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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Rick McCosker

'If you didn't hook, you either got hit or got out'

Rick McCosker broke his jaw in the Centenary Test, played in WSC, captained NSW, and lost the 1977 Ashes for Australia

Interview by Sidharth Monga

March 20, 2013

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

Rick McCosker hooks on his way to 51, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Headingley, 1st day, July 28, 1977
"As an opening batsman, you know when the bowler is going to bowl a bouncer. They have just got the look in their eye" © PA Photos
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The World Series years were tough. We couldn't play club or Shield cricket. We couldn't practise with club or state teams. We were pretty much ostracised. But every time we played, we played against the best in the world. There was a lot of publicity, some good, some bad.

You know what the Boxing Day Test is like in Melbourne. The atmosphere. That's what it was like for a couple of days before the Centenary Test started. Every day of the match was like that the whole time.

We lived on the farm. Sheep farm. Real bush. During the summer, when it wasn't too hot or when it wasn't shearing time or harvesting time, dad would play cricket with the local village. He'd travel around and we'd go along and watch and hope like hell that somebody didn't turn up, so we could get a game with the older guys. Guys from the bush have a bit of an advantage sometimes, because you get to learn to play with the older, the senior guys, the more experienced guys. And in most cases they were good teachers.

As an opening batsman, you know when the bowler is going to bowl a bouncer. They have just got the look in their eye.

When I first went to Sydney I found it difficult to score runs, because I was almost entirely an off-side player. The bowlers soon learned and they didn't bowl anything around my off stump. I opened my stance up a bit and became a more on-side player. You just learn those things.

There was a lot of pressure on us to make WSC succeed, for our benefit and obviously for Packer and Channel 9, who invested a lot in it.

Dennis Lillee was probably the best bowler I ever faced. Under all conditions, the best all-round bowler. We had lots of good contests. He got me out a lot of times, but occasionally I scored runs against him too. That was the ultimate. If I could score runs against him, I felt confident I could score runs against anybody.

Where I came from, we didn't have television. I hardly saw Test cricket growing up.

There were about 250 fast West Indian bowlers around, so you didn't get to get onto the front foot too often. I was on the back foot all the time.

The crowd riot during Georgetown 1979 wasn't much fun. One security guy in our room was armed. We looked around and he was under the bench, hiding. We stacked all the cricket coffins up against the door to barricade it. After it was over, we were like, "Well if it's going to be like this, we should bugger off. It's too dangerous." But there were a couple of guys in the team who had been to West Indies before - Ian Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Maxie Walker. They knew the West Indian people. They said, "Look, sit tight. We'll go down to the ground tomorrow and see what the situation is." The next morning was a beautiful day, the ground had been completely cleared, as if nothing had happened. The crowd was full again. People were there, waiting for the game to start. The game started.

Cricket was never a full-time career for me. The closest I got was two years of World Series Cricket. Otherwise all the time I played, I had a full-time job.

You should never play the hook shot at the MCG on the first morning of a Test, because there is always a bit of moisture in the wicket and you are never quite sure of the bounce.

It took me five-six years to get from grade cricket to New South Wales. Then two years to be selected for Australia.

There were other guys who were out there and were loud, and I was happy to sit there and be quiet and listen.

The first thing that Ian Chappell said to me - and I had never met him before - the day before my debut, was, "Congratulations. I'm not asking you to change anything. You got this far by playing the way you play, by being the way you are." That was all I needed to hear.

I was never coached at any stage in my life. You just do things that come naturally.

In the country town, bush, you looked forward to a game of cricket on the weekend. There were only limited opportunities, so you really enjoyed every match you played. They don't bowl slower to you. That's why you learned very quickly. If you didn't learn very quickly, you either got very soft from getting hit, or you didn't score runs. That was a good way to learn.

Norm O'Neill was my hero. Not that I had seen him play until I was 14. But we had radio, and because I used to read about him in the ABC Radio book, he was my favourite.

It doesn't get better than walking out to the SCG for an Ashes Test match.

How do you know about "Under the Southern Cross I Stand"? It was always sacred. It was always done when no one else was there, apart from the team. It was just the players and staff. The whole time I was playing, it was always done that way. It was never talked about outside.

WSC was hard on our families because of the bad publicity. We were called all sorts of things. I got unemployed because of it. The president of the bank I worked for told me that I could either be a full-time banker or full-time cricketer. Initially, when I was first selected for Australia, the bank gave me pay when I was still playing. When I kept getting selected, I had to take leave [without] pay. So I don't know if the choices would have been similar had I continued playing for Australia.

 
 
"The crowd sang 'Waltzing Cosker'. It was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened. Particularly because I come from New South Wales and the Victorian crowd don't like NSW players very much"
 

I couldn't play like Greg Chappell or Doug Walters. They were different players. I just learned to do it my way, and learned what I could do and couldn't do.

It took me a while to get used to living in a city. Too many people. Too much rush and bustle. Also, there are a lot of things that can take your attention in the city. Beaches and pubs and all that sort of thing, which you don't have in the country. No surf.

I knew Bob Willis was going to bounce me [in the Centenary Test]. Unfortunately, because I knew it, I had already played the shot before the ball actually got to me. I broke the MCG rule. And broke my jaw.

You never know what would have happened if the World Series didn't happen. We had two years out. We played a series against India, a series against England and a series against West Indies. That could have been another 15 Tests perhaps.

I don't know whatever happened to the guy who caused the Headingley riot [1975]. It was a bit disappointing to miss the century, but it rained the whole day. Even if they hadn't ripped off the wicket, we wouldn't have got on anyway, because it rained all day.

The worst thing was that the ball dropped on to the stumps, and the bails fell off [when I was hit on the jaw]. The Englishmen were all going up. They didn't realise what had happened, except that the bails had fallen off. I didn't feel anything, I just heard this big awful noise inside my head. Everything just went numb. Blood everywhere. I walked off by myself. I missed about two days because I was in hospital for a day and a half.

You always feel you could have played more Tests.

I am proud of being NSW captain. We played in the first Sheffield Shield final. In the previous years the team with most points won the title. This time, we had to travel to Perth. Nobody expected us to win. But we beat them on the fifth day, and I was captain at that stage. NSW hadn't won for 17 years, so that was pretty big. And we had a pretty big celebration. It was a tough trip home.

I can't sit all day and watch cricket now. Depends on who's playing and the situation. Always liked to watch the first hour of the match, the first session, because, as an opener, I know what the guys are going through. Such a nervous time, an exciting time. I am always curious to know how they go about it.

The Ashes of 1977 were lost because I dropped Boycott. It didn't help that I got a fifty and a hundred in that Test. Had we got Boycott at that stage, England would have been six down for not many. Besides that, Boycott would have probably been dropped for the next Test, because he had had a lean series. But as it turned out, he got a hundred there and went to Leeds in the next Test and got another hundred there.

You just hooked. If you hooked properly, you wouldn't get hit. If you didn't, you either got hit or got out.

The jaw is still pretty numb.

The crowd sang "Waltzing Cosker". It was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened. Particularly because I come from New South Wales and the Victorian crowd, generally speaking, don't like NSW players very much. They were just so wonderful. They got really stuck into the Poms when they bowled a bouncer.

Scoring my first Test ton, at The Oval, with Ian Chappell, is one of my favourite cricketing memories. We both scored hundreds.

You just did those things [in the Centenary Test] because you are playing for your country. One of the Englishmen would have done that. [Derek] Randall got sconed by Lillee. He just got up and continued to bat. So you just do it.

I started off working in a bank, then insurance, and then financial planning, helping people plan their financial affairs. To me that was very important, because it meant that as soon as the game was over, we were back to normal life. You have played a Test match, or played a Sheffield Shield game, it's been a hard game, and you come back home and then go to work the next day. Sometimes that wasn't easy, but I felt that was important because that helped to keep me grounded. The other life is a bit of a fairytale existence to a certain extent, especially when you are playing Test matches. There is a lot of publicity, newspaper, television, and radio. You could easily get carried away with that.

I can't remember getting dropped [while batting]. That wouldn't have happened. First time getting a hundred in a Shield game, then getting another, and getting it against Dennis Lillee. I can only remember the good parts. I can't remember getting dropped [McCosker was dropped on nought by John Inverarity, off Lillee; the century was a turning point in his career].


The England players gather around Rick McCosker who broke his jaw, Australia v England, Centenary Test, 1st day, Melbourne, March 1977
McCosker: still nursing a numb jaw © The Cricketer International
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Marshy told me I didn't have to do this [go out and bat with the broken jaw], but I told him to mind his own business and get his hundred. There were a few expletives thrown in, which I can't put in there now. He understood what I meant. I hooked the first bouncer in that innings for four. It was from John Lever. Mind you, it was only 130kph. It was just a reflex thing you did. It was one of those things. I had no preconception about what I was going to do.

We WSC cricketers followed the Australian team. We made sure that at the beginning of each Test we sent them a message. I can't remember getting anything back. It was just one of the ways to let them know that they were still representing Australia. Just like we were.

After retirement, in a way there was a void, but in another way there wasn't. If I was playing 24/7, if there was nothing else in my life, then yes, it would have been a bigger void. But because I had a business, priorities changed. I wanted to spend time with the family and business. So you just know that time's up. That part of your life is finished and will lead you to a new part of your life.

