Rick McCosker

'If you didn't hook, you either got hit or got out'

Rick McCosker broke his jaw in the Centenary Test, played in WSC, captained NSW, and lost the 1977 Ashes for Australia

Interview by Sidharth Monga

"As an opening batsman, you know when the bowler is going to bowl a bouncer. They have just got the look in their eye" © PA Photos

The World Series years were tough. We couldn't play club or Shield cricket. We couldn't practise with club or state teams. We were pretty much ostracised. But every time we played, we played against the best in the world. There was a lot of publicity, some good, some bad.

You know what the Boxing Day Test is like in Melbourne. The atmosphere. That's what it was like for a couple of days before the Centenary Test started. Every day of the match was like that the whole time.

We lived on the farm. Sheep farm. Real bush. During the summer, when it wasn't too hot or when it wasn't shearing time or harvesting time, dad would play cricket with the local village. He'd travel around and we'd go along and watch and hope like hell that somebody didn't turn up, so we could get a game with the older guys. Guys from the bush have a bit of an advantage sometimes, because you get to learn to play with the older, the senior guys, the more experienced guys. And in most cases they were good teachers.

As an opening batsman, you know when the bowler is going to bowl a bouncer. They have just got the look in their eye.

When I first went to Sydney I found it difficult to score runs, because I was almost entirely an off-side player. The bowlers soon learned and they didn't bowl anything around my off stump. I opened my stance up a bit and became a more on-side player. You just learn those things.

There was a lot of pressure on us to make WSC succeed, for our benefit and obviously for Packer and Channel 9, who invested a lot in it.

Dennis Lillee was probably the best bowler I ever faced. Under all conditions, the best all-round bowler. We had lots of good contests. He got me out a lot of times, but occasionally I scored runs against him too. That was the ultimate. If I could score runs against him, I felt confident I could score runs against anybody.

Where I came from, we didn't have television. I hardly saw Test cricket growing up.

There were about 250 fast West Indian bowlers around, so you didn't get to get onto the front foot too often. I was on the back foot all the time.

The crowd riot during Georgetown 1979 wasn't much fun. One security guy in our room was armed. We looked around and he was under the bench, hiding. We stacked all the cricket coffins up against the door to barricade it. After it was over, we were like, "Well if it's going to be like this, we should bugger off. It's too dangerous." But there were a couple of guys in the team who had been to West Indies before - Ian Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Maxie Walker. They knew the West Indian people. They said, "Look, sit tight. We'll go down to the ground tomorrow and see what the situation is." The next morning was a beautiful day, the ground had been completely cleared, as if nothing had happened. The crowd was full again. People were there, waiting for the game to start. The game started.

Cricket was never a full-time career for me. The closest I got was two years of World Series Cricket. Otherwise all the time I played, I had a full-time job.

You should never play the hook shot at the MCG on the first morning of a Test, because there is always a bit of moisture in the wicket and you are never quite sure of the bounce.

It took me five-six years to get from grade cricket to New South Wales. Then two years to be selected for Australia.

There were other guys who were out there and were loud, and I was happy to sit there and be quiet and listen.

The first thing that Ian Chappell said to me - and I had never met him before - the day before my debut, was, "Congratulations. I'm not asking you to change anything. You got this far by playing the way you play, by being the way you are." That was all I needed to hear.

I was never coached at any stage in my life. You just do things that come naturally.

In the country town, bush, you looked forward to a game of cricket on the weekend. There were only limited opportunities, so you really enjoyed every match you played. They don't bowl slower to you. That's why you learned very quickly. If you didn't learn very quickly, you either got very soft from getting hit, or you didn't score runs. That was a good way to learn.

Norm O'Neill was my hero. Not that I had seen him play until I was 14. But we had radio, and because I used to read about him in the ABC Radio book, he was my favourite.

It doesn't get better than walking out to the SCG for an Ashes Test match.

How do you know about "Under the Southern Cross I Stand"? It was always sacred. It was always done when no one else was there, apart from the team. It was just the players and staff. The whole time I was playing, it was always done that way. It was never talked about outside.

WSC was hard on our families because of the bad publicity. We were called all sorts of things. I got unemployed because of it. The president of the bank I worked for told me that I could either be a full-time banker or full-time cricketer. Initially, when I was first selected for Australia, the bank gave me pay when I was still playing. When I kept getting selected, I had to take leave [without] pay. So I don't know if the choices would have been similar had I continued playing for Australia.

"The crowd sang 'Waltzing Cosker'. It was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened. Particularly because I come from New South Wales and the Victorian crowd don't like NSW players very much"

I couldn't play like Greg Chappell or Doug Walters. They were different players. I just learned to do it my way, and learned what I could do and couldn't do.

It took me a while to get used to living in a city. Too many people. Too much rush and bustle. Also, there are a lot of things that can take your attention in the city. Beaches and pubs and all that sort of thing, which you don't have in the country. No surf.

