Features FeaturesRSS FeedFeeds

Baggy green or livelihood?

Cricketers have often had to choose between cash and country. For some, like Rod McCurdy, it was a choice that raised many questions about what might have been

Brydon Coverdale

November 22, 2011

Comments: 7 | Text size: A | A

Rod McCurdy bowls, 1985
Rod McCurdy: "How can you be a character if you're not allowed to show any emotion?" © Getty Images
Enlarge
Related Links
Players/Officials: Rod McCurdy

In 1985, Rod McCurdy had a decision to make. At 25, he was a journeyman fast bowler who had already played for three Australian states. He was married and had a six-year-old son. He needed financial security. The rebel tours of South Africa offered that.

On the other hand, he had just made his one-day international debut. A place on the 1985 Ashes tour beckoned. The baggy green was there for the taking. History shows that McCurdy chose the rebel route and settled in South Africa after the tours. More than a quarter of a century later, he still wonders what could have been.

"I pulled out of that 1985 Ashes tour," McCurdy says. "It always bugs me. I was picked on the Ashes tour. Would I have gone there? Yes, I was going there. We would have loved to have gone there, played in the Ashes, and then come out to South Africa afterwards. At least I would have had my opportunity. That's a disappointment for me."

Some fast bowlers, Terry Alderman and Carl Rackemann, for example, returned home after the rebel tours, served their two-year bans and went on to play Test cricket. But McCurdy was offered a contract to stay on and play with Eastern Cape under the captaincy of Kepler Wessels. Then another contract and another. He never played in Australia again.

"A lot of people may not like this, but being a bowler in those days, the money wasn't great, and also you didn't know if you were going to get a stress fracture in your back, was your ankle going to get stuck in the footholes," McCurdy says. "You don't know. It sounds mercenary but today the guys don't mind moving around and playing for as many sides as they can, whoever pays them.

"I had a young family and at the time it was very enticing. The money was guaranteed and back home it wasn't guaranteed. A lot of people may not like that comment, but that's the fact of it. If you look at modern-day sport, there's no loyalty anymore.

"It's every kid's dream to have the baggy-green cap. When I was a kid, I was getting Dennis Lillee's signature on the boundary when I was about 15. Three and a half years later I was playing my first game against him in Perth. That's the dream. Every kid, when they go to the MCG and see a Boxing Day Test, you just want to have the chance to run out. I had the chance to run out and play one-day internationals, but it would have been great to play a five-day game. But we all make choices in life and you live with them."

Now 51, McCurdy still lives in South Africa with his wife Donna. Their second and third children were born in South Africa and have never visited Australia. For several years McCurdy has run a security business in Port Elizabeth, marketing alarms for homes and small businesses. Not surprisingly it's a lucrative market in South Africa.

He is about to start a new job in Johannesburg, as operations manager of Tellytrack, the racing television station. McCurdy will work both behind the scenes - he shares an office with the former New Zealand captain Ken Rutherford - and on camera, at the racetrack. His love of punting came from his father, a greyhound trainer in Melbourne.

McCurdy remembers skipping a Victoria state training session early in his career - "It was pelting with rain," he says - to go and watch one of his father's dogs run in the country town of Warragul. It was a lucrative night and McCurdy returned home with a wad of cash, only to be told by his wife that Victoria's chairman of selectors had been on the phone looking for him.

"I was suspended for one game," he says. "The next day in the Sun the headline was 'McCurdy Gone to the Dogs'."

Over his career, McCurdy became no stranger to the occasional run-in with authority. During the rebel tour he was fined 1000 rand for allegedly kicking Australia's team manager, Bruce Francis, in the change rooms. McCurdy had been batting in a match Australia needed to win to level the series; not only were they playing for honour, but for the chance to play a tie-break game for more money.

"I was batting and facing Hugh Page, who was bouncing me, and my record shows I wasn't the greatest batsman in the world," McCurdy says. "I got out and as I walked up the race, the crowd was giving it to me. We were desperate to win it, not just for Australia but to load our pockets [in] the next game.

"I walked inside and Bruce was not even watching the game, he was reading the newspaper with his feet up - and he was our team manager. I just walked straight through him, he fell on the ground and then reported me to Ali Bacher. I got a hearing and a 1000-rand fine. That was big money in those days. There was contact - I walked straight through his legs, but I didn't kick him. I'd never kick anyone."

McCurdy would have been a nightmare for cricket administrators these days. Not surprisingly, he is pleased that he played in an era in which players could still be themselves.


Australian fast bowler Rod McCurdy now works at a TV station in South Africa, 2011
McCurdy now works behind the scenes and in front of the camera at a racing TV station in Johannesburg © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Enlarge

"One day I was playing against David Hookes in Tasmania when I was about 20," he says. "I threw a mock punch at him on the field, Hookesy ducked for cover. Some of the stuff Hoggy [Rodney Hogg] and Lillee said - it was brilliant stuff. But these days you can't say a word. You can't even look at an umpire like you're disappointed, or you're fined. They've taken all the characters out of the game. People want them but how can you be a character if you're not allowed to show any emotion?"

A barrel-chested fast bowler who compares his style of bowling with that of Peter Siddle, McCurdy was the type of man who could run in all day without dropping his pace. He was good enough to take 305 first-class wickets, plus plenty on the rebel tours, including 6 for 67 in Johannesburg either side of Christmas Day 1986.

McCurdy has fond memories of the rebel matches. He recalls breaking Clive Rice's foot with a yorker in a one-day game, only to watch Rice bat on and win the game for South Africa. "After that I just had so much respect for the guy," he says. "We had the game won but he turned it around and they won it."

Rice would eventually play three ODIs for South Africa when they were readmitted to international cricket. McCurdy's official international career never went beyond the 11 ODIs he played in early 1985, before he signed the deal that would change his life.

"Would I change it? Probably not, no. Did we ever think we would live in South Africa? No, we didn't. But we've had a good time here. The people are great and the lifestyle is fantastic.

"Everyone likes to say, 'At least I played one Test.' I suppose we can always live in dreams of what could have been. But it hasn't happened and I've got to live with that. I've certainly enjoyed my time here. It's been great fun."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Brydon Coverdale

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by lone_ranger on (November 23, 2011, 8:26 GMT)

I remember Rod McCurdy quite clearly from my childhood. I was a young cricketer (<12) living in Cape Town supporting Eastern Province. Brilliant team, Wessels, Mccurdy, Tim Shaw, the two Daves (Richardson and Callaghan), Mark Rushmere, Brett Schultz, etc. The names come back to me like the names of old friends.

Huge respect to Mr McCurdy. Tough decision, but you made it and made the most of the consequences. A true legend..

Posted by   on (November 22, 2011, 19:54 GMT)

Interesting character I knew little about. Interesting to compare this, and the treatment of the Australian (and English) rebels with the West Indians (see "THe Unforgiven" article on this site), which was (not surprisingly) much harsher. The "cash or country" debate is still with us, just now it takes the form of IPL contracts (Chris Gayle is the prime example).

Posted by blade_pakkiri on (November 22, 2011, 18:08 GMT)

I think that if that choice ever came to me, play cricket for money or country I would take the money any day. If I happened to play for the country in the pursuit of money it's well and good. I won't be regretting my decision over it.

Posted by Robster1 on (November 22, 2011, 13:26 GMT)

With the paltry wages paid to players in those days (and most of them in Australia were effectively only part timers) you can understand why a large, guaranteed pay day was accepted by so many.

Posted by LillianThomson on (November 22, 2011, 13:08 GMT)

The rebel tourists - English, Australian, South African and West Indian alike - basically stole food from the mouths of underprivileged and disenfranchised non-white South Africans to feather their own nests. They were at best amoral self-serving mercenaries. I was proud many years ago as a schoolboy to be part of a large Old Trafford crowd heckling John Emburey for what he did. I find it sad that Cricinfo chooses to feature Rod McCurdy in the week when cricket will bury Basil d'Oliveira.And even sadder that the likes of David Graveney and Trevor Hohns have been rehabilitated in their respective national cricket hierarchies.

Posted by Batch on (November 22, 2011, 7:05 GMT)

Rod once invited me and a few friends into the Eastern Province dressing room during a rain delayed B&H match at Centurion Park, Pretoria in the late 80's. He was such a great a character and we even consider becoming Eastern Province supporters. I still treasure his signed cricket shirt. Also enjoyed his & Neil Andrew's early Saturday TV-programme a few years ago. Great cricket legend!

Posted by Meety on (November 22, 2011, 3:56 GMT)

Was only yesterday watching some highlights of the old bensen & hedges w/cup triangulars between WIndies, Oz & Pakis & McCurdy was playing. His overall stats in ODIs don't look that good - but given half his matches were against the WIndies - he wasn't too bad.

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

    The world record that nearly wasn't

Rewind: Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it

    An archaelogical probe into the state of the game

Review: Gideon Haigh comes out with another set of essays that sound uncannily prescient about the way the game is headed

Blind cricket struggles for recognition in India

Despite recent successes, visually impaired players are not getting the backing that could turn them into professionals

    Crunch time for Sehwag and Gambhir

Numbers Game: The Indian T20 tournament presents an opportunity to both to show their class once again

The home invasion

Hassan Cheema: The Emirates have been Pakistan's home away from home for three decades. To see the IPL being played there must feel like betrayal

News | Features Last 7 days

UAE all set to host lavish welcoming party

The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006

Attention on Yuvraj, Gambhir in IPL 2014

ESPNcricinfo picks five players for whom this IPL is of bigger significance

The watch breaker, and Malinga specials

The Plays of the day from the match between Kolkata and Mumbai, in Abu Dhabi

India: cricket's Brazil

It's difficult to beat a huge talent base exposed to good facilities, and possessed of a long history of competing as a nation

The captain's blunder

The Plays of the day from the match between Chennai and Punjab in Abu Dhabi

News | Features Last 7 days