A bit too much was made of the broken jaw. There were other guys who did so well in that match. It was such a great match itself. What Dennis Lillee did in that match, what Derek Randall did, what Marshy, Hookesy... if you look at the record book, I made 4 in the first innings and 25 in the second. And I didn't field a ball in whole match. So I didn't do much at all.

The money at WSC wasn't much compared to what they are paid now. There may have been a bit of a decision to play for the money: I had a young family. But the important thing was that I was playing with and against the best. Money was good but it wasn't the main thing that made the decision.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Rowayton on (March 22, 2013, 0:24 GMT)

This is a minor point, but I was there the day McCosker scored his hundred against Lillee and co. Remember him getting dropped in slips, but I always thought it was Laird who dropped the catch, not Invers. Anyhow, it went for four, so it was a pretty fair edge. And good Australian nicknames - at first they used to call McCosker Rick the Rock; after he got caught in slips a few times somebody unkindly changed it to Rick the Snick.

Posted by B.C.G on (March 21, 2013, 18:18 GMT)

InsideHedge-Even I loved his name.It sounds weird but I really love all those names;all of them very rare & interesting.Border,Chappell,GYallop(my favourite;sound like gallop),Lillee,Redpath & ofcourse McCosker.All these names have never been repeated at all.Its as if they were meant for only these individuals.

Posted by EverybodylovesSachin on (March 21, 2013, 17:45 GMT)

Chris_P.. Modern day cricketers have the sense and wisdom not to bat without helmet. After Raman Lamba's incident cricketers got a sense that it is stupid to bat without helmet. So their is no question of courage and Cowardice here.

Posted by EverybodylovesSachin on (March 21, 2013, 17:39 GMT)

I see lots of comments beign said that without playing with helmet is a courage. Not true. It is not like helmets were hangning in everybody's dressing room and they went without one. It was a practice to play without helmet during those days so for them it was natural to them and they played their natural game.

Modern cricketers if they had played during early days would have batted without helmet also and those early days cricketers would come and bat with helmet on today. so it is pointless to argue that helmet makes someone great in cricket..

Posted by shillingsworth on (March 21, 2013, 14:20 GMT)

@Chris_P - Agreed it doesn't make sense to wear one batting and not driving but that doesn't mean that the risk of head injury while batting isn't there. The people making this choice may lack our capacity for rational thought but it doesn't mean they are lacking courage. The example of the supposed 'courage' involved in facing club medium pacers without a helmet certainly amused me but whatever floats your boat.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 9:22 GMT)

Nice article, and when I started watching cricket as a kid, McCosker was always one of my favourite Aussies. He's misremembering, though - the innings he's talking about was Boycott's first back in the England team. They'd just dropped Amiss, who had a lean series, to accommodate him. Boycott got 100 and 80-odd not out, then 191 in the next test.

Posted by ansram on (March 21, 2013, 9:15 GMT)

Courage factor has come down these days, but you can't blame the players. If you get badly injured you may miss several months of cricket and with that comes lost earnings and struggle to find your place in the team. It is far more competitive today, if you don't play for 6 months, you might be fighting for your spot with a dozen others, it was not like that in the 70s.

Be wise and use all the available "excuses" to avoid injuries because you will have only yourself to blame if your career goes downhill after a career threatening injury. All of those who are "appreciating your courage" will be no where to be found when you may have screwed up your career.

Posted by Jimmyrob83 on (March 21, 2013, 6:32 GMT)

"Particularly because I come from New South Wales and the Victorian crowd, generally speaking, don't like NSW players very much." You can say that again. I was laughing so hard at the "Australian" team in the last test against India.

Posted by Meety on (March 21, 2013, 3:28 GMT)

@InsideHedge on (March 20, 2013, 16:01 GMT) - sorry it plain does my head in! I get the rocking chair visualisation - I just get annoyed that I have to go back up & look at the last comment on the topic & then scroll down to the next - gets repititive! Still like it though! @Sidarth Monga - just prefer the article to flow better. (Still great stuff).

Posted by Meety on (March 21, 2013, 3:23 GMT)

@ Chris_P on (March 20, 2013, 19:16 GMT) - didnt know you still played Rugby! I still trott around in the Golden Oldies.

Posted by Chris_P on (March 20, 2013, 23:39 GMT)

@clarke501. That is, of course your right of point. Personally, I still open the batting without one. I think the use of value of life is an amusing reference, if they feel so much, why do they not use a helmet when they drive, a situation where there is a far greater chance of head injury or death. And to see front rowers & hookers pack without shin pads because of the therapeutic changes to the game amuses me just as much, and this from a former hooker! As I said, we will agree to disagree, I find the courage factor very much less than of years gone by in active sports I am associated with. Shrugs.

