Test debut makes Clint's day
Clint McKay is used to grabbing his chances when they arrive. In November 2006, having been stripped of his state contract during the off-season, McKay was called up for his first-class debut when Victoria lost nearly all their contracted fast bowlers to injury. Fast forward three years and having played two ODIs in India in November, a Test debut awaits McKay, again due to a spate of injuries.
The hamstring stiffness suffered by his Victoria team-mate Peter Siddle has opened the door for McKay, 26, to become Australia's 412th Test cricketer when he takes the field against West Indies in Perth on Wednesday. But Siddle's twinge is just the latest in a growing list of injury concerns among Australia's bowlers.
Seven specialist fast men hold Cricket Australia contracts and five of them - Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus (knee), Brett Lee (elbow), Stuart Clark (back) and Nathan Bracken (knee) - are sidelined, while another, Shaun Tait, is now a limited-overs specialist. That has left Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger as the only new-ball options left from the original squad, and the captain Ricky Ponting said McKay deserved to join them at the WACA.
"He's the next best bowler in the country," Ponting said. "His form in all forms of the game the last couple of years has been outstanding. I was really impressed with what he did for us in the one-day games in India and how composed he was under pressure, and how well he was able to execute his skills. He's a very skilful bowler and these conditions here I think will really suit him."
Ponting has seen more of McKay than he has of some other young state players; McKay's Victoria debut coincided with a rare Tasmania appearance for Ponting three years ago. He didn't get Ponting out but he did perform well and soon became a first-choice member of Victoria's attack. That in itself was a change for McKay, who had just started a teaching degree after being dumped from the state squad. A baggy green was nothing but a distant dream.
"It's been a strange career for me so far," McKay said on the eve of his Test debut. "I actually got contracted about five years ago and going through without playing a game and losing my contract during the year, I didn't know where my career was going.
"I sort of sat down and talked to a few people and did a bit of thinking myself on what I wanted to achieve out of the game. Thankfully it all turned around. I did a good pre-season, got back and actually played a few games. To get back and tomorrow realising your dream is coming true is a ... big thrill. I can't wait to get out there."
McKay has already fitted in well to international cricket, having been handed his first one-day opportunities on the tour of India last month. On debut in Hyderabad, he held his nerve to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar with a slower ball in the 48th over after the master had made 175, and McKay finished with 3 for 59 to help Australia to victory.
He's not an express bowler like Johnson or even Bollinger, but what McKay should add to the team is bounce - he stands at 194cm, taller than both the left-armers - and consistency. Although his experience at the WACA is limited, McKay knows the temptation to bowl extra short must be avoided, and he will be aiming for a fuller length to allow the ball to shape.
"I definitely try to swing it a little bit away," McKay said. "I think trying to use my height a little more and get a bit more bounce, hopefully out here it'll be nice and bouncy and go to my advantage.
"It definitely has been a whirlwind couple of months, but so far, so good. Everything's gone to plan and gone really well. I feel like I'm bowling the best I've bowled coming into this game. You don't know until you get out there but at the moment I'm confident in what I'm doing, so everyone's backing me and it's been great to be around the team."
While McKay is a certainty to make his Test debut, there remains a chance he could be joined by a second newcomer at the cap presentation. The Tasmania fast bowler Brett Geeves and the New South Wales legspinning allrounder Steven Smith will be fighting for a place in the team if Nathan Hauritz fails to recover after hurting his finger at training on Tuesday.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo