Christian Ryan
Writer based in Melbourne. Author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket

'Bryce-ee!'

McGain, he of one-Test fame, is well placed, perhaps, to see cricket's little disappointments for what they are

Christian Ryan

March 29, 2012

Comments: 11 | Text size: A | A

Ricky Ponting has a chat with Bryce McGain, South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, 2nd day, Cape Town, March 20, 2009
After South Africa, McGain experienced an absence of communication. During South Africa he sensed a shortage of trust © Getty Images
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Last Saturday, bleak but rainless, a Test bowler bowled eight overs from the Ralph's Meat Company Grandstand end of Toorak Park. And because this bowler was a Test bowler - Bryce McGain - an elderly couple in windcheaters on a park bench behind the bowler's arm stopped talking, and bent their two heads forward, expecting… magic?

Bryce's Test, just the one Test, happened in Cape Town three years earlier. In a break in play Michael Clarke, who'd been fielding at slip, said: "You're so close, Bryce, so close." Bryce bowled 108 balls that game. None were wicket-taking and nearly a quarter clunked into or cleared advertising boards: savage stick, of seldom-seen dimensions, but that did not make Clarke's words banter or empty well-meaningness. You can count up to infinity, any minute of play, the unlikely yet imaginable scenarios by which a wicket might fall. Rare is the falling wicket that does not alter a game's mood. So to be bowling - to be not yet dragged out of the attack - is by definition to be "so close".

One ball in Cape Town, Bryce's 13th, still sits in his head, a legbreak, nicely flighted, tempting Ashwell Prince to scurry down and hack at it. Prince swivelled - a split second's fright - and watched. The ball looped over backward point's head. Worse: upon evading the fieldsman's clutches, it bounced away for four.

There was a ball, Bryce's 15th, at Toorak Park on Saturday that spat out of his hand and skidded, nearly grubbering, a topspinner, and in a whirl of pads and bat Bryce yelped out an appeal for lbw or caught behind. Not out. Bryce crept uncomplainingly back to the top of his run-up. Before turning again, his face crinkled a little, and his eyes closed.

When he was picked for Australia three years ago he missed the connecting flight from Melbourne to Sydney and landed in South Africa the morning after everyone else. What was that? It's a pretty important plane flight in your life. Was that… something? Someone I know went for a job recently and after much tugging of instincts at an educational institution. This person dreaded the box-ticking and hoop-jumping of being at an educational institution but they could do with the fixed income. Then the day of the interview came and she drove to the wrong campus.

Magic was not on the bowler's mind at the Ralph's Meat Company Grandstand end. Bryce's way is patience. He mixes his trajectory, keeps batsmen adjusting and readjusting, and in the over after that shooting topspinner it almost worked. A clumsy drive, then a wail of "catch it"; a pull and a miss; another miscued drive screwing to Bryce's left. "Bryce-ee!" his team-mates cried. By now we were late into the first afternoon of a two-day district semi-final, Prahran hosting Dandenong, Prahran's batsmen long-gone for 119 and Dandenong plodding up into the 60s, the openers still in.

Next ball, Bryce tossed high.

The batsman blocked back carefully.

Bryce hopped an eager jig.

Something seemed about to break.

But already the umpire was yanking hands out of pockets and calling "Over".

 
 
When somebody was needed to clamber over the fence and scrape the sightscreen along its metal rails in readiness for the new bowler, a young offspinner, it was Bryce who did the clambering and scraping
 

Bryce likes to feel the ball in his palms, motioning for it to be hurled his way when a team huddle splits up. If he is not bowling he looks after the shine on the ball. He plucks a white towel out of his tucked-in trousers to mop away some greasiness. He is thin - not a cricket player's build, an entomology professor's - so thin the sight of him takes a while getting used to. Every move is gentle. He is no big spinner of a cricket ball, and the longer he bowled the less cagey Dandenong's batsmen grew about deflecting him into gaps. When somebody was needed to clamber over the fence and scrape the sightscreen along its metal rails in readiness for the new bowler, a young offspinner, it was Bryce who did the clambering and scraping. No one much noticed that the bowler who the young offie was replacing was Bryce.

In the occasional interviews he gives - including a warm one with journalist Ken Piesse - tinges of confusion, never bitterness, seep out about Cape Town. The coach had cautioned him pre-series about not over-drinking or socialising. That dumbfounded Bryce. Who, he thought - me? His selection for that Test was a secret to him till 75 minutes before play. Others, he says, were aware the night before that he'd be playing. After South Africa he experienced an absence of communication. During South Africa he sensed a shortage of trust - also, the team "wanted a certain conformity, for people to be a certain way". He wondered how much of a world beyond cricket the people knew.

