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Michael Jeh

Wrong place, wrong time

All too many cricketers do not make it to the big leagues for reasons that are not to do with their performance on the field

Michael Jeh
Michael Jeh
Chadd Sayers sends down a delivery, South Australia v New South Wales, Sheffield Shield 2014-15, 1st day, Adelaide, November 8, 2014

Will Chadd Sayers become yet another Australian what-might-have-been man?  •  Getty Images and Cricket Australia

At a time when the youth selection policy of Australian cricket was being dissected following the Cameron White / Trevor Hohns / Dan Christian / ACA comments, quiet achiever Chris Hartley, the evergreen Queensland wicketkeeper, true to the traditions of his craft, where the best keepers are barely noticed, made his 547th first-class dismissal, and in doing so, probably scaled a peak that may never be surpassed.
Given the focus on selecting young players ahead of proven, battle-hardened veterans, coupled with the inevitable diminution of first-class cricket, I can't see another wicketkeeper being allowed to enjoy a career that, like Hartley's now, approaches 15 years. And yet, despite being widely acknowledged as the best keeper in Shield cricket in the last decade, Hartley will probably end his career without a baggy green on the mantelpiece.
In 2004, on a cricket tour of India, I recall sitting next to him on a flight from Chennai to Bangalore and compiling a list of all the cricketers we could remember who might otherwise have enjoyed long international careers - or longer than they did, at any rate - if they hadn't been the wrong place at the wrong time. The catalyst for the conversation was my observation that Hartley was lucky his Queensland career blossomed towards the end of Wade Seccombe's tenure, and how Seccombe himself was desperately unlucky that his career overlapped those of Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist. Seccombe was arguably the best wicketkeeper in the world who didn't ever playing on the international stage.
Anyway, at 30,000 feet over Indian skies, Harts and I were going through our list of unlucky players. I must confess to secretly wondering if he too would one day feature on that list - and so it has come to pass.
Wicketkeepers were first to mind, partly because we acknowledged that it was the sort of position where you might sit in the shadows of a long-term incumbent if your career timing happened to be wrong. Less likely these days, with the sheer volume of cricket across three formats. I recall Darren Berry, Tim Zoehrer and Phil Emery being unlucky enough to come through the Healy-Gilchrist period.
This season alone, Australian cricket has been given a glimpse of a few names who may realistically not feature again if luck, injuries and form desert them at the wrong time. Callum Ferguson, Joe Mennie and Nic Maddinson's cards may be marked. Cameron White's certainly are now!
Possibly the unluckiest of them all was my old club team-mate Peter Anderson, the finest wicketkeeper I've ever seen. He broke his finger standing up to Ian Botham in a Shield game at the WACA, and that opened the door for Healy. Anderson's skills were sublime - he might be the only Shield keeper to go through an entire season without conceding a bye (for South Australia).
Many seasoned county pros reckoned Sylvester Clarke, who only played 11 Tests, was meaner than any of the other West Indian quick bowlers of that period. Wayne Daniel and Ezra Moseley were formidable too. Such was Moseley's reputation that in the Central Lancashire League, where I played one season, opposition teams took their summer holidays based on when they were drawn against his team, Oldham.
Carlisle Best was another batsman who probably didn't play as much cricket as his talent suggested he ought to have done, at a time when the West Indian batting order wasn't as fearsome as it had been a decade prior.
The list kept growing as we descended into Bangalore, extended by the pilot having to execute a "go-around" maneouvre that had us all wondering if our fledgling careers might end sooner than we anticipated! Jamie Siddons, Stuart Law, Martin Love, Jamie Cox and Joey Dawes were some of the names thrown up. Brad Hodge was another who could have played a hundred Tests in another life. Matthew Hayden might almost have been on the list, and another Matthew, the tall, left-hand opening batsman Elliott, might count himself unlucky to have only played 21 Tests. In more recent times, Michael Klinger would make the list.
When our thoughts strayed to South Africa, we grew wistful, pondering what we missed out on during those years of isolation. Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards feature atop that mountain. Garth Le Roux - was he really as fast as legend had it? Clive Rice, Mike Procter and Peter Kirsten were three others who never really got to showcase their talents on the world stage. They reckon Jimmy Cook was imperious. At least his son is now making up for his father's losses.
Matthew Maynard was an English name I offered up, having been flayed by him in a first-class match against Glamorgan, where he overshadowed an ageing Viv Richards in a partnership. Two of my good friends from my Oxford University team in the early 1990s, Jason Gallian and Richard Montgomerie, witnessed Maynard's brilliance that day; both could arguably have played more regularly for England during a time when that team's churn and burn rate was an art form.
James Hopes was another decent allrounder who was labelled as lacking genuine pace, despite regularly featuring on the top of the domestic wicket-taking lists, in addition being a prolific run scorer. His career record speaks of a cricketer who left nothing in the tank and was underrated by many - until they looked back on a set of numbers that are truly impressive. Ironically Hopes too was on that same flight and may even have been part of that conversation.
This season alone, Australian cricket has been given a glimpse of a few names who may realistically not feature again if luck, injuries and form desert them at the wrong time. Callum Ferguson, Joe Mennie and Nic Maddinson's cards may be marked. Cameron White's certainly are now!
There is an awful lot of cynicism out there with the current selectors, who seem to favour potential over actual performance. One can only hope that Sam Heazlett and Billy Stanlake don't look back on careers where they got picked on performance and were then overlooked later in their careers for the next young gun who showed a bit of promise without necessarily posting big numbers.
Will Chadd Sayers be one of those unlucky men who looks back on a career where he outperformed most of his contemporaries but just lacked that perception of pace? Clearly, actual wickets taken and runs scored are less important in selections these days than potential, promise, expectation, or that magical mystery term - the X factor.
I look forward to readers contributing to this conversation. Who are some of those other cricketers who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane