The Adelaide Advertiser, the newspaper published out of the city where Shaun Tait played his best cricket, devoted precisely 143 words to the news of his retirement. Not that you could blame them. Australia’s cricketers are currently engaged in a fierce scrap for glory in India, and the retirement of a man who last wore South Australian colours more than two years ago hardly counted as news.
It’s more than nine years since Tait played the last of his three Tests against India in Perth. He didn’t play any red-ball cricket for the Redbacks after December 2008, and his best years were behind him by the time he got his Indian Premier League chance in 2010.
Why then is there such a lingering sense of regret as we look back on his career? In all, he took just 95 international wickets, four less than R Ashwin has managed in Test cricket alone in the last nine months. Tait seemed a misfit in Test whites, his ODI career didn’t progress as hoped after the starring role at the 2007 World Cup, and his last half-decade as a cricketer was mainly spent as a Twenty20 gun for hire.
But for those that can recall the high points, there are a few reasons to ponder what might have been. He was already on the radar when India toured Australia in 2003-04, playing for Australia A against the tourists in Hobart. Wild and woolly was the consensus from the Indians after he finished with 3 for 85, including the wicket of Virender Sehwag, caught behind.
Overwhelmed, thank you to everyone for the kind words. pic.twitter.com/C2Ije0Upww
— Shaun Tait (@shaun_tait32) March 27, 2017
The following season, when he was 21 going on 22, Tait took 65 Pura Cup [as the Sheffield Shield was known then] wickets at 20.16, and had a strike-rate of 36.1. Those were championship-winning numbers, but the Redbacks lost seven of their ten games and finished fifth [out of six].
He played two Ashes Tests in 2005, but was more scattergun than strike bowler, and it quickly became apparent that Ricky Ponting didn’t trust him in a tight situation. That became apparent on his Test comeback against India at the WACA. So much of the talk in the build-up to the Test was of a four-man pace attack, and the Wild Thing being unleashed on the Indians.
Tait was the fourth bowler that Ponting threw the ball to, behind even Stuart Clark’s medium pace. Across the two innings, he would bowl 21 wicket-less overs for 92. He never played Test cricket again. The inswinging yorker that shattered Marcus Trescothick’s stumps at Trent Bridge on his Test debut would come to be recalled as an anomaly in a career that saw five wickets at 60.40.
With the white ball, in 50-overs cricket, he would soldier on till the 2011 World Cup, where an expensive spell in the quarterfinal defeat to India proved to be his last. At his best, as AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs discovered in the 2007 semifinal, he was a fiendishly difficult proposition.
The second-fastest ball ever bowled, the 6 for 41 in the 2006 ING Cup final that South Australia, predictably, lost by a wicket, and the reverse swing that sent Geraint Jones’s off-stump cartwheeling to set up a barnstorming finish at The Oval in 2005. The highlights reel wasn’t substantial, and it was frequently interrupted, but at his pacy best – flawed action and all – Tait truly did make the heart sing.