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Chris Tremain's long wait: 'I contemplated retirement quite frequently'

The quick bowler went more than 600 days between first-class appearances after his return to New South Wales, but made up for lost time last season

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
He waited a while, but Chris Tremain returned to the Sheffield Shield with a bang  •  Getty Images

He waited a while, but Chris Tremain returned to the Sheffield Shield with a bang  •  Getty Images

Chris Tremain, the New South Wales pace bowler, was one of the few professional cricketers in Australia who wouldn't have minded last season not coming to an end in late March.
"I was probably the only one," he says with a laugh.
Tremain is in his second spell with New South Wales having started his career there before moving to Victoria. The return, six years later, came ahead of the 2020-21 season but he ended up not featuring in the first XI the entire summer.
Last November, when he finally found a place in the Sheffield Shield team, against his former team Victoria, it had been 634 days between first-class matches. In that time, during which the world had been taken over by the pandemic, his professional outings had amounted to three BBL games for Sydney Thunder.
He quickly made up for lost time, ending the Shield season with 24 wickets at 15.95 in five outings and was named New South Wales' men's player of the season. However, as the new campaign begins, with Tremain certain of his place in the team, he admits his immediate feeling was not one of savouring his much-awaited success.
"I didn't actually let myself enjoy it that much. I wasn't very modest about it, either," he tells ESPNcricinfo. "People would come up and say 'gee, you bowled well today' and I would say 'f****** surprised, are you', especially when it was blokes from New South Wales saying 'you bowled really well'. I was like 'yeah, I've been doing it against you guys for the last five years'.
"Then to balance that out, I never really stood back and said I'm proud of how I've bounced back. Even with the awards, I spent a lot of the time saying it's great to win an individual award, but I really want to win Shields, win trophies, because with a career getting into the 30s you are closer to the end than you are the start. You really just want be in a successful team."
Kurtis Patterson, the New South Wales captain, conceded their previous selection was proved wrong. "He was fantastic when he came in last year," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Certainly as an organisation we can put our hand up and say we got that one wrong, leaving him out of the side for as long as we did, because he really led from game one and was rightfully our player of the year."
Looking back on his season - and more - on the sidelines, a situation exacerbated by the need for Covid bubbles and hubs that made it very difficult to find playing opportunities at short notice, Tremain reflects honestly on how it played out.
"Maybe not second thoughts [about the move], think I did the right thing, but I was sort of left in limbo," he says. "Sitting on the sidelines for those 18 months was horrid. I hated it.
"I contemplated retirement quite frequently, my wife talked me out of it so many times. It was just a really challenging period. If I was injured or not bowling well then it would have been okay because I'd have had a little carrot dangling in front of my nose. But I was just fishing in the dark a little bit for that 18 months, waiting and waiting. But I knew when I got an opportunity, when I picked up the tools and went back to work, that everything would be okay."
However, to get that opportunity he needed misfortune for a team-mate. There was some 2nd XI cricket to keep him ticking over, and he captained the side, but even that created some mixed messages about whether he actually had to prove he should be recalled. A conversation with Shawn Bradstreet, the NSW assistant bowling coach, provided some clarity.
I went, this is the most dysfunctional relationship I've ever been in because they show you a little bit of interest, you come crawling back, then they throw you away and go with someone else. Then you get better, come crawling back again, and they discard you again
Chris Tremain on putting aside the Australia dream
"When you are sitting on the sidelines kicking cans because you aren't playing, the guys who are playing, your team-mates and your mates, they know for me to get a go they had to get injured or bowl poorly," Tremain says. "No one wants that to happen. It was a really hard balancing act. I actually spoke to a handful of boys about it. I would say, 'it's not that I think I'm better than you, or you can't do this job, I just want to get to a point where I'm able to do it with you'.
"There was a lot less cricket. You just had to try and get the load in at training but it was never the same. That was a little challenging, mentally I was a shot duck for a lot of the time. I was sort of getting information that you don't need to prove anything, then from other people I was getting you need to prove you are better than these guys to get a spot, but I had no way of doing that.
