Michael Kasprowicz April 28, 2009

Swing with a smile

Meeting one's heroes can often be a disappointment but not for this loyal Queenslander



After his last innings for Queensland: Kasper was perennially cheerful and unbending in effort © Getty Images

Mark Taylor might have had nothing or everything to do with Michael Kasprowicz spending so much time on the national fringe in the 1990s. How could Australia's captain not use Kasper, who still didn't own a Test wicket, in the 69.4 overs of the second innings of his second Test - and then drop him? Why could Taylor not see him the same way as everyone in Queensland? The air-conditioners Taylor now peddles were needed back then to cool the state's tempers.

Like Kasper's swing, it was often impossible to guess whether he was heading in or out. Throughout many rejections he never stopped smiling - or bowling.

I never had to play against him but he always seemed so gentle: a good guy to get out to. While his appeals were growled, they looked to be accompanied by a shy apology through his eyes, which didn't help his image as an intimidating bowler. Not many players have requested people to stop writing nice things about them, as Kasper once did.

A fast man who grew up watching Lillee, Thomson and Pascoe, he played rugby union for the Australian schoolboys as a forward. He was meant to be tough and mean, but "Big Mick" was a hulking, 6ft 4in softie. The only time I can remember him losing his cool was when he felt a muscle go in 2006-07. He hadn't complained when he left John Buchanan's pre-Ashes boot camp with a back injury that would ruin his season, but eight deliveries into his state comeback he hurled the ball in fury after grabbing at his leg. It meant his Cricket Australia contract would not be renewed and his international career was over. There was one more season with Queensland before he retired to join the ICL, for a team whose name I still don't know.

Of course there were hundreds of players who were more exciting, successful and easier to see on television. The batting brilliance of Dean Jones and Mark Waugh was much more magnetic than Kasper's sweaty charges to the wicket, and at least I knew they'd be picked. However, their public personas were unable to match their on-field characters.

Meeting geniuses is never as fulfilling as watching them. Kasper was different. He fell short of playing greatness - 43 ODIs, 38 Tests - but that didn't matter. He was a great man in a great team.

In the early days his outswinger curled like Queensland's point-break waves, and was more dangerous than a cyclone-season dumper. He made his state debut while still at high school, which was pretty cool, and was the first serious player to say hello to me. The day before, he had hosted a junior coaching clinic, and I was a bit upset he didn't like my sliding throwing style (I had copied it straight from his future international team-mates). When the Queensland squad walked past me, as I leaned nervously on the dog-track railings outside the Gabba dressing room, he stopped and talked. At the same ground a few years later, with Mark Butcher becoming an expert at nicking him between slip and gully, Kasper spotted me in the crowd - and waved. I hardly knew him, but he really was the friendliest ghost.

 
 
The only time I can remember him losing his cool was when he felt a muscle go in 2006-07. He hadn't complained when he left John Buchanan's pre-Ashes boot camp with a back injury that would ruin his season, but eight deliveries into his state comeback he hurled the ball in fury after grabbing at his leg
 

As a journalism student I trembled while dropping silver coins into a public phone to call him. I was asking him for my first real interview when the line went dead before a date could be set. After my frantic journey to lease a friend's landline, Kasper pretended our short conversation had not been spread over two suburbs and 45 minutes.

He had been picked on his first Ashes tour, and we would meet in Queensland Cricket's gym. On the walk from the station a Brisbane storm drenched all my cheap-clothing credibility. The dripping eventually stopped, but the mostly nervous shivering remained. Kasper didn't mind and tried not to notice.

Whenever he bowled a leg-side ball in the first two Ashes Tests of 1997 I would beg it to swing. Sometimes it did, but never as much as at the Gabba, and Taylor dropped him for the third game. Kasper didn't win a recall until the next Ashes series. At The Oval he unveiled new-age reverse-swing that confused seven batsmen for 36 runs. I slept through it after a winter of late nights and didn't feel like a true fan.

After that Tests in England didn't turn out well for him. Fortunately he was able to overcome the memory of Steve Harmison's throat ball at Edgbaston in 2005, a series-turning low that deepened when he was dropped again. In similar circumstances less than a year later in Johannesburg, Kasper and Brett Lee successfully eked out victory and I dropped my hands every time a short one was aimed at Kasper, just in case it helped avoid a repeat of his gloved dismissal in Birmingham. It was his last Test, and he deserved the triumphant exit for his perennial cheerfulness and unbending effort.

Friends who tired of hearing updates on Kasper and Queensland's other bowlers would tease: "How many children will you name after them?" When our first baby arrived, Casper was the only boy's name we could agree on. We had a girl, Carys. Thirteen months later my son was born, and our list was still stuck at one. After four days he suddenly looked like an Alistair, saving me from the awkward introduction one day of "Kasper, this is Casper".

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo. This article was first published in the February 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here