I knew Bob Willis was going to bounce me [in the Centenary Test]. Unfortunately, because I knew it, I had already played the shot before the ball actually got to me. I broke the MCG rule. And broke my jaw.

You never know what would have happened if the World Series didn't happen. We had two years out. We played a series against India, a series against England and a series against West Indies. That could have been another 15 Tests perhaps.

I don't know whatever happened to the guy who caused the Headingley riot [1975]. It was a bit disappointing to miss the century, but it rained the whole day. Even if they hadn't ripped off the wicket, we wouldn't have got on anyway, because it rained all day.

The worst thing was that the ball dropped on to the stumps, and the bails fell off [when I was hit on the jaw]. The Englishmen were all going up. They didn't realise what had happened, except that the bails had fallen off. I didn't feel anything, I just heard this big awful noise inside my head. Everything just went numb. Blood everywhere. I walked off by myself. I missed about two days because I was in hospital for a day and a half.

You always feel you could have played more Tests.

I am proud of being NSW captain. We played in the first Sheffield Shield final. In the previous years the team with most points won the title. This time, we had to travel to Perth. Nobody expected us to win. But we beat them on the fifth day, and I was captain at that stage. NSW hadn't won for 17 years, so that was pretty big. And we had a pretty big celebration. It was a tough trip home.

I can't sit all day and watch cricket now. Depends on who's playing and the situation. Always liked to watch the first hour of the match, the first session, because, as an opener, I know what the guys are going through. Such a nervous time, an exciting time. I am always curious to know how they go about it.

The Ashes of 1977 were lost because I dropped Boycott. It didn't help that I got a fifty and a hundred in that Test. Had we got Boycott at that stage, England would have been six down for not many. Besides that, Boycott would have probably been dropped for the next Test, because he had had a lean series. But as it turned out, he got a hundred there and went to Leeds in the next Test and got another hundred there.

You just hooked. If you hooked properly, you wouldn't get hit. If you didn't, you either got hit or got out.

The jaw is still pretty numb.

The crowd sang "Waltzing Cosker". It was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened. Particularly because I come from New South Wales and the Victorian crowd, generally speaking, don't like NSW players very much. They were just so wonderful. They got really stuck into the Poms when they bowled a bouncer.

Scoring my first Test ton, at The Oval, with Ian Chappell, is one of my favourite cricketing memories. We both scored hundreds.

You just did those things [in the Centenary Test] because you are playing for your country. One of the Englishmen would have done that. [Derek] Randall got sconed by Lillee. He just got up and continued to bat. So you just do it.

I started off working in a bank, then insurance, and then financial planning, helping people plan their financial affairs. To me that was very important, because it meant that as soon as the game was over, we were back to normal life. You have played a Test match, or played a Sheffield Shield game, it's been a hard game, and you come back home and then go to work the next day. Sometimes that wasn't easy, but I felt that was important because that helped to keep me grounded. The other life is a bit of a fairytale existence to a certain extent, especially when you are playing Test matches. There is a lot of publicity, newspaper, television, and radio. You could easily get carried away with that.

I can't remember getting dropped [while batting]. That wouldn't have happened. First time getting a hundred in a Shield game, then getting another, and getting it against Dennis Lillee. I can only remember the good parts. I can't remember getting dropped [McCosker was dropped on nought by John Inverarity, off Lillee; the century was a turning point in his career].

McCosker: still nursing a numb jaw

McCosker: still nursing a numb jaw © The Cricketer International

Marshy told me I didn't have to do this [go out and bat with the broken jaw], but I told him to mind his own business and get his hundred. There were a few expletives thrown in, which I can't put in there now. He understood what I meant. I hooked the first bouncer in that innings for four. It was from John Lever. Mind you, it was only 130kph. It was just a reflex thing you did. It was one of those things. I had no preconception about what I was going to do.

We WSC cricketers followed the Australian team. We made sure that at the beginning of each Test we sent them a message. I can't remember getting anything back. It was just one of the ways to let them know that they were still representing Australia. Just like we were.

After retirement, in a way there was a void, but in another way there wasn't. If I was playing 24/7, if there was nothing else in my life, then yes, it would have been a bigger void. But because I had a business, priorities changed. I wanted to spend time with the family and business. So you just know that time's up. That part of your life is finished and will lead you to a new part of your life.

A bit too much was made of the broken jaw. There were other guys who did so well in that match. It was such a great match itself. What Dennis Lillee did in that match, what Derek Randall did, what Marshy, Hookesy... if you look at the record book, I made 4 in the first innings and 25 in the second. And I didn't field a ball in whole match. So I didn't do much at all.

The money at WSC wasn't much compared to what they are paid now. There may have been a bit of a decision to play for the money: I had a young family. But the important thing was that I was playing with and against the best. Money was good but it wasn't the main thing that made the decision.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo