On his 21st birthday, Greg Loveridge walked out to bat in his debut Test in Hamilton. A legspinner, he expected to play a major role later in the game, but he could bat a bit, and drove Henry Olonga for a boundary down the ground. The next delivery changed everything. Bowled by Olonga, it struck Loveridge on the right glove and smashed a knuckle. He never played for New Zealand again. He never bowled a Test delivery.
It sounds like the ultimate hard-luck tale. But then you see Loveridge's name on the National Business Review rich list and you realise things have worked out pretty well for him. Loveridge is general manager of property company Robert Jones Holdings, and according to last year's NBR list of New Zealand's wealthiest people, he is worth NZ$52 million. As it turned out, Loveridge's big break was, well, his big break.
"It was just one of those twists of fate," Loveridge says. "But I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for that... It's funny how things work out. One thing leads to another, and here I am."
To cut a long story short, Loveridge's abbreviated Test career was followed by a period at the academy, which led to coaches trying to change his bowling action, which led to his becoming disillusioned with cricket in New Zealand, which led to his moving to England to study at the University of Cambridge, which led to a successful career path when he returned home.
It might all have been so different had Olonga not inadvertently caused Loveridge's sliding-doors moment. Perhaps Loveridge would have taken a bag of wickets and become New Zealand's preferred Test spinner. That in turn might have altered the path of Daniel Vettori, who made his Test debut a year later. Vettori debuted in 1997 at 18; Loveridge had debuted in 1996 at 20.
"We went through a stage in New Zealand at that time where a lot of people were picked quite young," Loveridge says. "I wasn't even nervous before my Test match. I was just playing so well, I thought I was meant to be there. I was young enough to not be nervous about it."
Remarkably, Loveridge had played only three first-class games before his Test debut, two of which were warm-ups against the Zimbabweans that same month. But he had impressed the selectors in other outings here and there, and was given a chance in the first Test in Hamilton. New Zealand batted first and rain meant it took until day three for Loveridge, batting at No. 9, to enter the game. His 22nd delivery was the one that wrecked his bowling hand.
"They sent me over to see Terry Jenner, and Jenner said you've got to bowl like Shane Warne or nothing. Essentially it destroyed me"
"I've been hit on my gloves two or three times in my whole career," Loveridge says. "This one sheared the knuckle into three or four different bits. I couldn't hold the bat, and mate, that was it."
Loveridge knew he was in trouble but initially had some hope of being able to bowl later in the game. The doctor at the ground caused Loveridge severe pain by trying to push the knuckle back in, thinking it was dislocated. X-rays then examined the wrong part of the hand, and failed to pick up the break. Swollen, sore and dosed up on Voltaren, Loveridge thought he just had serious bruising.
"The next day I went and had a bowl in the nets on my own, down the back," Loveridge says. "I actually collapsed. I think I fainted a little bit. It was the pain. All I remember is coming to on the ground, almost in tears, not crying because of sadness; you know when your body is a bit overwhelmed with something. I realised something was badly wrong. The next day I was in surgery."
And that was that. Loveridge's Test career was over, although he didn't know it at the time. He had done enough to be chosen for Test cricket at 20, and might reasonably have expected another opportunity would turn up down the track. But then he was sent to New Zealand's cricket academy. Many players, Loveridge says, were "mucked up" by the academy, and he was the poster child for it.
"I played Test cricket at 20 by bowling the way I bowled," he says. "I bowled quite quick legspin and turned it. But I had a high action. They sent me over to see Terry Jenner, and Jenner said you've got to bowl like Shane Warne or nothing. Essentially it destroyed me.
"At the time I didn't know enough to turn around and say, 'Look, get stuffed.' I just thought it would make me better. As it happened, by the end of the year I was having the ridiculous situation of bowling my own action at night at the cricket academy and during the day bowling their action."
Not surprisingly, that led to a sense of disillusionment. A year almost to the day after his Test debut, Loveridge scored a half-century for a New Zealand academy side against a touring England XI. Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote about Loveridge for the Telegraph and noted that he had expressed an interest in studying at Oxford or Cambridge.
"Cambridge rang me the next day and Oxford sent me a nice letter, which arrived two weeks later," Loveridge says. "It was probably the best two years of my life. Playing over there was wonderful. I love how they play cricket in England. I don't play at all now, but I'd still play if I was in the UK. There are some cricket players who are good guys, but a lot of them are focused on one thing only.
"The guys at Cambridge, one of the great joys was, they were blokes, they would enjoy talking about things blokes like talking about, they liked sport, but they also read books and they were interested in politics, they wanted to go travelling places. It's a very big difference. It was an amazing environment.
"We had some discussion in warm-ups and - it sounds pretentious but it wasn't - I mispronounced some Greek word, someone gave me a lecture about how I should have pronounced it. It was just a general conversation in exactly the same way as if we were talking about some girl someone had taken out the night before. It was in the same context, same voice, same tone."
This was the sort of environment that suited Loveridge. Away from cricket, he worked as a political speechwriter in New Zealand, and as a teacher at an international school in Darjeeling. While in India, he also trained at the Cricket Club of India. But Loveridge's cricket never really reached the heights of which he was probably capable.
Three times he suffered serious shoulder injuries, and he played his last first-class match at 28. Naturally there was a voice in the back of his mind telling him he was still young enough that if he stuck at it, and strung together a couple of good seasons at domestic level, perhaps he could have added to his one Test cap. But he was too much of a realist to chase that dream.
"I'm not saying this would have happened, but let's say I had played ten Tests aged 31 to 33 or something. There's no money in it, and you've got to move on with your life some time," he says. "I did something different, I went off and ran a children's charity, and now I've been here for ten years with [New Zealand real estate mogul] Bob Jones."
And as he gazes out at the view across the Auckland harbour from his high-rise office building, or as he spends time with his family of three young children, Loveridge has rarely had cause for regret. The story of the leggie who never bowled is anything but a hard-luck tale.