What does a fast bowler need? Lanky frame? Menacing speed? And, accuracy, too. Right? Tait, had it all, sometimes minus the accuracy.
Often, when not featuring in a playing eleven, he brought drinks onto the ground. Never, with a smirk; always with a smile. When fielding, he looked hardly the part of someone who broke a sweat. And he also bowled the fastest ever delivery in the ebb of limited over cricket. A very Ravi Shastri-like ‘tracer bullet’, at 161.1km/hr, hurled. Not delivered at England’s Craig Kieswetter. Not Shoaib. Not Lee. Not Dale Steyn. For the briefest time, Shaun Tait wore the thorny crown of being ‘the fastest bowler in the world’. It was a glorious crown too. Glorious because it put him right at top of the peak, above speed guns whose normal day job is to haunt batsmen whilst moonlighting as tireless runners on either a treadmill or amidst some other mechanical pursuit in a gym.
And, thorny because along with the pace supremo tag, came a flurry of concerns, normal for other bowlers but, an almost limitless stack for the South Australian.
How painful must’ve been the predicament of Tait where he bowled just as much as watched from the sidelines?
A career that began at the highest stage a cricketer would desire for himself- in an Ashes Test- in 2005 and effectively finished in 2011 – the last when he played an ODI game for Australia, those sporadic and listless appearances in T20 notwithstanding, Shaun Tait was more than a fast-bowler. He was an injured body; a ravaged man in flesh and blood. A visibly tired contestant who persisted, until the toll weighed on by his body became more difficult to endure than the inexplicable dip in form and fortunes of top-rate talents like Faulkner or Watson, from a fans’ perspective.
Shaun Tait, it could be argued, was a bit lonely on the cricket field although never looked the part of a loner. He was, for the most part of the limited cricket his body allowed him to undertake, very much involved in the contest even though behind the styling of a smiling veneer were concerns; genuine concerns with his body. Frequent injuries- some to the back, some to an aching tendon, ruptured hipbone, at times, to the lower back and unbeknownst to the man at times, to even his ankle.
A fan’s favourite, a hero for the classic fast-bowling fan, Tait highlighted stellar calibre but very limited outcome?
This isn’t the Sir Viv- Andy Roberts era. This also isn’t Jeff Thompson-Ian Chappel age. And neither is this, the Alan Donald-Daryl Cullinan time. Cricket isn’t just some sport. It’s part of a daily religious exercise to which cricketers commit their allegiance, on an almost daily basis, agreeing willingly to undergo the rigours akin to a passenger airliner that cannot say no to a daily, London-to-Paris flight. The airliner does need refuelling. High maintenance. And obviously, constant repair work owing to loosening of nuts and bolts.
Shaun Tait, an express fast bowler, who, on a lean day topped the speed gun, above his contemporaries with nothing more than a 140-145 k/hr. was this frequent flier. Just that his system came to constant overhaul.
There was jet speed, skyrocketing performances but rapidly, manically waning fortunes. Precisely this highlighted the right-arm bowler’s predicament.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t fit. No inch of fat. Not a trace of loosely hanging muscle. All toned up. Tait was a robust man of flesh and blood, pious dedication and strong moral fibre. But the dilemmas cricket taxed him with were too good for the strangely withering frame he was contesting with. Even as he played his final T20 game for Australia just months before, 31st January 2016, Tait was express pace again. Clocking up the 148-k/hr tag. But he also highlighted another concern that, till this very last game continued his troubles with line. If not length!For most pace bowlers, it’s both- line and length to be in absolute control. Shaun Tait had menacing length but no line.
How else would you describe a rather mediocre performance in that virtually do-or-die game for Australia against India, Cricket World Cup, 2011? Tait conceded most runs, delivered 8 extras of Australia’s tally of 21 and went nearly above 7.5-an over. Not the kind of stuff Clarke would’ve expected from a premium pace bowler. And truth be told, the habit, rather a constantly occurring misgiving of delivering way too many no-balls and wides heightened Shaun Tait’s struggle with form just as much his express pace bowling, magnified by generating an extra bounce, covered the chinks in his armour.
In his debut game, Ashes 2005, he did strike early. Drew first blood and collected an impressive 3 wickets. But of the 450 plus England score, Tait contributed a nearly 120 or something. For the most part of his limping cricketing journey, built on the painfully correct tedium of having a shiny, rhythmic bowling action, that could be quite likened to a Joel Garner or Wes Hall, Tait walked the tightrope between the emotional trouble of having to sit out on injury and performing with a probing frame, one that doubted him more than the Aussie selectors.
Above all, we must tip our hat to a cricketer who seemed content and focused in an era marked by expletives, soaring commercial fortunes and insular cricketing personalities.
Not much of a talker, Shaun Tait, who only collected 67 wickets from the very limited ODIs and hardly a handful Tests that he played, has bowed out as an amiable, kind and encouraging man. He was up for the rigours of T20, even whilst facing his toughest physical challenge for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL (under Dravid’s consistency) as he battled sore back and cramps. Ever a patient listener and someone you would first reach out to, to celebrate a dismissal, the Adelaide-man persisted. Smiled. And above self achievements- most remarkably that of being the world’s fastest bowler at one time- took pleasure in others’. That’s not only a wonderful quality, rather indicative of a rarity that one doesn’t observe in contemporary cricketing culture.