A sorrowful parting

Shaun Tait appeals for an lbw Getty Images

Australia's emissaries at the Twenty20 Champions League returned home with a sense of the hollow. Neither New South Wales nor South Australia quite deserved the fates that befell them, as subcontinental opponents chased down tall totals. For South Australia there was the added gall felt by any team that concedes defeat to a six from the final ball.

Something else was lost too, and once the disappointment of a less substantial tournament pay cheque has dissipated it will be much the more significant hole for South Australia's cricketers to fill. It will be cause for sorrow among all those who follow state cricket that Shaun Tait has slung down his final ball for his state team. As of this season, Tait will only play T20 for a range of franchises, including the Melbourne Renegades in next summer's Big Bash League. He signed off with 5 for 33 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, a suitably fearsome finish.

That loss was also oddly fitting, for Tait seemed perpetually cast as South Australia's tragic hero. He never won a domestic trophy, coming closest in 2006, when a ferocious 6 for 41 could not prevent New South Wales from winning the domestic one-day title after they bowled his team out cheaply in moist morning air.

Though Tait will be bowling in Australia this summer as a signing for the Renegades, he will not do so in the colours that have always been those of home. Like David Hookes and Darren Lehmann in the generations preceding his, Tait - especially in his younger days - was a cricketer with a particular affinity to South Australia and the Adelaide Oval. That team, and that ground, saw the very best of him, however much he terrified international batsmen on the days when he was in suitable sync.

An unfortunate truth of Tait's career is that by the time he was picked for Australia, on the 2005 Ashes tour, his body and mind had already started to waver. Up to that point his bowling for SA had been little short of extraordinary, and it was a privileged few who watched his white-knuckle spells at the Adelaide Oval, often with only a handful of runs to defend. In all, he would take 320 wickets for his state across three formats. No fewer than 146 were bowled or lbw.

As a youthful quick with South Australia, Tait was blisteringly fast, swung the new ball out and the old ball in, and was relaxed, happy and fit enough to bowl in stints far longer and more consistent than perhaps anything he managed for Australia. It is true that the pressures of Shield cricket are not those of the international brand, and the Perth match of 2008 against India sits as a sobering reminder of the mental and physical drain Tait struggled with when he was tried as a Test match fast man. He did not play another Test.

But that cannot distract from the exhilarating memories of his earlier days as a bolt of lightning from the Adelaide Hills. On debut against Western Australia in 2003, Tait defeated Chris Rogers for his first wicket, and hurried up Test batsmen Justin Langer and Murray Goodwin even as they ground out stodgy centuries, in a match that featured a hat-full of wickets for a young wristspinner called Beau Casson. His action was the subject of much discussion even then, as much for the violent strains it placed on Tait's body as for the fiendishly difficult task of picking up a good sight of the ball from the hand.

A string of startling performances followed, peaking in the summer of 2004-05. That season Tait fired out 65 batsmen at a cost of 20.16 runs each, a record for South Australia and only two short of Colin Miller's 67 in 11 matches in 1997-98, and struck every six overs.

His frequent solo efforts to lift the Redbacks were illustrated vividly in the December match against another West Australian side, this time with a top six of Michael Hussey, Rogers, Goodwin, Marcus North, Shaun Marsh and Ryan Campbell - internationals all. Twice Tait ripped out three of the first four batsmen, and twice the rest of the attack was unable to exploit the breach, as Brad Hogg carried his side with 109 and 61 from No. 8. South Australia lost by 106 runs, but the visceral impact of Tait's swing and sling stayed with all who witnessed it.

"I had the chance to captain him for eight games that season, and to see someone display skill like that was just phenomenal. It felt a real privilege to be a part of that." Graham Manou on Shaun Tait's 65 Shield wickets in 2004-05

When he retired tearfully from first-class cricket earlier this year, Graham Manou named the experience of keeping wicket to Tait that summer among his most treasured times in cricket. There was real awe in his voice when he said: "I had the chance to captain him for eight games that season, and to see someone display skill like that was just phenomenal. It felt a real privilege to be a part of that."

Beyond those matches Tait would be chosen for Australia, wrestle with burn-out, spend prolonged time away from home, and bear a body that started to buckle under the strains of his action. He would also play a role in Australia's 2007 World Cup win, the summit of his international achievements. In India during the CLT20, the country where he has found personal happiness in his relationship with the fashion model Mashoom Singha, Tait reflected on a career trajectory that resembled that of a short-period comet. "For me, the burnout occurred very early as a series of injuries took a toll on my body," he said. "I had to live only with Twenty20 a lot earlier than many."

Tait's best was seen by the state batsmen who faced him, and by the handful of SACA members, staff, journalists and strays who chose to visit the Adelaide Oval for domestic matches. They will not see his like again, and the Australian summer that begins this week is poorer for it.