One and Done

Shaun Young's Ashes outing

Flashback to 1997, when the Tasmanian allrounder got a call-up from county cricket to play the final Test at The Oval

Brydon Coverdale  |  

Baggy-green dreams:

Baggy-green dreams: "I'd known most of these guys and played against them in the first-class arena, but it was a very daunting and overwhelming experience" © PA Photos

Shaun Young remembers it well. It was early August, 1997. His first and only season of county cricket was nearing its end. At 27, Young was a hard-working allrounder coming off a solid summer at home with Tasmania, and he had enjoyed an equally consistent winter with Gloucestershire. Six more weeks in England beckoned, then home to build on the lessons learnt on the county treadmill.

Then came the moment that changed his life. Young was about to go away with Gloucestershire for a match against Sussex in Hove when he received a call from Australia's team management. He was to travel instead to Canterbury; Australia's Test squad was to play a tour match against Kent ahead of the sixth and final Test of their Ashes tour. And Young was now part of that squad.

It was a squad ravaged by departures. Jason Gillespie was on his way home with a back injury, Brendon Julian with a broken hand, and Paul Reiffel for the birth of his child. Reiffel himself was already a late call-up to the touring party, having arrived when Andy Bichel was forced out due to a back injury, and also to cover for Gillespie, who had suffered a hamstring injury during the first Test.

And Australia had just won the fifth Test at Trent Bridge, where Shane Warne indulged in his famous stump dance on the balcony to celebrate. The sixth Test, at The Oval, would be a dead rubber. Still, replacements were needed. Australia's selectors could have sent home for a bowler or two, but they would have little time to acclimatise. And in any case, they had options already in the UK.

Young was one, Shane Lee another. Both were medium-pace allrounders, and both were called into the squad ahead of the tour match in Kent. Lee was plucked from Lancashire League cricket; Young at least had been playing at first-class level with Gloucestershire. But now one of them would become a Test cricketer. The game in Canterbury loomed as a bowl-off for a baggy green.

Lee could hardly have done any more. In the first innings he ran through the Kent tail and finished with 4 for 27, in the second innings he picked up 4 for 86. Young, who shared the new ball with Michael Kasprowicz, managed just one wicket in each innings. Neither of them reached double figures with the bat. Lee felt that Young had the front-running, having been in county cricket, but it would be close.

"My performance at Canterbury, though, must have posed them a few problems," Lee wrote in a column at the time. "Everything went really well in the first innings, when I mopped up the tail with four wickets in 15 balls. I was getting the ball to swing away, something I have been working on in the Lancashire League.

"I missed my chance with the bat but I thought I bowled even better in the second innings, on a fairly flat track, to pick up another four wickets. It was then just a question of wait and see. I certainly didn't think I had done my chances any harm, but I still wasn't expecting anything."

Young walks back after being caught behind for a duck in his first Test innings

Young walks back after being caught behind for a duck in his first Test innings © PA Photos

And indeed, he didn't get anything. Not a baggy green, at any rate. Lee would have to settle for being an Australia one-day international representative, and his brother Brett later became the only member of the family to play Test cricket. Young never played an ODI for Australia, but the baggy green was his, presented on the eve of the Test by the captain, Mark Taylor.

"There was no doubt in my mind and probably Shane's as well that we were vying for that last spot," Young told ESPNcricinfo. "It was the day before the Test and Mark Taylor pulled me aside and mentioned to me that I'd been selected. Then he proceeded to present me with my cap in front of the tour group."

And what a group it was. Warne, Taylor, Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Ian Healy, Ricky Ponting. Legends of the game, the men who carried Australian cricket through one of its greatest eras. And here was Young about to join them in an Ashes XI. Shaun Young, honest toiler, hard worker. Test cricketer.

"I'd known most of these guys and played against them in the first-class arena, but it was certainly something new being involved in the team environment and the ilk of those guys," Young said. "It was a very daunting and overwhelming experience. I wouldn't say I was the most gifted player with bat or ball. But I certainly prided myself on being a competitor out on the field and really putting in."

He walked out on Test debut as the fourth member of an attack featuring McGrath, Warne and Kasprowicz. Mike Atherton had won the toss and chosen to bat; Young would bowl on day one of the Test. And he bowled pretty well. Seven overs, three maidens, 0 for 8. But there was hardly a chance for anything more, for McGrath took seven and rolled England for 180.

