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Big Mac in three clicks

A trio of quintessential images sums up Brian McMillan: his hands, a broken middle stump and the farcical end to South Africa's 1992 World Cup campaign

Sidharth Monga

January 11, 2011

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Mark Butcher ducks a short ball as Brian McMillan looks on from the slips, England v South Africa, 5th Test, 3rd day, August 8, 1998
If McMillan didn't catch it in the slips, something was wrong © Associated Press
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Players/Officials: Brian McMillan
Teams: South Africa

At the risk of over-simplifying, the Brian McMillan story can be told through three images that come forth when you first think of McMillan. Not necessarily ones seen on TV or in photo albums or collectors' libraries. They are etched in the mind.

THE HANDS. Those big hands, almost the size of baseball gloves. And not just big, they are fleshy, hence soft. Hands made to catch round objects hit hard at you, to the right of you, to the left of you, at your toes, over your head. McMillan caught his fair share, standing at slip. If he dropped a catch - and there aren't too many recorded instances, so you have to rely on his first-class colleagues for that - the reaction in the field would be stunned silence. Just silence, players looking at each other, not saying a word.

"It happened once or twice. I have got to be honest," says McMillan, who obviously has no need to be humble about his slip-catching.

Talking to him about slip-catching is a fascinating experience. It's something he can date back to when he was around eight or nine years old, when "you were not even thought of".

"My brother was a good cricketer as well, and we played cricket against men," he says. "We were youngsters playing with men, and the men were so bloody slow, they couldn't bend down, you know. So after a while they thought, 'Let's try the youngsters and see if they can catch.' We then went to slip and gully. It was never first slip, more third slip and gully.

"And then we started practising together, as you would do with brothers. We started taking good catches. We always took the good catches, never the average one. Always had the thing for a difficult catch, the dive."

Once the bug bit them, the McMillan brothers went on to acquire skills needed in the slips. "We used to ping golf balls at each other, get in line and defend. And then catch with those golf balls and hard balls. You had to catch them in your fingers, if you caught them in your palm, it would be quite sore. Slowly you develop a web between your fingers."

The key to any catching, he says, is to catch the ball between the lowest third of the fingers and the first horizontal line on the palm. On his hands, of course, it is a huge area. "The easiest way to catch a ball - people talk about catching in the palm and all - is actually, like baseball, you have to catch in the fingers and upper palm of your hand. If it hits you in the palm, it's going to hit you slap bang and it is going to hurt. I promise you, in my career it happened 10 times. Rest of the catches were always in my finger region."

That kind of self-assurance - and he admits he might sound a bit cocky at times - is the biggest attribute of a good slip fielder.

"You need confidence in yourself," he says. "So any ball that comes your way, say a metre and a half to your left or right or above you, if you can get three-quarters of your hand to it, you should be able to catch the ball. If you reach it with the tip, you can never catch it. If you get three-quarters of your hand, you should have soft enough hands to absorb the impact of the ball.

"Anything in your region, where you have to step this side, step that side, you shouldn't miss it. Slip fielding is about the other percentage, something a little further, the half chance. If you pick up 60 or 70% of half chances, then you are a good slip fielder."

McMillan's inclination to the sporting life helped offset the big frame, which could be a hindrance in taking those half chances. "I was a natural sportsperson, used to play cricket, rugby, hockey, squash, tennis. So you learn to move around the court, you learn the basics."

"When a catch is good, smooth - when a batsman hits it, it is quick, and you catch it in finger and lower palm - it is a good feeling. It's nice. But the real good feeling is when it is wide of you and you pick it one-handed. That's fantastic"

To the outsider it seems like the Mark Waugh-type catches, ones that smoothly settle in the hands, making a soft little sound, would be the most satisfying for a slip fielder. They must feel as good as a full ball despatched with a straight bat and high elbow is to a batsman. For McMillan it was about the ones that made him stretch. "When a catch is good, smooth - when a batsman hits it, it is quick, and you catch it in finger and lower palm - it is a good feeling. It's nice. But the real good feeling is when it is wide of you and you pick it one-handed. That's fantastic."

McMillan remembers two of those. "One in India. Mohammad Azharuddin was batting, Allan Donald was bowling, wide, and I was standing one-and-a-half, and he hit at a wide one, and it went wide to my right, and I picked it in three fingers, which is phenomenal. I thought it was one of my best catches.

"Another one, there is a picture of that somewhere in England, in one of the brochures, where Graeme Hick at Headingley edged a very similar one. In the air, wide. Caught it in three fingers again. So those are the good catches."

Hard as it is to believe, McMillan has done a lot of fielding at silly point and forward short leg too. "I have got a lot in the shin off the bowling of Pat Symcox. Especially against Sri Lanka and India. They would come down and smash it straight into silly point."

MIDDLE STUMP SNAPPED. Brian McMillan to Ian Botham, allrounder to allrounder, good friend to good friend, in a league match in the 1992 World Cup, at the MCG, and the middle stump broken into two. McMillan was never a fast bowler. He'd just put his body in, bowl the heavy balls, cutters, and also rely on the seam and the pitch.

"More of a strength bowler," he says. "Not a technique bowler, not somebody like Dale Steyn, who goes on rhythm. I had to run in hard, bowl hard. Hit the deck. I loved wickets that had good bounce. That suited me. If the wicket was green I could bowl the seamers."

It was on that sort of pitch in Melbourne, during the course of a "phenomenal trip" for the World Cup, that he bowled to Botham.

"Beefy and I are good mates as well. I remember he was trying the pinch-hitter thing for England. The wicket was good to bowl on, and I knew if I bowled well there was something. I got that ball right, with a bit of gas in it, it nipped back in, took the stumps out. It hit the middle of the stump, perhaps that's why it broke. I told Beefy 'I'll meet you for a beer afterwards.'"

SOUTH AFRICA TO WIN NEED 22 RUNS OFF 1 BALL. The giant screen at the SCG narrating the farcical turn of events. An angry McMillan and Dave Richardson just going through the motions. Ambassadors of a nation, part of a team just readmitted to cricket and hugely loved in Australia, trying their best to suppress anger and avoid ugly scenes.

Graham Gooch shakes Brian McMillan's hand, England v South Africa, World Cup semi-final, Sydney, March 22, 1992
A photo McMillan looks at every day © Getty Images

"I promise you," McMillan says. "If we had played Pakistan in the final, we would have beaten them. We had beaten them before that, we had a mental edge. They just couldn't play us."

In the semi-final, though, chasing an improbable target, South Africa came really close. They needed 25 off three overs when rain arrived, and thanks to a mindless rule - drawn up, ironically, by a committee that had Richie Benaud on it - after the interruption they were left to chase 22 off seven balls. Which turned out to be a typo on the big screen. The reality was even more ridiculous.

"We knew they would need to bowl a part-time bowler for at least one over," McMillan says. "So at 27 off three overs, the game was on. Then it came to 23 off 13. We thought we were still on. We had a short boundary on one side at the SCG. Even then it was great. But at 22 off 1 we were stuffed.

"The irony of the whole saga was that a South African, Allan Lamb, went up to Graham Gooch and told him they must walk off. It was actually he who advised Gooch, otherwise Gooch was going to play on. Lamb advised Gooch, and he is a South African. When we walked off, to give them credit, Gooch and Ian Botham walked up saying, 'If we were to win, we don't want to win that way.' So I have got to give them credit. That meant a lot to me."

That third picture is not in the McMillan house, but the one where Gooch is shaking his hand after the farce is over, hangs on a wall. So conveniently located is it that he sees it every day walking out to work.

"That was the rule of the game. That was it. So we live by it."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by AKG0479 on (January 14, 2011, 20:50 GMT)

There is no doubt 92 WC was the best WC ever played. Reason is simple.. Only 9 teams & each team played with every other teams in the league matches, which gave a clear picture of which team is the strongest. I remember almost every game played. Yes rain did change some results in very ironic way. Even India suffered a 1 run loss to Aus coz of a rain hit change of chase stats. But I would also say that PAK winning the WC was due to 1) Luck of rain to an extend (as they got points shared in the sure matches they wud have lost) & 2) NZ's stupid decision to lose the last league match with PAK to play their semi at home. They lost with PAK who played exceptionally well in the Semi & Final and IK lifted the cup beating ENG in a commanding way... ! But 92 WC introduced few greats to World Cricket.. SRT, M Waugh, Lara, Rhodes, Donald, Inzi, Hick, Flower bros, Mahanama, Jadeja etc etc..

Posted by   on (January 12, 2011, 21:27 GMT)

He was one of my favourite cricekters when I first started watching cricket 1992 when I was 7. Seems like a thorough gentleman. Imagine what Ricky Ponting or Yuvraj singh would do if they had been given that target in the semifinals of a world cup.

Posted by Sidace on (January 12, 2011, 7:57 GMT)

It would have been a great final South Africa vs Pakistan. Pakistan would have probably still won, but it would been a super final, way better than Pakistan vs England.

Posted by malibu77 on (January 12, 2011, 3:38 GMT)

I too was at the WC 1992 semi. I remember thinking that if we were in India or Pakistan or the West Indies they would have rioted and torn the stadium down! The farce was that the rule didn't have to be applied. The umpires and officials should have applied commonsense and realising the magnitude of the game just carried on after the brief rain break without any reduction in overs. As I recall, the game actually finished before the latest time it could, that is, there was still time to spare!

Posted by Meety on (January 11, 2011, 23:46 GMT)

McMillan certainly wasn't a great player, but the some of his parts meant that he was valuable in ODIs & Tests. Good batsmen, good bowler, great slipsman. Individually his batting wasn't great, neither his bowling, but altogether he was very very good.

Posted by   on (January 11, 2011, 23:28 GMT)

@Alkais. There werent long boundries in alot of the games in the 92 WC with many games being played in NZ. I remember watching Zim v Sri at Pukekura Park in New Plymouth which must surely be the smallest ground in the world. All NZ grounds have small boundries. The difference in the games were the approach of players and skill levels. @ LordOfCric. New Zealand were the form team of the 92 WC (despite a disatorous build up in England.) They finished the round robin top of the table and beat every team but Pak (who also beat them in the semi final.)

Posted by TheDoctor394 on (January 11, 2011, 21:51 GMT)

You know, I've always had a hunch that Richie Benaud had something to do with that idiotic rain rule, but found it hard to be convinced. But I can remember him suggesting something like that before it was actually brought into effect. It messed up several games, as there was quite a lot of rain around that World Cup, and an irony is the rain halted what would have been a comfortable win by England over Pakistan in a preliminary match, which led to them getting a point each. If England had won that game, Pakistan would never have made it to the finals in the first place.

Posted by LordOfCric on (January 11, 2011, 20:19 GMT)

Most of the cricket lover dont knw this fella, but he has carried away by saying SA would have beat Pakistan in the world cup. Let me remind you people that England were the strongest team in 92 WC; in league match Pakistan were bowled out for only 74 against them. If Pakistan can beat that team in the world cup final which bowled them out on 74 than Saying "We would have beaten Pakistan" is sound ridiculius to me. This article should also mention when Waqar snapped his stump once, OHH boy that was joy to watch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by crikkfan on (January 11, 2011, 19:58 GMT)

stunnerbond27 i have said that before and will say it - D&L is not perfect but close to the best we have now. In 1992, it was a silly rule - not D&L - which has since been modified.. more than once. even D&L may appear to be unfair but what has to change is what constitutes a 'complete' match. In T20I for example, you can have a complete match in 5 overs which is ridiculous!

Posted by CricketPissek on (January 11, 2011, 19:04 GMT)

Big Mac is looking back with rose tinted glasses... as most ppl tend to do. he seems a very confident fellow, and i have no issues with him feeling confident that SA would have beaten Pak in that 1992 WC Final. It would've been quite the romantic story as well, with them being readmitted into the scene etc. Having seen him play a few years (from the mid 90s) i am still not convinced he was such a great player though. i've seen him take some stunning catches, but not too sure how good his bowling and batting was really. a great candidate for an interview though! this was quite an interesting read

Posted by Alkais on (January 11, 2011, 16:08 GMT)

I would love to go back to those days when cricket was played when we used to have long boundaries, batsmen running lots of twos,threes. It was really great to watch the skills of batsmen to take singles compared to these days with short boundaries where batsmen come and whack the ball in the air which goes for boundary and six. Really loved that worldcup(92) with long boundaries(fence being boundary in some ground.) And Mcmillan, what a player he was. Lot of skills in moving the ball, he was very nippy. The stats doesnt do justice to that where he played only for 4yrs.

Posted by   on (January 11, 2011, 15:24 GMT)

This guy sounds so genuine and straight up!

Posted by   on (January 11, 2011, 14:27 GMT)

Must be awful losing like that!

Posted by Wisebloke on (January 11, 2011, 14:22 GMT)

I too was at that game. The England supporters could not believe their absolute luck. Woopee, about the slow overs - The Randwick Local council had a curfew on the game.... the lights had to be out at a certain time. Also, besides the rain saga which became more farcical minute by the minute near the end the playing rules were pretty new to the new South Africa too...... Every time they hit the mobile sight screen on the full (inside the boundary) they were only awarded a four instead of a six. Talk about an uneven playing field. Just as umpire Davies did them a discervice in the 2nd test two weeks ago I reckon they were done-in by some phone calls. Nope! not so fast South Africa.

Posted by stunnerbond27 on (January 11, 2011, 13:59 GMT)

Hell Yeah. I remember that day, 1992 WC, I would like know that "is there any Cricketer or Cricket fan here who Likes or Support D&L method?" - Thanks

Posted by Zaheerv1 on (January 11, 2011, 13:27 GMT)

I see no mention of McMillan's crude and racis' slurs made to Ashraf Mall. He made the most insincere apology,which no person who values honesty could possibly accept.

Posted by   on (January 11, 2011, 13:23 GMT)

big mac is perhaps getting too carried away by looking back at thatv semi final against england i watched the whole match and south africa were anything but in control with 23 needed of 13 and mac millan playing on 21 off 21 withjout a boundary and richardson playing on on 13 off 10 with a single boundary only snell pringle and donald to follow the signs were ominous for south africa. one more wicket and it would have been all over for south africa , regarding his claim that he would have defeated pakistan the lesser said is the better as they had beaten pakistan in the league game by virtue of the same rain rule otherwise pakistan were cruising along

Posted by Pablo123 on (January 11, 2011, 12:52 GMT)

@ Ramiz Baig - SA have been No.1 in ODI numerous times and No.1 in Tests briefly - what are you talking about ?

Posted by Pablo123 on (January 11, 2011, 7:27 GMT)

Great write up. Big Mac was a legend in his own time. That 1992 farce really bit hard as a South African, we felt we could have won that WC. In 1996 too, felt we could have won that cup, but were also outdone by a silly rule. 1999 was ridiculous and in 2003, a slip up in the calculations. 2007 were simply outplayed. SA have really had a tough time at WC's, but always there knocking on the door for honours.

Miss the good old days of cricket, there seemed a lot more at steak then.

Posted by   on (January 11, 2011, 5:58 GMT)

mr. mcmillan you conveniently forget that the only reason SA beat Pak in the 92 world cup was because of the same "rain rule" that resulted in the farce in the semi final. there was no way any team was beating Pak that fateful day in march 92!

also SA world cup record since then has proven that you guys would have figured out a way yourself to lose to us, i mean it was a crunch match!

the Indians are having a ball at no.1 because their biggest challenge has been from SA, god forbid SA ever let themselves become no. 1 !


Posted by JoshM75 on (January 11, 2011, 5:25 GMT)

Can we please stop the revisionist history on the 1992 WC semi-final! The South Africans used the existing rules to their advantage by deliberately not bowling their 50 overs in the allotted time - robbing England of 5 overs of going the tonk. How ironic then that the existing rules then created a farce of the match at the end - karma is so sweet. See below from match notes (taken from cricinfo) - the SA's had no excuse for not bowling out their overs, I was at the match and it was obvious to all the SA's made no genuine attempt to bowl their full 50 overs. So if you want to use the rules beware of all of the rules!

Play was delayed by 10 minutes due to early rain, and 10 minutes were removed from the lunch interval - no reduction in the number of overs. The England innings was shortened when the overs weren't completed by 6:10pm, the rescheduled close of innings time.

Posted by Josh1942 on (January 11, 2011, 5:17 GMT)

Terrific article by someone who has true feeling for the game. Thank you. McMillan was a real funny guy and many opponents said his sledging was the worst because it was never personal or nasty - just funny - and he would tell jokes and keep the punch line until the bowler just released the ball!

Posted by hoodbu on (January 11, 2011, 4:44 GMT)

South Africa would NOT have beaten Pakistan in the final of the 92 WC. They would have found some way to choke even then..

Posted by khawaja8 on (January 11, 2011, 4:20 GMT)

Thanks for posting the article on Big Mac. He's has been my favorite South African Cricketer since 1992 WC. I always enjoyed his all round skills. His friendship with India's V. Raju (Off Spinner) was very famous as well.

Posted by   on (January 11, 2011, 4:16 GMT)

I will never have any sympathy with SA for that world cup loss. England were blazing away at the end of their innings, and SA deliberately bowled too slow, so that they didn't bowl all their allotted overs. There should have been a penalty for this, and the way the game ended up may have been a farce, but justice was done.

Still, MacMillan sounds like a lovely bloke.

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