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March 21, 2009
The hardest thing about watching Bryce McGain's Test dreams slip away amid a barrage of boundaries in Cape Town was that he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. A 36-year-old father of one who has waited years for his opportunity, McGain is so humble and so friendly that it's impossible not to wish him well.
When the Australians filed off the Newlands field at lunch on the third day, McGain had 0 for 113 from 13 overs. He could have been forgiven for skulking away into the dressing room to hide from the spotlight. Instead, while his team-mates hurried towards the lunch table, McGain lingered on the boundary to sign every bat and shirt that was thrown his way, and there were plenty of them.
It was the kind of generous gesture that few men would have made in the same circumstances. When he came out after the break, his figures didn't improve a great deal and he finished his first innings of Test cricket with 0 for 149 from 18 overs. One of his tormentors was AB de Villiers, who scored 163. Despite being in fierce competition with the Australians, de Villiers said it tough to watch McGain's Test hopes fade so quickly.
"It was truly heartbreaking," de Villiers said. "I've got a pretty soft heart and life is hard. It's really bad to see a guy [suffer]. I wouldn't want him to get five wickets, obviously not. Out there it's a battle and I'm going to give it my best shot and hit him for six sixes if I can. If I don't, well done to him.
"It was really tough to be out there because I know the guy is going through a hard time. But it's unfortunately part of the game. Hopefully he'll get a chance again. I don't know if it's going to happen because the Aussies are pretty tough on their selection and the way they pick their guys. I hope he gets another chance and I hope he stands up after this."
The hardest thing now for McGain, who is the seventh specialist spinner Australia have used in Tests since the start of 2008, is knowing if another opportunity will come. Such a disappointing debut must have severely dented his hopes of being part of this year's Ashes tour and he is in the unfortunate position of having no domestic cricket before that trip to bounce back.
Australia's precarious situation in the match means there is a strong possibility he won't get a chance to bowl again in this Test. It also didn't help his cause that the part-time wrist-spinner Simon Katich came on late in the innings and picked up two wickets in two overs. McGain's Victorian team-mate Peter Siddle hoped there would be further opportunities.
"It was tough," Siddle said of watching his good friend struggle. "I couldn't really help him too much about how to bowl. He's a bit down and disappointed with how we went but I've played a lot of cricket with Bryce back home and he's a tough competitor. He always fights back and I'm sure he'll work hard and further down the track he'll put in some good performances for Australia."
That's something that Siddle himself has already achieved and he put in another strong performance in Cape Town. His body had a heavy workload - he bowled 35 bone-crunching overs and collected 1 for 67 - and he deserved far greater rewards as the best bowler in an attack that battled. As a result of his colleagues' disappointing results, Australia have been left facing a gigantic challenge to stay in the match with two days to go.
"It's a tough position for us," Siddle said. "We finished up at the end of the day 350 still behind so we've just got to go about trying to knock off those runs and it's going to take a while to do that, so we've just got to bat time and stay positive and patient."