"Mark Taylor actually positioned [Tasmania team-mate] Ricky Ponting at mid-off when he called on me to bowl," Young said. "The first ball and the first over was a bit of a blur. I can't really recall too much about it other than that Ricky was fantastic at mid-off in terms of trying to relax me and make me enjoy the experience.

"I just tied an end up, which is what I was renowned for, in terms of being tight. No wickets to speak of. It went okay. Certainly not the best spell I've ever bowled but not the worst either. Ricky was a very calming presence for me at that time. He'd been in the Australian team for some time."

So Young had done his first job: tied up an end. But next came the chance to bat, and Young was well qualified there. He already had nine first-class centuries to his name, and a career-best 237 had come just the previous month against Derbyshire, whose attack boasted both Devon Malcolm and Phil DeFreitas. The guy could bat, even if he was coming in at No. 8 in this Test side.

"I'd played for about seven seasons then and had bowled a lot of overs for Tassie," he said. "At that point in time, things were starting to swing around from being a bowling allrounder initially to being a batting allrounder in the first-class arena.

"From memory, it really wasn't your traditional Oval wicket. The Oval is normally like an Australian wicket but this one proved to be a bit of a turner. In the first innings I went to cut Phil Tufnell and it spun back on me reasonably sharply and caught the top of the bat handle and popped up to Alec Stewart for a duck. It wasn't the greatest start."

Young played for Tasmania till 2001-02 and then went to work in AFL administration

Young played for Tasmania till 2001-02 and then went to work in AFL administration © Getty Images

True, but nobody was scoring much in this Test. By the end of Australia's innings, they had a 40-run lead but there had been no half-centuries in the match. In England's second innings, Graham Thorpe managed 62, Young was called on for just one over, and England's 163 gave them a lead of 123. Surely Australia could chase down 124 for victory?

Andy Caddick and Tufnell had other ideas. Young walked to the crease at 88 for 6, with 36 runs still needed. Before he knew it, Healy was out, then Warne and then Kasprowicz. Young at least scored in this innings - he recalls that his only Test runs came from a cover-driven boundary off Caddick - but he ran out of partners and time to deliver Australia the win.

"I was in there for a long period of time," Young said of his 42-minute innings. "Caddick was bowling a really good spell. I was batting with Glenn McGrath for a large portion of the time. Both Glenn and I were reasonably confident that if we could hang in there we could get the job done. But that wasn't proven to be."

McGrath was caught at mid-off from the bowling of Tufnell, England won by 19 runs, and Young's Test career was over. In the rooms after the match there was disappointment at losing the Test, but plenty of celebrations at the end of a tour on which they had retained the Ashes. And Young, of Tasmania and Gloucestershire and now Australia, was part of it.

"It was a good night. That's a bit of a blur as well," Young said. "Just the fact that you're sitting in the rooms with some of the greats of the game, enjoying the atmosphere and the company of some extremely talented cricketers was an amazing experience."

A week later he was back in Bristol turning out for Gloucestershire, scoring a half-century against Nottinghamshire. A few weeks after that it was back home to Tasmania for another Shield season, and while he could dream of another call-up, he also knew that circumstances had fallen extremely favourably for him in gaining the first one.

"You always have that in the back of your mind that you'd like to be selected again, but it certainly was a case of being in the right place at the right time, given the circumstances of the touring party," he said. "I went into the following season hoping that I may be selected again, but that didn't prove to be. It was a great honour to play one Test for Australia.

"I can say that I played a Test for Australia. It was certainly not something that I anticipated doing, albeit I worked pretty hard over a long period of time with my performances in the first-class arena. It was a great experience and something that I'll cherish."

He played on for Tasmania until 2001-02, and after retirement switched sports to work in AFL administration. He was general manager of AFL Tasmania until earlier this year, when he made the move to Canberra to become general manager of football for the Eastlake Football Club. Now 45, Young has little to do with cricket but looks after his baggy green "with immense pride".

"It's not something that I speak about a lot," Young said of his brief Test career. "I certainly don't mention it, but some people mention it and it's a great thing to be recognised as playing for Australia."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale