is true that the pressures of Shield cricket are not those of the international brand, and the Perth match of 2008 against India sits as a sobering reminder of the mental and physical drain Tait struggled with when he was tried as a Test match fast man. He did not play another Test.

But that cannot distract from the exhilarating memories of his earlier days as a bolt of lightning from the Adelaide Hills. On debut against Western Australia in 2003, Tait defeated Chris Rogers for his first wicket, and hurried up Test batsmen Justin Langer and Murray Goodwin even as they ground out stodgy centuries, in a match that featured a hat-full of wickets for a young wristspinner called Beau Casson. His action was the subject of much discussion even then, as much for the violent strains it placed on Tait's body as for the fiendishly difficult task of picking up a good sight of the ball from the hand.

A string of startling performances followed, peaking in the summer of 2004-05. That season Tait fired out 65 batsmen at a cost of 20.16 runs each, a record for South Australia and only two short of Colin Miller's 67 in 11 matches in 1997-98, and struck every six overs.

His frequent solo efforts to lift the Redbacks were illustrated vividly in the December match against another West Australian side, this time with a top six of Michael Hussey, Rogers, Goodwin, Marcus North, Shaun Marsh and Ryan Campbell - internationals all. Twice Tait ripped out three of the first four batsmen, and twice the rest of the attack was unable to exploit the breach, as Brad Hogg carried his side with 109 and 61 from No. 8. South Australia lost by 106 runs, but the visceral impact of Tait's swing and sling stayed with all who witnessed it.

 
 
"I had the chance to captain him for eight games that season, and to see someone display skill like that was just phenomenal. It felt a real privilege to be a part of that." Graham Manou on Shaun Tait's 65 Shield wickets in 2004-05
 

When he retired tearfully from first-class cricket earlier this year, Graham Manou named the experience of keeping wicket to Tait that summer among his most treasured times in cricket. There was real awe in his voice when he said: "I had the chance to captain him for eight games that season, and to see someone display skill like that was just phenomenal. It felt a real privilege to be a part of that."

Beyond those matches Tait would be chosen for Australia, wrestle with burn-out, spend prolonged time away from home, and bear a body that started to buckle under the strains of his action. He would also play a role in Australia's 2007 World Cup win, the summit of his international achievements. In India during the CLT20, the country where he has found personal happiness in his relationship with the fashion model Mashoom Singha, Tait reflected on a career trajectory that resembled that of a short-period comet. "For me, the burnout occurred very early as a series of injuries took a toll on my body," he said. "I had to live only with Twenty20 a lot earlier than many."

Tait's best was seen by the state batsmen who faced him, and by the handful of SACA members, staff, journalists and strays who chose to visit the Adelaide Oval for domestic matches. They will not see his like again, and the Australian summer that begins this week is poorer for it.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (October 12, 2011, 1:59 GMT)

@Woody111 - regarding your last line, I think body v action meant early retirement was always going to happen, sooner rather than later.

Posted by RandyOZ on (October 11, 2011, 7:58 GMT)

No one will replace Tait in our T20 team, which is the only one doing anything, a big loss!

Posted by BazD on (October 11, 2011, 6:19 GMT)

One of the most exciting fast bowlers I've had the pleasure to watch. Always brought something to the game and made it worthwhile to watch. Amazing how many records he has for South Australia - most wickets in a Shield season, most wickets in a one day season, most one day wickets ever, best strike rate ever. Most wickets ever in a one day game in Australia - 8 for 43. Fastest ever bowler for South Australia. 2nd fastest recorded in the world. Not many people can bowl 160 kph, he's done it 3 times that have been recorded. Obviously bowling at that pace has taken it's toll on his body - I'm not surprised! Will be sadly missed.

Thanks Taity & good luck for the future - you are a great of S.A. Cricket.

Posted by Woody111 on (October 11, 2011, 2:10 GMT)

As time goes on I become more sympathetic to Tait's plight as a player. He wasn't just quick; he could swing the ball both ways and do so with late movement. This is just plain damaging. How you can call him a 1 trick pony is absurd. Those blokes don't get loads of wickets even over the course of one season as batsmen learn how to handle them. Perhaps he was never going to play test cricket but it's shame that we won't even see him in 4 day cricket. If only he could have found a way to manage his body better to keep himself on the park. Perhaps this never could have happened either.

Posted by Meety on (October 11, 2011, 2:05 GMT)

@davidpk - Tait could bowl at 160kph which is a shade under 100mph. @Lawrie Colliver - spot on! @RJHB - know where you are coming from, but I still think that to write off his lack of a FC comeback as no "heart', is harsh as nobody really knows the full facts. One of the things that has leaked out is that he had battles with depression which the modern day society is only just knowing the seriousness of. I had a mate who was depressed & nothing I could do could get him out of bed when he was in his dark place. That is not to say the players you listed didn't have "heart", maybe just different susceptability to mental problems, I dunno. Same thing goes with Malinga (although I think he is even more understandable), sad to see him not playing Test cricket, but he has to think of where will he be when he is 40.

Posted by RJHB on (October 10, 2011, 22:33 GMT)

To me this is definitely a tragic story, but one of once almost limitless potential that ended in wasted talent, which I guess is what the article is also trying to convey. However what I can't swallow is the excuses. Yes he's had injuries, but do you wanna compare what he's been through and what plenty of other fast bowlers had and still succeeded? Lillee, Alderman, McDermott and Lee are just some of the more recent Aussie fast bowlers to have continually overcome massive career hurdles and yet have had great success. Clearly they had something extra driving them that Tait has lacked: heart.

Posted by   on (October 10, 2011, 20:59 GMT)

Watching him in the opening session of a Sheffield Shield match in Adelaide for a number of season was always a rewarding experience. You always knew something was going to happen. The 500 or so spectators that would be there no doubt would enjoy every minute. Kind with his time also, a big smile or laugh on his face never far away on the field or off it.

Pity there aren't a few more bowlers around these days that can generate the pace he used to. Hopefully Pat Cummins from NSW can take over and provide similar excitement.

mari2619 your comments are a disgrace. What's he supposed to do play for nothing! He's got to get something out of the game while he is fit enough to play! Comments like yours hiding behind a nickname are pathetic.

Good luck to you Taity - SA didn't offer you a contract so what else are you going to do - Good Luck in the BBL in Melbourne!!

Posted by   on (October 10, 2011, 15:54 GMT)

I agree with Meety & Line & Length - I have never done what he has - wished I could have. Good luck to him - with his action he will need it later in life

Posted by Mary_786 on (October 10, 2011, 15:00 GMT)

He puts his personal financial gain over representation for the country, selfish player.

Posted by andrew-schulz on (October 10, 2011, 11:17 GMT)

Oh, come on line and length. Hodge had his chance in all three forms of the game. He was abysmal in the two shorter forms, and his average in test cricket was much inflated by one double century which actually enabled South Africa to gain a draw in Perth. These forums have a particularly inaccurate Victorian bias.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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