"[Shawn] sat me down and said, 'mate, they're both right. You do need to prove it, but you don't need to do anything differently to prove will prove itself'. Had we not had the conversation, I would probably have come into the first Shield game trying to prove I still had it."
In the end, it was the injury scenario that played out to open the way for Tremain when Trent Copeland and Liam Hatcher were both sidelined. After the match at the SCG had been delayed by a day when Will Sutherland tested positive for Covid, New South Wales batted first and made 233 thanks to the efforts of debutant Hayden Kerr.
Then, having waited more than 600 days, Tremain had ball in hand. With his first delivery, he found the inside edge of James Seymour. Two balls later, Peter Handscomb was lbw. In his next over, Matthew Short was caught a second slip. After two overs, Tremain had 3 for 2.
"When I got that opportunity I just said I'd go and do my job again, it's worked for the last seven or eight years so it will work again. And it did. I just knew I needed a crack at it."
I never really gave myself the time to sit back and give myself a pat on the back and say, well done
When the Shield resumed after the BBL - where Tremain did not get on the park for Thunder; he has now moved to Hobart Hurricanes - he took five wickets in a victory against Queensland at the Gabba (also making vital runs in a low-scoring encounter) and seven in a win over Tasmania at the SCG, the two games New South Wales won in their truncated season.
"Even when we were playing in Shield finals [for Victoria], the best thing about it was we knew the season was coming to an end," he says. "Win, lose or draw, you just knew the season was done. Not that we don't enjoy doing what we do, it's just there is always a relief when you can put your feet up and say that was an okay season, a good one or there's stuff to work on. [But] for me, [last season] was five games, a couple of one-dayers and no Big Bash so I would happily have kept going."
Tremain tried to find some overseas opportunities this winter but has not played enough games for Australia to qualify for the County Championship. He had planned to go to Darwin with the Melbourne Renegades' squad for some T20, but injury put paid to that. In fact, having been largely injury-free for six years, he's been hit by a couple of problems in the lead-up to this campaign.
The first was a small stress fracture in a rib - "a strange place to get it for a fast bowler," he says - then he damaged the cartilage in his ribs when he was leaning over a gate at home. "So the last month or so my ribs have been taking a beating, but everything is shaping up well."
Tremain is a believer in the best way to stay fit to play cricket is by playing cricket. He admits the medical staff sometimes see it differently, but everyone has reached the start of the season with him able to get into the Marsh Cup side ahead of the Sheffield Shield beginning against Western Australia on October 3.
Which leads to what another successful summer could mean. Tremain is still only 31 and averages 23.58 in first-class cricket. Since his debut, only four bowlers have taken more Shield wickets. His recent Victoria team-mate Scott Boland burst onto the Test scene at the age of 32 last summer with the magical spell of 6 for 7 at the MCG. Does Tremain, who played four ODIs in 2016 as part of a second-string bowling attack that also included Boland, still harbor those dreams?
"I haven't allowed myself to feel that way for a long time because I feel it's a little bit counterproductive," he says. "I spent a lot of my 20s with that a driving force, that I really want to get that Baggy Green. I got to 26 or 27, probably when I came back from India on an A tour [in 2018] and didn't get picked in a Test squad to the UAE when I was probably at the peak of my powers.
"I went, this is the most dysfunctional relationship I've ever been in because they show you a little bit of interest, you come crawling back, then they throw you away and go with someone else. Then you get better, come crawling back again, and they discard you again. So I just wiped it and thought, well, look, you have my number, if you want me to do a job give me a call, if not, the only thing I care about is putting my name on trophies.
"Sadly we have fallen short of that in the last couple of years but having only played first-class cricket, the feeling of winning Sheffield Shields is the best I've achieved so to recreate that is now goal number one. Playing for Australia, or advancing a personal career, is a byproduct of doing that."
Tremain has featured for Australia A again since 2018, against England Lions in 2019, and he does add that, as Boland shows, "there is always time." But however that plays out, it is not at the forefront of his mind. With a career back on track, he hopes to be less hard on himself this summer.
"I never really gave myself the time to sit back and give myself a pat on the back and say, well done. Fingers crossed if there's moments this season when things go well, I can sit back, have a beer, and go that was a good shift today."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo