Shaun Tait bowls
© Getty Images
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Feature

Wild thing

Shaun Tait bowled to the left, he bowled to the right, and nearly a decade ago, he bowled a frightening spell with all his might

Jarrod Kimber |

It is Australia's second-biggest domestic final. It's not yet 9.30am, although because daylight saving is in, it's actually 8.30am. Sunday, February 26, 2006 is overcast; the Australian summer is at an end.

The pre-renovation Adelaide Oval looks nowhere near as pretty as in romantic recollections. Both captains - Darren Lehmann of South Australia and Brad Haddin of New South Wales - want to bowl first. Haddin wins the toss and bowls, which, according to their staff, has given him a 75% chance of winning.

Doug Bollinger, also pre-renovation, is taking the new ball. He has less hair than his later self but the same cherubic face. He's big and fast, with that out-of-control puppy feel. His first ball hoops back in and Greg Blewett leaves it, the same Blewett who once made a double-century in South Africa. The next ball is another hooping inswinger that crashes into Blewett's pads. Simon Taufel, in the middle of his five-year reign as ICC Umpire of the Year, doesn't hesitate.

The last ING Cup final has begun.

Daniel Harris is batting with Mark Cosgrove. Cosgrove is in batting-god mode and will soon play ODIs for Australia. He can glide a boundary through treacle. Here, as the ball swings, hoops and occasionally rears up, he effortlessly caresses boundaries.

Joe Scuderi's mullet, Richard Chee Quee's slogging and Phil Emery's thighs: early or late in the season, this was your only cricket on TV

The bowler at the other end is Moises Henriques, fresh from leading Australia in the U-19 World Cup, ending as the tournament's leading wicket-taker. Despite the conditions, Cosgrove bats as if it's a mid-afternoon, flat Adelaide pitch. Harris hangs in.

Aaron Bird replaces Bollinger and he is quicker. Bird's action was always a worry and the whispers, suspicions and constant retesting of his action would eventually end his career. Today his whippy action is perfect for the conditions. One ball rises and strikes Cosgrove on the glove, but Cosgrove has lorded over the first 40 minutes.

Harris goes, caught behind off Henriques, 58 minutes and 66 runs into the match. A kid holds up a "Boof for PM" sign. Lehmann joins Cosgrove - "Boof" and "Mini Boof". The partnership doesn't last. Typically, Cosgrove falls to a lapse in concentration, but crucially he has made 49 off 46 balls. Callum Ferguson enters. Ferguson will one day have an ODI average of over 41. Here, Bird finds his edge, Haddin takes a great diving catch. Ferguson leaves.

Cameron Borgas survives the hat-trick ball. Borgas is a prodigy and the last of the recognised batsmen. His toes are on off stump to counter the away swing. Bird bowls a quick ball, angled in, but it straightens and takes the top of off. Borgas thought he had it covered; the bails disagree. Lehmann has his face in his hands.

Northamptonshire's Tim Roberts gets in the way of a Tait thunderbolt during the 2005 Ashes tour

Northamptonshire's Tim Roberts gets in the way of a Tait thunderbolt during the 2005 Ashes tour © Getty Images

Sensing blood, Haddin brings Bollinger back. With two slips, and a swinging ball, Lehmann tries to guide the ball to third man. He gets no further than second slip. The Adelaide crowd is quiet: 90 for 6.

Graham Manou and Mark Cleary are batting together. Manou is a wicketkeeper's wicketkeeper, tidy and the perfect understudy (one Test, four ODIs, all as back-up). They inch forward against Bird and Bollinger. Ironic applause greets the team hundred, in the 25th over. On the balcony Lehmann and Jason Gillespie indulge in what looks like gallows laughter.

Commentating for Channel Nine are Ian Healy and Richie Benaud, new and old shoes. Healy suggests a plan to counter the early start the channel has insisted on. He believes there should be a compulsory declaration made by the batting team after at least ten overs, so neither team gets the best - or worst - of the early conditions. In this case, South Australia would bat for ten overs and declare. Then NSW would bat for as many and declare when they want. After a pause he turns to Benaud.

"What do you think, Rich?"

"No."

Aaron O'Brien, a former Australia U-19 player and limited-overs specialist who bowls left-arm spin, comes on. He drops a nothing ball outside off stump and Cleary tries to pull it onto Memorial Drive but under-edges to Haddin.

Shaun Tait enters the ground, gloves off and helmet in hands. He looks like a club cricketer who hoped he wouldn't be needed to bat

At 143 for 7, South Australia bring in their Supersub Ken Skewes. He replaces Dan Cullen, his housemate. Less than two months later, Cullen will play a Test for Australia. For Cullen, whose role is over even before it begins, this is worse than a golden or diamond duck: it's a Supersub duck.

Stuart MacGill is bowling and Haddin brings the field up, including a slip and short leg. Skewes hasn't scored yet. At the other end, Manou swings to leg, top-edges and is gone; MacGill has that familiar too-cool-to-be-excited look.

Gillespie comes in and goes soon, cutting O'Brien to Haddin, his fifth catch. Shaun Tait enters the ground, gloves off and helmet in hands. He looks like a club cricketer who hoped he wouldn't be needed to bat. In the background, The Killers' "Mr Brightside" plays: "Coming out of my cage…"

MacGill moves Tait in front of the stumps with a wide legspinner. He drops the next one around the same spot but spins it the other way and Tait is lbw. He has missed the two deliveries by about two feet combined. He leaves the field shaking his head, South Australia all out for 154. Skewes is unbeaten, 6 from 26. He has made no impact, and further, has reduced South Australia's bowling attack to three front-line bowlers.

Around the boundary are ING signboards. Steve Waugh was the first cricketer to hit one and he made a bit of money off it. In all, ten players did. ING began as Mercantile Mutual, and their sponsorship turned a toy competition into a real one. The old McDonald's Cup was a bit of fun, but hardcore fans obsessed over the Mercantile Mutual and ING Cups. It was domestic cricket, broadcast on free-to-air across the country. Joe Scuderi's mullet, Richard Chee Quee's slogging and Phil Emery's thighs: early or late in the season, this was your only cricket on TV.

The world-class Gillespie went wicketless in his ten overs in the match

The world-class Gillespie went wicketless in his ten overs in the match © Getty Images

This was ING's 14th tournament. They had moved beyond cricket and were using Billy Connolly to go further. Cricket Australia (CA) no longer needed them either. At first, ING had virtually paid for the tournament to run. Now the TV rights deals did that for them.

A few months earlier the first version of what is now the Big Bash League had taken place. But such was the non-seriousness of those early seasons, NSW even played a noted rugby league star in their XI in 2006-07, as a stunt to attract crowds. When it was unveiled no one took it seriously. But T20 had managed to do something that List A cricket never had: pull in big crowds. This was the ING final, in Adelaide, on a Sunday, and less than 9000 people were in. It wasn't mass-marketed, or aimed at kids and women. The ads didn't have Chris Gayle or David Warner. They had Greg Rowell, Jo Angel, Jamie Cox and Wayne Holdsworth. The jingle was corny: "It's state v state, for the one-day crown, gotta be there when the boys hit town, there's no love lost, the feeling's mutual, in the Mercantile Mutual Cup."

****

They sang a different song for Ricky Vaughn.

Vaughn was a punk, a real piece of work, but he could pitch very, very fast. When the Cleveland Indians were in the middle of restructuring their franchise during the late '80s, they picked him up and let him loose. Mostly he pitched wide, high, or wide and high. When he slowed down for control, the New York Yankees batters hit him out of the ballpark.

Tait's wide is not gentle like Steve Harmison's 2006 Ashes-opening delivery, which surrendered its way to second slip

The fans called him "Wild Thing", except it wasn't a compliment.

While his underrated team of misfits and middling players put together the season of their lives, Vaughn struggled. Then his catcher noticed Vaughn had an eyesight problem. The Indians got him glasses and from then Vaughn flourished. When he eventually came on to close an important game against the Yankees, the entire stadium sang, "Wild Thing, you make my heart sing", this time as compliment.

This, of course, was Major League, the film starring Charlie Sheen as Vaughn.

They called Shaun Tait "Wild Thing".

First over
When Tait comes on to bowl at Adelaide Oval, there is no music. The crowd are not screaming his name. They are already defeated. Tait's warm-ups are not oohed or aahed. The commentators aren't talking about him. They are talking about Phil Jaques.

Jaques faces up, List A average 48. His scores in this competition are 29, 42, 100, 152 not out, 158 not out, 2, 37, 138 and 4. It is the best ever season in List A cricket to that point, and form that will get him into Australia's ODI side.

The match at Lord's in 2010 where Tait bowled a ball that clocked 161.1kph - the second fastest recorded delivery

The match at Lord's in 2010 where Tait bowled a ball that clocked 161.1kph - the second fastest recorded delivery © Getty Images

Tait's first ball is short of a length and Jaques pushes it out on the off side. Cover overruns it, and they take a single. Still nothing from the crowd. The commentators ignore the misfield. Tait's next ball is fast but wide and Taufel calls it. The next misses the pitch (well, maybe it is an inch inside, but it is shithouse) and Manou takes it in front of second slip. It's not gentle like Steve Harmison's 2006 Ashes-opening delivery, which surrendered its way to second slip. This is brutal and sprayed out there. It makes a statement. The crowd laughs.

Gillespie comes to chat. Tait's fourth ball swings in and finds the inside of the bat, as does the fifth. The sixth is a wide full toss.

Craig Simmons is on strike. Once an Australia U-19 cricketer, Simmons never truly made it and at this point is barely a cricketer for this level. In 2013-14, the 31-year-old would be picked for Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash. In his first four matches he would look out of his depth. But in his fifth, facing an attack including Johan Botha, Jon Holland, Kane Richardson and Tait, he would make 100 off 39 balls. A couple of weeks later he would make another, against a bowling attack of Josh Hazlewood, Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Starc and Brett Lee; as if he fed on raw pace.

The seventh ball of the over is quick and it's over before it begins. Simmons is in front of his stumps, but the stumps are down. It's as if it all happened simultaneously: the ball was in Tait's hand, Simmons was in front of the stumps and the stumps were down. This is warped quantum theory.