Posted by shillingsworth on (March 20, 2013, 21:07 GMT)

@Chris_P - Helmets may indeed have led players to bat differently but it's a bit of a leap to conclude that modern batsmen lack the courage of their predecessors. Personally, I'm glad that the culture of the modern game doesn't decry helmeted batsmen who happen to value their life above macho posturing on a cricket field. Happy to agree to disagree though.

Posted by Chris_P on (March 20, 2013, 19:16 GMT)

@clarke501 Understand your point,however the use of helmets has made just about all modern day players lazy in the execution of the hook shot. Without helmets, batsmen played the hook shot off their left shoulder after moving inside the ball whereas today they play it off their faces or right shoulders almost inviting smacks on the noggin. Do you honestly believe as someone else as posted, that the sports science brigade have the same "get up & go" in the modern day pampered world they have grown up? I see it in other sports, the rugby codes, Aussie rules, they are very much cotton-wooled. We might have to agree to disagree, but still playing & coaching both cricket & rugby, I think the courage factor is not what it used to be.

Posted by Big_Maxy_Walker on (March 20, 2013, 16:56 GMT)

such courage unlike the sports science bred softies we have nowadays

Posted by shillingsworth on (March 20, 2013, 13:02 GMT)

@Tony Bell - Quite right, his memory is obviously playing tricks. Boycott went into the Headingley test on 99 first class hundreds, dropping him for his home test on the back of one failure wouldn't have been the smartest piece of selection! He also ignores the fact that, Boycott or no Boycott, Australia were already one down in the series. @Chris_P - I remember when helmets first came into the game, the reaction was exactly the same. Why somebody who is not prepared to risk their life for the sake of a game of cricket is still deemed by some to be lacking courage defeats me. If they had been available, all players of all eras would have worn a helmet - it's common sense. If you still believe that modern players lack 'courage', google 'Anil Kumble broken jaw'.

Posted by gavaniacono on (March 20, 2013, 10:36 GMT)

Oh the memories of that centenary test. I recall the nuns at my boys only catholic school keeping us updated regularly that Randall was STILL in and felt at the time he had batted for three or four days. Great joy and cap throwing when sister Bernadette announced Randall out for 161 only to have our caps instantly replanted when informed marsh had done the 'right thing'. I think too it was a great catch that finally removed him an hour or so later. Great relief and the universe was in order again.

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 10:10 GMT)

When McCosker dropped Boycott Sir Geoffrey was not having a lean series, this was his comeback Test after 3 years of self imposed exile! I doubt Boycott would have been dropped for Headingley.

Posted by sivakumar_ck on (March 20, 2013, 9:55 GMT)

I remember Mccosker and Alan Turner as openers for Australia during my school days. Those days only radio commentary was available and we used to get up at 5 am in the morning(India is 5 hours behind Australia) to listen to the commentaries of Australia matches. Good old days which cannot be forgotten. After listening to the commentaries we imagine ourselves as Lillee, Thomo, walters, Max walker , chappel etc and play our cricket. Kindly remember those days these batsman played without helmet and protective gears , faced world top fast bowlers. regards Sivakumar

Posted by InsideHedge on (March 20, 2013, 5:17 GMT)

Lovely interview, very revealing, first Ian Davis and now Rick who happens one of my favourite players as a young boy, just loved his name for starters! Unforgettable image of Rick, in the Centenary Test, with his swollen, broken jaw strapped with a white bandage. He's wrong when he says too much was made of it - no, it was incredibly brave to come out to bat in the 2nd inns, we're talking non-helmet days.

I remember his Trent Bridge ton and his drop of Boycott in the slips, what a costly mistake! But I think he's mistaken when he says that Boycott had a lean series and would have been dropped had he held onto the early chance - Boycott was making his comeback in that 3rd Test at Nottingham. Dennis Amiss played in the 1st two but his problems against Australia continued and he was dropped for Boycott. If memory serves me right, he then scored a ton at Edgbaston for Yorkshire in between the 3rd and 4th Test to move to 99 FC Tons. The rest is history.

Posted by Meety on (March 20, 2013, 4:43 GMT)

I love these articles, but I always find them so disjointed!

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 4:14 GMT)

LOVELY INTERVIEW SID!the way u scrounge out unsung heroes,seemingly lesser mortals/players shows that u know ur onions and Heroes for Rick was one to many..Remember him from Centenary game-1977- for his inspired presence with a fractured jaw!must ave been solid as steel,Rick!indelible impressions of courageous batsmanship....True blue Aussie!

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