Craig McMillan, born on September 13, 1976, was an entertainer of sorts with his aggressive batting for New Zealand in the late 1990s and the 2000s. He is remembered for a few moments on the field of play, but today, he is making a name as a commentator. Nishad Pai Vaidya profiles McMillan.
With great hand-eye co-ordination, an attacking mind-set and an eye for innovation, Craig McMillan added punch to the New Zealand batting in the late 1990s and the 2000s. While his stats may not make the best reading, he did show flashes of brilliance which helped New Zealand record some success. In a line-up comprising feared strikers such as Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns, McMillan was more of a cheeky batsman who could stun bowlers by smashing them around in uncanny areas.
Born on September 13, 1976, in Christchurch, a young McMillan dreamt of playing for Canterbury and New Zealand. At the age of 17, he made his debut for the Canterbury Under-20s and made his way into the New Zealand Under-19 side in early 1994. During the 1994-95 season, he came into the reckoning for the senior Canterbury team and made his List A debut against Otago. He made his First-Class debut against the same opposition. In his second First-Class game against Auckland, he smashed his maiden century. It was a largely successful season for him as he had also hit his first List A ton. Over the next two years, his reputation grew in domestic cricket and he came closer to an international call-up.
In 1997, McMillan broke into the New Zealand team for the Pepsi Independence Cup in India. It came at the back of a fantastic domestic season when he scored 809 runs in eight matches at an average of 73.54, with three tons and two fifties. On his One-Day International (ODI) debut, against Sri Lanka in India, he scored only 10 even as the Kiwis were beaten. However, in his fourth ODI, he scored a quickfire 66 off 59 balls with five sixes to take New Zealand to 294 against Zimbabwe, an encounter which was ultimately won by the Kiwis.
Following that knock, he was awarded a Test cap against Australia at Brisbane. In his maiden outing he scored 54 and that series was a decent one for him personally although New Zealand lost it 2-0. When Zimbabwe toured in early 1998, he cracked 139, his maiden Test century in what was his fourth Test to ensure New Zealand won easily. A few good performances in the one-day arena also ensured that he established himself in the New Zealand side. But, after an uneventful 1999 World Cup, he only played ODIs again in the early 2000s.
Yet, immediately after that campaign, McMillan was a part of history for New Zealand cricket as they clinched a Test series in England 2-1. In the third Test at Manchester, McMillan scored his second Test century to help New Zealand take a huge lead. Although the game ended in a draw, he did win the Man-of-the-Match award.
If one looks at his career graph, one would find that he would get starts, maybe even convert a few. However, when he got into tough runs, he would invariably have a string of poor scores. From 2000 to 2002, he was fairly consistent and delivered the goods for New Zealand. Against Zimbabwe in December 2000, he scored 142 and put together a huge 222-run stand with Nathan Astle. In February 2001, he scored his maiden ODI hundred in a game against Pakistan. It was a magnificent innings with McMillan at his best, fearlessly smashing the ball all over the park. McMillan was hitting the ball well and in the final over, he neared his ton. With the last ball to go, he needed two runs to get his century and equal Chris Cairns’s record of the fastest ODI ton by a Kiwi. In typical style, McMillan heaved across the line and smashed it for a six to get his ton and the record.
A month down the line, there was another high as McMillan stole the record for the most runs scored in an over in Test cricket. As New Zealand were dominating Pakistan in the third Test at Hamilton, McMillan decided to have a bit of fun and chanced his arm once Younis Khan came into the attack. Anything pitched full was carted in front of the wicket. If it was short, he typically reverse swept it over third-man. That over went for five fours and a six and he punched the air when he completed the feat. In 2004, Brian Lara was to break that record by smashing Robin Peterson for 28 runs in an over.
Somewhere in the middle of 2002, McMillan hit a tough phase. The 2003 World Cup wasn’t great either as he recorded only one fifty against Bangladesh. After that, he wasn’t picked for the tour to Sri Lanka but fought his way back when New Zealand toured India in October 2003. In the first Test at Ahmedabad, he hit 54 and 83 not out. The second knock helped them save the game in the fourth innings. At Mohali in the second Test, four New Zealand batsmen smashed tons. McMillan was one of them and was by far the quickest as his ton came in only 130 balls.
That tour resurrected his career and his form in one-day cricket was good for the next two years. In Test cricket, it fell apart and he played his last match, against Australia in 2005. On the tour to Australia in 2004, he was involved in an altercation with Adam Gilchrist as he did not walk after he had edged a ball. Gilchrist was known for his voluntary walking, but wasn’t too impressed when McMillan stayed on.
By the end of 2005, McMillan’s one-day career was also at crossroads when he was axed from the side. Apparently, he considered a change of profession and tried his hand at salesmanship. But, fate had a twist in store for him. On New Year ’s Eve in 2006, he made his comeback during a one-dayer against Sri Lanka and that was a hint that the selectors were considering him for the ICC World Cup 2007. It all made sense during the short ODI series against Australia just before that tournament.
Chasing a mammoth 337 in the second ODI, Ross Taylor’s ton had put New Zealand on course. McMillan walked in and bludgeoned 52 off only 30 balls and New Zealand sailed home with eight balls to spare. The heroics only got better in the final game when they were in pursuit of 347. At 41 for four, Australia were in the driver’s seat, but Peter Fulton and McMillan changed things around by attacking. When Fulton fell with the score on 116, the target was still miles away. McMillan continued the onslaught with Brendon McCullum and got to his hundred off 67 balls to record the fastest ton by a Kiwi. That innings ensured a 3-0 clean-sweep over their trans-Tasman rivals.
The World Cup that followed wasn’t spectacular for McMillan personally and New Zealand did manage to reach the semi-finals. Later that year, he was one of the positives to emerge from the maiden ICC World T20 2007 where he was their leading run-scorer. However, he announced his international retirement after that tour.
McMillan signed up for the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and turned up for the Kolkata Tigers (later the Royal Bengal Tigers). In 2009, he returned to New Zealand’s domestic scene, playing a few limited-overs fixtures. He then moved away from the game and is now a successful commentator.
A character of sorts, one would often see him smiling on the field. During one game, the umpire actually taped his mouth as he was having a go at the batsman. He then became popular for his peculiar moustache. There were questions over his fitness and weight, but he fought them to become a good competitor for New Zealand. He also rolled his arm over a few times to fill in at crucial junctures. Although some feel he could have performed a lot better, remember he was an entertainer.