His eyes have this look. Violence is coming, proletariat pace, vengeance for a crime you are not responsible for

Tait waves a finger in the air, not quite dancing, but happy without fully committing to that expression. There are no cartwheels, no signature moves, no posing for cameras. It's the least Hollywood celebration ever. Charlie Sheen would be disgusted.

There are Shaun Taits in every cricket league in Australia. If you play in Australia you have played against a Tait. You know about them before you even turn up at the game. Everyone at your club's training session has mentioned them. You know they are "f****** psycho", that they broke some bloke's jaw and that they don't "give a shit about cricket, mate, they just like hitting blokes". Even before you have heard "Welcome to the Jungle" blaring out of their beat-up Holden as they arrived five minutes before the game, you fear them.

Out in the middle you stand on your matting or AstroTurf pitch, four or five blokes so far behind you, you have no idea how the ball will get to them. The guy at the end of the mark is scruffy, wearing a white shirt with a rip in it. The sleeves are too short and the cream trousers have someone else's cherry marks. He wears runners, not bowling boots. His eyes have this look. Violence is coming, proletariat pace, vengeance for a crime you are not responsible for.

You're in the suburbs. You're in the country. You're in trouble.

Welcome to the jungle. Watch it bring you to your knees. Welcome to the jungle, I wanna watch you bleed.

Second over
"We had prepared for hostile bowling during the week as we knew Shaun was at the top of his game. Phil Jaques and I practised by using a bowling machine and we turned the pace up to roughly 100mph. Practice is one thing but the game is another." - Corey Richards

Never mind the action: Tait bowls as if his body might break in the middle of any given delivery

Never mind the action: Tait bowls as if his body might break in the middle of any given delivery © Getty Images

Corey Richards is facing Tait's second over. He was supposed to have been promoted to four, to attack. But Richards psyched himself up so much he only heard promotion and not that it was to four. When Simmons lost his stumps, Richards rushed past Haddin and Matthew Phelps straight to bat.

He arrives ready, in the zone. But Jaques goes to him, stares into his eyes, and tells him: "This is quick."

The ball is angled in, fast and short. Richards swerves back and, luckily for him, it swings away. Whatever zone Richards is in, this dot ball has disturbed it. Tait returns to his mark and storms in again. It's a wide.

There follow half-volleys, one of which Richards turns to the boundary and one that he launches through covers. He looks bookish. You could cast him in a film as an accountant who sees a 40-foot giant rat taking down the city and attacks it as a kind of urban professional warrior. Today he is a pinch-hitter trying to lead a chase.

One quick bouncer, though, and the boundaries are forgotten. And then another, which Richards can only fend to a vacant short leg. Tait doesn't react. At 23, he has been making men jump for a long time already.

Tait was always a big lump of a lad and quicker than other kids. He started for a club called Nairne when he was a nobody from the hills. At 15, they said he was the quickest in the competition. But what did that mean? It was just country cricket, which was like village cricket but with the likes of Matthew Elliott, Phil Hughes and Andrew McDonald peppered through it. At one end you could be facing Tait and at the other a fat farmer bowling outswingers at 50mph.

Tait doesn't celebrate. He just runs through stone-faced until a team-mate says something that makes him smile

When Tait was 17 he was playing for Sturt. Joe Darling made his way through there, as did Vic Richardson. Their last well-known cricketer was Ashley Mallett. No one in Australia was looking to Sturt to produce the world's fastest bowler, though.

In 2000-01, Tait returned from pre-season fitter and faster than before. His speed won him a chance to bowl at Adelaide Oval in a fast-bowling competition. Tait won the South Australian heat. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, he wasn't allowed to bowl in the national heat. It could be that he was 17 and a beer company was the competition sponsor. Had he participated, he would have won.

At Sturt they realised he was special. There were no speed guns, but the players felt he was regularly over 150kph. In one game Sturt lost first-innings points as their opponents took a lead, and stood very little chance of forcing a result outright. Then, in the second innings, Tait took a hat-trick in the first over, after a dropped catch off the first ball, and Sturt won the two-day game.

For the first time in his career, Tait understood how quick he was. He took over 200 wickets for Sturt at an average of 12. There is no record of dropped catches and broken fingers.

Third over
"That day was hands down the quickest spell of bowling I have witnessed. I've faced Brett Lee and Allan Donald at their peak but Shaun was a different challenge." - Corey Richards

The Adelaide pitch may have been flat and slow, but not when Tait was running in and running through

The Adelaide pitch may have been flat and slow, but not when Tait was running in and running through © Getty Images

Lehmann has two slips in as Tait begins with a third straight monster ball. Jaques can only fend it to gully. It would have been a simple catch had one been there. Tait follows with two wides. Then he gives up successive half-volleys, both of which Richards hits for four. But when the ball is fast and straight, Richards looks afraid. Like Jaques, he tries to ride the beast but ends up off the ground hoping he doesn't pop one straight in the air.

Thanks to South Australia's swift morning collapse, however, instead of continuing to jump and fret, Richards and Jaques now happily leave the ground for lunch.