Older, worldlier, a big-time cricketer relatively late in life, Bryce is well placed, perhaps, to see cricket's little disappointments for what they are, which is to say, scarcely disappointing at all. Three quarters of the balls he bowled in Cape Town did not go for four or six. When stumps were drawn last Saturday night, Dandenong were 2 for 117. Prahran needed to strangle 8 for 2 or better for a first-innings tie and probable grand final berth - a hopeless cause, but you never know - except when play resumed the captain threw the ball not to the one Test bowler on the park, but to his two quicks.

"The point of a midlife crisis," historian Tony Judt believed, "is to demonstrate continuity with one's youth by doing something strikingly different."

Sounds exciting when you put it like that: anything goes and anything's possible. And when Bryce woke from sleep that morning, Sunday morning, it was his 40th birthday.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and, most recently Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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Posted by   on (March 31, 2012, 7:37 GMT)

Since Warne left the spinner list that Aussies have tried is quite long. Mcgill, Hogg, Casson, Mcgain, Beer, Hauritz, Lyon, Doherty, Krezja, White, Smith. Mcgain was offered a mirage to resurrect a career that pehaps never was.

Posted by FATHAWK on (March 30, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

I was at that test, which was a dead rubber as the Aussies had already wrapped up the series lead by Mitchel Johnson and Phil Hughes (remember them?). If you had to play one test that might be the ground I would pick. We flew down from London with my old mate Ashes Earnie to see poor old Bryce get dispatched to all parts as Kallis and then ABdeV took to him. What was is not mentioned is that his skipper left mid-on and mid-off up for most of his spells allowing the SA bats to continually loft back over their heads. It looked like a Sunday village game trying to engineer a score to chase, which the Aussies then failed at badly. Sadly we then missed Mitchell Johnson very fast ton as we rushed off to see the sun set a camps bay. A mistake not to be made again said Earnie!

Posted by gimme-a-greentop on (March 30, 2012, 8:34 GMT)

I was at Newlands for that Test match, I thought he was a little unlucky because SA had a big first innings lead when he bowled a lot of those overs and AB and Albie Morkel where going for the runs for all they where worth. They absolutely tonked him everywhere, but he's not alone in getting smashed by those two. AB hit McDonald for four consecutive 6's. I thought Ponting also used him very poorly and looked very disinterested in general when the ball started disappearing...

Posted by PBs09 on (March 30, 2012, 3:21 GMT)

A great read. Followed this guy for ages ever since he broke into the Vics. Always been a big fan.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (March 30, 2012, 2:07 GMT)

There is a certain amount of romance in this story, and Bryce's story in general, being picked to play tests at a later age, missed plane, was toiling away in domestic cricket, is an IT professional in his day job-certain things many can identify and associate with...the joe next door/layman/underdog finally making it...am sure in all that time on and off the ground, he would have dreamt of bagging a baggy green, which he finally achieved, kudos to him! have heard him on radio,comes across as a gentle and insightful character who gives his views from a honestly-brings a certain earthiness, intersting....go Bryce....dont care what others think, I do root for people like u....!

Posted by dsig3 on (March 29, 2012, 13:07 GMT)

Its just bad luck really. Should have been picked earlier, instead went to SA, missed the plane and ran straight in to Kallis. He was good enough to play more than one game for Australia, but he didnt. Still a test cricketer though, nothing will change that.

Posted by Meety on (March 29, 2012, 12:05 GMT)

Nice article, (like RJHB), I thought there was going to be some point to it, other than a nice lttle recount of a near anonomous grade battle. Still I liked it. I was wary about McGain being selected for Oz, but very dissappointed he really got shafted by Cric Oz. Disturbed about - "...wanted a certain conformity, for people to be a certain way..." sounds a bit like the dark old days of Oz cricket.

Posted by SirBobJones on (March 29, 2012, 10:05 GMT)

@anantbio Bryce did pretty well too. @RJHB Been pondering your carefully worded contribution for a while too, still struggling to see the point though, other than to tell the reader you once knew Bryce McGain. @Shongololo Yeah, must have made Michael Beer a little nervous on debut, since the selectors pretty much chose him based on Warnie's say so as well.

Posted by Shongololo on (March 29, 2012, 9:30 GMT)

This is the guy Shane Warne said would spin South Africa into oblivion. Nice work, Shane!!!

Posted by RJHB on (March 29, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

Saw the headline, read the story, pondered it for a short while, but alas the point of it all eluded me. But maybe I, we should perhaps be a little more magnanimous about what McGain achieved. I shared the same pitch and classroom with him at a young age, so I've followed McGain's long career with interest. I've noted with a little jealousy the moderate successes, and secretly revelled in occasionally crapulent fits of joy at his failures, of course culminating in 'that' test! But deep down I have to give the guy some credit. He did what few get to do, he played test cricket! And maybe thats what the real point is. Now I get it.

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Christian Ryan Christian Ryan lives in Melbourne, writes and edits, was once the editor of The Monthly magazine and Wisden Australia, and now bowls low-grade, high-bouncing legbreaks with renewed zeal in recognition of Stuart MacGill's retirement and the selection opportunities this presents. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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