When he made his first-class debut, in December 2002, Tait was still a hipster secret. Away from the bigger centres of Melbourne and Sydney, he was a rumour, a kid with real pace, who could have won a fast-bowling competition. Shield cricket was still mostly unseen, and most ING Cup games weren't televised.

But the whispers spread as soon as he played his first game. That first season he took 20 wickets at 22. The following season he continued to take wickets. In his ninth first-class game, for Australia A against India a year later, he took the wicket of an ascendant Virender Sehwag. Three weeks later he did something far more special.

Tasmania won the toss and batted at Adelaide Oval in another ING Cup match. With the new ball, Tait took eight wickets, including Travis Birt, Shane Watson, Dan Marsh and George Bailey. It was the first eight-wicket haul in Australian List A cricket. There were also nine wides and four no-balls. That game wasn't televised. Most newspapers used wire stories with precious little, and some incorrect, detail. But the spell sent a shiver down the spine like only one other List A spell has in Australia.

NSW have talked to the umpires and asked them not to call wides. Not as a joke or banter. Tait is bowling that fast, they really just want his spell to end

In December 1976, Western Australia hosted Queensland in a Gillette Cup semi-final at the WACA. Western Australia were bowled out for 77 and Dennis Lillee made a duck. As Rod Marsh prepared his team talk during the break, Lillee stood up, decided he could win the match and marched out.

Opening the batting for Queensland was Viv Richards. Lillee began with a bouncer and followed with another. After leaving it, Richards smiled in response. Lillee took his jumper off and bowled another bouncer. Richards tried to hook it and some say it flicked his cap on the way through. Marsh took it fully stretched, both feet off the ground. Richards didn't smile after that one. Lillee bowled one more bouncer. The umpire warned him. The sixth ball hit the top of off. Lillee followed through and gently kicked the stumps.

Greg Chappell came in at No. 4 and Lillee bounced him too. Marsh moved early, and by the time Chappell got some glove on it he was almost at leg slip. By the time Marsh caught it, he was nearly at leg gully. Ian Brayshaw, who played in the match and wrote a book about it in 2014, said the dismissal was "rehearsed". The world's two best batsmen were out, combining for two runs off 13 balls. In front of a full crowd, Queensland were dismissed for 62.

During the lunch break at the ING Cup final, a few of the crowd decide to leave. There is no mid-innings analysis; instead, Channel Nine broadcast a fishing show.

When the game restarts, NSW need 121 with nine wickets and 43 overs left. Tait doesn't bowl straight after the break. Lehmann bowls before him, those slow nude lobs, which, through canniness and experience, can often become dangerous slow nude lobs. But South Australia are desperate for wickets. As a plan, Lehmann bowling is like smearing a body with butter and running through the woods hoping to flush out Bigfoot.

Tait's exertions on the field came at a price: he could never sustain a Test career

Tait's exertions on the field came at a price: he could never sustain a Test career © PA Photos

With the 14th over complete, and still only one wicket down, Manou and Lehmann chat.

Years later, on a plane, two other men had a chat. One was the quickest bowler the world had seen. Sitting next to him was Tait. Jeff Thomson remembers giving Tait a little advice, about how he should align himself better at the crease. Tait only remembers them talking about life in general.

Fourth over
"That was definitely the quickest spell of bowling I've faced. I've faced Shoaib Akhtar and Dale Steyn, but he was just a different level. That pace was different gravy." - Phil Jaques

NSW are 65 for 1 when Tait starts his fourth - and the innings' 15th - over with a length ball outside off stump. Richards swings hard but only edges to Cosgrove at slip. Tait doesn't celebrate. He just runs through stone-faced until a team-mate says something that makes him smile.

There was a time when Tait didn't look that different to a regular CA academy bowler. But the polished bits eventually dropped off. At the academy they worried about two things: on delivery, his front foot landed near the stumps and his back foot near the side crease, so that his body faced fine leg. He wasn't front-on and he wasn't side-on. He was bowling around his front leg as it collapsed. This was the technical reason for the "Mate, he's got no f****** idea where he's bowling it." It also meant that instead of using every inch of his 6ft 4in frame, he delivered from the same height as the umpire's head. He was slinging the ball while facing the wrong way, and bowling around a badly placed front leg.

For the academy, Tait was unfixable. Some creatures are just too wild to domesticate.

If AC/DC's Bon Scott was a cricketer, he would be Tait: guttural and direct

Matthew Phelps comes in. He looks nervous, perturbed by the sudden change in batting position. The first ball is full and straight. He attempts a forward defensive a second after the ball has hit his pad. Taufel's hand goes up around the same time.

That pace, again and always. But Tait often swung the ball every bit as violently. He was collapsing, aiming down leg, before suddenly the ball arced and was outside off stump, rearing up at you and defying physics.

When batsmen talk about the most difficult bowlers to face, they talk about weird actions, late swing, variable bounce, pace, and bowlers who don't know where the ball is going. Batsmen read bowlers. They look for clues. They couldn't with Tait, who was accidental misdirection mixed with sudden, uncontrollable force.

Haddin comes in to face the hat-trick ball. The crowd isn't laughing at Tait anymore; they are screaming for him as he runs in. Tait bowls a wide full toss down leg side. Haddin jumpily turns the next for a single. It's actually fairly innocuous - Haddin is jumping at the prospect of other, more menacing, deliveries.

Tait is running in and flinging the ball, sans grace and outward aggression and with no forewarning of what will come next. He is a bloke from down the pub bowling to mates, an older brother to his younger in the backyard. Nothing says professional cricketer let alone quickest bowler alive. He has a boring haircut, his shirt is untucked and there are no rippling muscles. He is just a bloke, a bit bigger than average, with a ball in his hand. It's Australian pub-rock cricket. If AC/DC's Bon Scott was a cricketer, he would be Tait: guttural and direct.

Jaques gets a monster ball that takes off and climbs until it hits a bit of glove and goes through to Manou, the over's third wicket. If it looked like Tait didn't give a shit before, he is now excited and gives Manou a bear hug. He finishes the over to Dominic Thornely after bowling another wide.

From four-day man to four-over-a-day man: the shortest format is now Tait's calling

From four-day man to four-over-a-day man: the shortest format is now Tait's calling © Getty Images

Today you can watch Shield matches on CA's website. You can listen to radio feeds. But in 2004-05, with newspapers reducing their coverage of Shield Cricket and Optus no longer broadcasting games, amazing events could occur and not generate the hype they deserved. Tait had opened the season with a nine-wicket haul against Victoria. In his next game he took eight wickets against a Queensland side that included Jimmy Maher, Shane Watson, Andrew Symonds and Andy Bichel. They always said he bowled quicker against mouthy Queenslanders.

In another game towards the end of 2004, Western Australia had Mike Hussey, Chris Rogers, Murray Goodwin, Marcus North, Shaun Marsh and Ryan Campbell. By lunch, Tait had taken four wickets and reduced them to 81 for 5. In the second innings he dismissed Goodwin and Marsh, Rogers again, and Brad Hogg. A handful of people saw this. None forgot it.

In 1997-98, Colin Miller broke Chuck Fleetwood-Smith's long-standing record for most wickets in a domestic season when he took 67. Miller was two bowlers in one, having perfected his offspin and still capable of handy medium pace. In 2004-05, Tait played one game fewer (ten), fought his body, his action, and took 65 wickets at a vastly superior strike rate. It remains the second biggest haul in Shield cricket.

"If you're brutally frank about it, Shaun Tait's pretty soft" Kim Hughes

That season Tait bowled outswingers at or beyond 155kph. He would have probably owned Test cricket had he played then. Instead, few saw that season of Tait, and Glenn McGrath, Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz kept him out of Test selection.

Fifth over
"I remember walking down to Haddin and telling him that last ball I faced just hit the bat. I didn't see it!" - Dominic Thornely

Like many decent NSW players, Thornely has spent his career as a bits-and-pieces understudy. He was never a poor cricketer but he wasn't a star, and that has made it hard for him in such a quality team.

Against Tait, Thornely can't reach some balls because they are too wide; others he can't touch because they are too fast. Tait bowls four wides and Manou saves his side serious runs. Tait goes to Gillespie and tells him he can't bowl anymore. He can't control the ball. Gillespie reminds him he has taken three wickets in his last over: "Just run in and bowl fast." There are also four play-and-misses but Tait is buggered. He has come on for a two-over spell but he has bowled 18 balls and in between, Lehmann has bowled an over in record time. Tait is taken off.

Down on the boundary a squad member is talking to Tait. Tait is frustrated but the young man with the drink keeps chatting. Occasionally Tait responds. The man is much shorter than Tait, but those shoulders and chest belong, unmistakably, to Ryan Harris.

Redback fightback: Adelaide Oval was the place to be on February 26, 2006

Redback fightback: Adelaide Oval was the place to be on February 26, 2006 © Getty Images

Everyone who faced Harris thought he could be a great bowler. In 12 Ashes Tests he averaged 20 with the ball. Then and now, everyone who saw Tait thought he was as good as Harris. But Tait only played two Ashes Tests, as a second-string bowler in the greatest series of all time.

And when he returned from the 2005 Ashes, his shoulder was injured. The Tait of 2004-05 - fit, fast and firing every game - would never exist again. His body would never be his friend again.

When Tait made a Test comeback in 2008 against India at the WACA, he was supposed to destroy them on the world's quickest pitch. Bruce Reid said he would bowl the fastest ball ever. Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson were also in the attack, so on paper it was potentially the quickest attack assembled.

But Australia lost and Tait was slow - slow by his standards and at times by Test standards. Each ball he had bowled in his life was an act of battle against his own body, and some days his body won. After this Test he fought with his mind, eventually taking an indefinite break from the game.

Even now Tait has trouble accurately describing what he was going through. Lehmann set him up with other elite athletes who suffered from depression, but Tait claims it wasn't that. He just needed a break.

For the academy, Tait was unfixable. Some creatures are just too wild to domesticate

"That's Shaun Tait, and that's why he's not playing for Australia, because if you're brutally frank about it, Shaun Tait's pretty soft." That was Kim Hughes. Geoff Boycott was also brutal. "For me, it shows a lack of character that he's given up."

Tait would return to cricket and show character. He would play through pain and turn his body into a human weapon again. But after this spell in the ING Cup final, he would only play 18 more first-class matches.

Sixth over
"He has never known where they are going in any case." - Jason Gillespie

When Tait returns to the attack, NSW need 52 runs. His five overs have gone for 30 runs, 11 of them wides, and he has four wickets.

The players on the field feel like they are spectators watching Tait v NSW. The fans who left are missing one of the great spells and the ones who stayed aren't just watching it, they are living it.

The pitch is now flat and slow, but from side-on, Tait seems to be getting quicker. Haddin and Thornely look genuinely worried and are trying only to survive. There is an lbw shout and near misses. When the ball is pushed into gaps, the striking batsman bolts. Tait finishes his first over of the day without wides or wickets.

Tait on the sidelines of the 2005 Ashes, his only Test series against England

Tait on the sidelines of the 2005 Ashes, his only Test series against England © Getty Images

Seventh over
"Waiting to bat I remember seeing the slips standing on the circle and I thought to myself this only happens in Perth on a fast wicket. Taity had the breeze at his back and the crowd firing him up." - Dominic Thornely

The seventh over reveals the strain on Tait's body. Ten overs are too much for him. He has managed only three first-class games for the year and bowled 15 wides in one of them. Tait is now pushing a broken body as far as it can be pushed. Nothing about him is right, except the pace. A short-of-a-length ball climbs at Thornely and he is caught at slip. Tait has five.

He bowls to Aaron O'Brien, a handy batsman who has reached double figures or been unbeaten in every knock this year. He is the perfect man to pinch a few precious runs. The first ball bites at him. Another has him running for safety. The pitch, or Tait, is slowing down. Manou moves up a little, and despite the batsmen's fear, the balls are dying through to him.

Tait hurls another wide.

NSW have talked to the umpires and asked them not to call wides. Not as a joke or banter. Tait is bowling that fast, they really just want his spell to end. Another wide and the umpire calls it. He finishes with a yorker that O'Brien keeps out. Tait takes his floppy hat from the umpire, now with a dripping ring of sweat around it.

The seventh ball of the over is quick and it's over before it begins. Craig Simmons is in front of his stumps, but the stumps are down

That sweat was all over Tait in 2014-15, when he returned for Sturt. With his body under control, his pace still scary, and his IPL contracts dwindling, Tait decided it was time to try first-class cricket again. He had bowled his last first-class ball in 2008 at the Gabba. But invigorated by Mitchell Johnson's terrorising of England and South Africa, he thought he could do the same. Darren Berry, the South Australia coach, was even willing to give Tait a chance, as long as his body held up.

On November 9 last year, Tait bowled nine overs for Sturt against SACA U-19 and took 3 for 28. On November 15 he bowled 16 overs against Prospect and took 1 for 51. On November 23, against Adelaide, Tait took 5 for 28 in nine overs. Tait bowled another six overs to start a second-innings collapse but couldn't bowl more. Two weeks later he opened the bowling against East Torrens. They made 338 but he took 2 for 48 from 14 overs. Every time he bowled, though, it took a week to recover.

His return ended at home as he nursed what was left of his body. He would not form an alliance with Johnson in Tests. He would not return to ODIs for the World Cup. He would not play for South Australia or Sturt again. He was a four-over-a-day man.

Eighth over
"The speed and carry was something. Batsmen appeared to come out at the latter end of the game genuinely concerned for their well-being. I found this so exhilarating as we really had a weapon." - Ken Skewes

The survivors: New South Wales clung on through Tait's spells and won the final by one wicket

The survivors: New South Wales clung on through Tait's spells and won the final by one wicket © Getty Images

The second ball of his eighth over hits Haddin, who doesn't pick it and doesn't move his feet. He just stands there, hoping it will miss him but bracing for impact knowing it could hit him. It does, on the gloves and the stomach. Tait turns back. Haddin and his ribs survive the over. He walks down to O'Brien as if to say, "I've got this." O'Brien doesn't seem to care. He is happy not facing.

There are only two overs of Tait left, so when facing Lehmann, Haddin tries for a single where there is none. Callum Ferguson runs him out. South Australia are four wickets from a massive win. Jason Krejza, the Supersub, comes in ahead of Henriques.

Ninth over
"His bouncers normally were quite short because of his low release, so you had more chance of seeing it and not getting done by the steep bounce. We all saw this from the balcony, so it wasn't great to think that one could take your face off." - Jason Krejza

Tait is spitting on the boundary when told he is coming back if the left-hander is facing. Cleary will bowl if the right-hander does. The left-hander is facing, so Tait bowls his ninth over. NSW need 21 runs from 102 balls with four wickets in hand.

One kid screams out Tait's name at the announcement of his return. The crowd cheer. It might be a smallish crowd but when Tait bowls, it feels like a full one. Still, it's not the IPL.

The players on the field feel like they are spectators watching Tait v NSW. The fans who left are missing one of the great spells and the ones who stayed aren't just watching it, they are living it

Tait was supposed to play in the second IPL, in 2009, but CA stopped him, believing his body couldn't handle it. A couple of months later they withdrew his central contract. He said it was a kick in the teeth but it was a far bigger kick in the wallet: he lost out, potentially, on $375,000.

Tait would play in the IPL but never truly star in it. When he hit the headlines it was because the Delhi police wrongly implicated him in the Rajasthan Royals spot-fixing scandal. By then he had already filtered down to second-tier domestic T20 leagues.

Everyone at Adelaide Oval knows that Tait has decided to win this. O'Brien gets off strike straightaway and Krejza is facing. The over before, he has taken eight off Gillespie but this is different.

Tait is short and at the body. Krejza takes his eyes off the ball and doesn't really play a shot. He's looking at the ground, in a standing foetal position, hoping it will end quickly. The ball keeps going with the angle and takes Krejza's glove. Manou has perfect footwork and dives leg side to take the catch.

Tait waves his hand in a small victory circle. Ben Lee's "Catch My Disease" is played but they skip the line "Your body's a dream that turns violent" and focus on "And that's the way I like it."

Henriques comes out. The commentators have mentioned at least 73 times that he was the Australian U-19 captain and leading wicket-taker at the World Cup: signs of maturity in the teenager. It will not help him face Tait, who has 6 for 39.

The Hollywood version: Charlie Sheen played Rick

The Hollywood version: Charlie Sheen played Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in Major League © Getty Images

Henriques gets a short ball that he edges to gully, on the bounce. He looks nervous, full of energy, and eager to not be at this end. Next ball he tries to smash through covers off the back foot, but by the time he attempts to, it has already slammed into Manou's gloves. It's more a miss and play than a play and miss. Then he turns one to leg gully, on the bounce. Henriques ends the over missing a ball he never truly saw.

Replacing Tait, with full mullet and beard, is one of the greatest bowlers to play for Australia. It is already a let-down. This isn't the Gillespie of Headingley 1997, whose spells Ian Healy said were the quickest he kept to. It's more like the Gillespie of 2005. Gillespie finishes his ten overs and leaves the crease with his head down. There will be a statue of him at the ground one day and one for "Boof" too. Neither of them can be the hero today.

At Lord's in an ODI against England in 2010, Tait bowled a loosener that was so quick it flew past the batsman and almost took the wicketkeeper Tim Paine's head off. He bowled outswingers so fast Craig Kieswetter's attempted forward defensives seemed like shadow shots for the next ball, not the current one. Then Tait slung in a ball at Kieswetter's hip. He spooned it safely to midwicket and took a single.

The ball was 100.1mph, or 161.1kph.

"Shaun Tait rolls up at 100 miles per hour… goes unnoticed at Lord's," said Nasser Hussain on commentary. It is the second fastest recorded delivery.

Tenth over
"Taity kept imposing himself, and now he had 10,000 baying for blood." - Cameron Borgas

Batsmen read bowlers. They look for clues. They couldn't with Tait, who was accidental misdirection mixed with sudden, uncontrollable force

NSW need 12 to win as Tait comes on for his last over. The first ball smashes into Henriques' pad and all of South Australia appeals. It's not even close and they take a leg-bye. O'Brien defends the next ball and Tait gives him a mouthful, his first real sign of aggression without the ball. He delivers a full toss that allows O'Brien to get off strike and then Henriques leaves one alone.

The crowd are now chanting Tait's name, willing him, begging him to win it.

Tait delivers a perfect reverse-swinging yorker. Henriques' balance is gone, his head is miles outside off stump, his foot is struck in front of middle. South Australia scream in appeal but Taufel says no again. Perhaps it is slipping down leg, but morally, for effort and the good of humanity, it is close enough to give. Tait finishes with another full toss. His day is over.

In the changing rooms, the entire NSW team claps in acknowledgment. Ten overs, five spells, no maidens, 41 runs, six wickets and 14 wides: 12.2 overs of pure Shaun Tait.

A little later, Cleary takes the wicket of O'Brien, and then Cosgrove, in his first over, takes his third career List A wicket.

As Lehmann starts the 41st over South Australia need one wicket, NSW six runs. MacGill ends up on strike with the scores level and tickles one down the leg side to sneak home. MacGill shows little emotion at the win, but more when going up to Tait to congratulate him. Tait's hard work counts for nothing.

Blurred lines: the human body as weapon

Blurred lines: the human body as weapon © Getty Images

****

Sixty thousand people are at the MCG as Australia take on Pakistan in a T20 in February 2010. There is a weird swirl to the grass, a surreal pattern. Australia have scored 127. Mark Nicholas, for Channel Nine, is talking on air to an official about a sponsorship deal for the T20 team. Tait's first ball breaks through that corporate moment. It's short and wide but Imran Farhat pokes at it way too late and Haddin's gloves are almost blown back behind his body. The crowd roars.

"The Wild Thing is in," Ian Healy announces as the second ball is delivered. It slams into Farhat's thigh guard. The crowd roars, and then roars again when the electronic scoreboard shows that Tait is already at 159kph. Shane Watson smiles at the big screen, David Warner does a double take and Mitchell Johnson hands Tait the ball and chuckles.

Haddin and the slips have moved back twice. The crowd hasn't stopped roaring but they amp it up as Tait comes in again. It's full and wide, and no matter what speed you watch it at, it seems to go quicker than your eye can compute. Farhat's swing is pointless. Haddin takes it and instantly looks up at the electronic scoreboard.

Tait turns back to his mark, allowing himself only the smallest peek. He doesn't smile, just breathes deeply and looks back at the ground. The crowd roars again: 160.7kph.

On commentary, James Brayshaw says, "That is a hundred miles per hour, a cricket ball does not get bowled faster than that." He is wrong on both points. It is actually 99.854mph and balls have been bowled faster. Even Tait has bowled a faster ball. The next ball is a wide. No one cares. Tait is blowing hard and after the over he blows hard all the way to fine leg. Haddin walks over and they share a joke. Tait barely smiles. He has nothing left.

The over has no wickets and even conceded a boundary. But Tait walks down to Bay 13 and gets a standing ovation. He may not know it but this is his "Wild Thing" moment, when Australia stops for a few seconds to scream at how fast he can bowl a ball.

Jarrod Kimber is the global cricket writer for ESPNcricinfo and co-director of the film Death of a Gentleman. @ajarrodkimber

 

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  • POSTED BY Chandrasekhar Kartik on | March 30, 2017, 17:45 GMT

    Loved it,JK.You make the mundane sound lucid.If I were an Aussie,I'd want to be a quick bowler.It's unfair to comment on a person's bowling action and body,call him"soft" when one hasn't been in the same shoes.So,Tait gave us all good memories;desire to bowl quick,the drive to fly .So,let's all rejoice his career and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

  • POSTED BY john_bnsa on | March 28, 2017, 9:40 GMT

    A bowler of great speed. But it just goes to show that there is no need to bowl at 140+, as bowling at that speed doesn't make a good bowler. Anderson, pollock. McGrath, walsh, ambrose. Z Kahn, vaas, Donald, Gillespie, philander etc all show that if you bowl at 130 it is just as devasta

  • POSTED BY TestCricRox on | March 28, 2017, 1:54 GMT

    Jarrod...u rock as ever....could feel the excitement -with every line...gr8 write up....keep them coming.....wish as an indian we could get to see some these matches live on our TV...cheers

  • POSTED BY vj_gooner on | October 24, 2015, 6:34 GMT

    Classy article, Jarrod! You are killing it!

  • POSTED BY nskaile on | October 19, 2015, 20:12 GMT

    Uncle Jarrod when it comes to write stuff like this, you stand way above anyone els. This is a great piece from you. Thank you and cant wait to see another one from you on your God Sehwag who announced retirement yday.

    And on Tait, he was always fin to watch just like Lee or Shane Bond or AKhtar. You never know what they gonna throw at u.

  • POSTED BY Ram-i on | October 16, 2015, 17:05 GMT

    Awesome read! scratch that - awesome experience. That was a beautiful piece Mr.Kimber.

  • POSTED BY arjun1419 on | October 16, 2015, 6:05 GMT

    Mr. Kimber, you little beauty! Amazing article and a super absorbing read! :)

  • POSTED BY neerajgarg2112 on | October 16, 2015, 3:48 GMT

    Excellent writing. It's an experience rather than mere article.

  • POSTED BY 2jono on | October 16, 2015, 2:44 GMT

    Darren Lehmanns bowling compared to an experience in the woods .. Brilliant Writing as always Jarrod Kimber !

  • POSTED BY StevieS on | October 15, 2015, 19:10 GMT

    The only thing I think of when hearing the name Shaun Tait is McCullum scooping him over the wicket keepers head for 6, twice.

  • POSTED BY Ozy Jones on | October 15, 2015, 12:24 GMT

    A few years back the wife and I were in Adelaide on a holiday. Walking around one night we passed the coal and were invited in for free to watch the last half of one of the early Big Bash games. Tait was bowling.

    We have sons in rep cricket, at state level, and watch a lot of live cricket at the Gabba, but nothing prepared me for watching Tait live. Nothing. You could feel the brutality of each delivery from the stands. One of the most exhilarating spells of four overs I've ever witnessed. Great writing, thanks Jarrod; I always look forward to your articles.

  • POSTED BY inxia38 on | October 15, 2015, 12:12 GMT

    The other main player in this story was Lehmann. He managed Tait brilliantly that day, taking him off when he needed to recover, encouraging him when he was looking glum. Boof played a major role in that 6-for.

  • POSTED BY mdho on | October 15, 2015, 6:13 GMT

    My sentiments exactly ALLROUNDER51. Excellent writing.

  • POSTED BY allrounder51 on | October 15, 2015, 5:29 GMT

    A fantastic article . You could feel the excitement in every sentence. Thoroughly enjoyed

  • POSTED BY robelgordo on | October 8, 2015, 11:07 GMT

    I vividly remember watching this on Ch9. It was the most remarkable ten overs I've ever seen. I must've watched dozens of Mercantile Mutual games over many years and nothing sticks in the mind like this performance.