Michael Kasprowicz was born on February 10, 1972, in Queensland. On his day, he had the ability to generate venomous movement off the track and make life difficult for batsmen. But he had to face tough competition from other pacers in a golden era of Australia cricket. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the career highlights of Kasprowicz.
At the age of 17, Michael Kasprowicz was suddenly thrust into the limelight when he played for Queensland in the highly competitive Sheffield Shield against Western Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane. Remember Kasprowicz wasn’t yet out of school then.
He came into the attack as first change bowler after Craig McDermott had bowled a fierce opening spell. The young pacer charged into the crease with a lithe run-up, but has nothing to show for his efforts. He bowled 14 overs and was ripped apart by the opposition. Yet, that energetic industrious-stamina of an ox made the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson sit up and take notice of this treasured gem with an enormous reservoir of skill.
The youngest cricketer to play for Western Australia since Don Tallon, Kasprowicz was one of those bowlers who could run in all day for a captain. He had the misfortune of playing in an era when Australia had a truckload of fine pacers. He still chugged along diligently and on many occasions, left an indelible mark on the cricketing map.
For Kasprowicz, throughout his professional career, it was a case of wading through pitfalls. Despite the burgeoning promise on view, he had a barren time of it during his early days. He was flagged down with fitness issues and spent most of his time on a surgeon’s table. It was only in the 1992-93 season that his saga of success in First-Class cricket began. By propelling the ball at good pace and generating copious movement off the track, he was a pillar of excellence in Sheffield Shield and took 51 wickets at 24.13 in 1992-93.
He became the youngest to take 50 wickets in a single season in Sheffield Shield. When Jo Angel was picked for the Test match at WACA against the West Indies in 1992-93, followed by the tearaway fast bowler who bowled razor sharp out-swingers at 90 mph, Wayne Holdsworth for 1993 Ashes, good judges believed that Kasprowicz should have played ahead of them.
In some ways, it was perhaps a blessing in disguise for Kasprowicz, as it gave him time to hone his skills in County cricket for Essex in 1994. Essex, who were at their lowest ebb after a disastrous 1993 season, plumped for Kasprowicz ahead of the likes of Paul Reiffel, Angel and yes, you have heard it right, Glenn McGrath. He had his share of ups and downs in County cricket, but his apprenticeship was complete after playing in County Championship.
It was two years later in 1996 that Kasprowicz finally made his Test debut against a formidable foe in West Indies. The Test is remembered more for Shane Warne’s return from a finger injury and McGrath cutting a swathe through West Indies line-up. However, despite going wicket-less in that game, it was evident that Kasprowicz would ink his name in the mind of selectors in the years to come.
Such was the jostling for fast bowling places that in the 1990s, Holdsworth and Brad Williams didn’t play a single Test. Mathew Nicholson, rated higher than McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie during his Under-19 days, played a solitary Test for Australia. Kasprowicz though, showed himself to be a symbol of unwavering self-belief, as he continued to knock at the doors of Australian selectors with his ultra-consistent performances.
During the first Test of 1997 Ashes series played at Edgbaston, Kasprowicz was the lone bright spot for Australia. With Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain laying into some listless bowling by even Warne and McGrath, Kasprowicz bowled like a man-possessed to take four wickets. As McGrath floundered to find his rhythm, it was Kasprowicz who stood like a boy on a burning deck. Laced with sheer amazement, the writer watched in awe him moving the ball off the seam at will in that Test.
Warne and McGrath were champion bowlers for nothing. Both of them found their rhythm soon and strode like colossuses to run through England’s feeble batting line-up, during the rest of the series. With Gillespie recovering from his shoulder injury and Paul Reiffel finding form meant that Kasprowicz was relegated to carrying drinks after playing the second Test at Lord’s. Yet, when he got his chance to play in the final Test at the Oval, he grabbed that golden opportunity with both hands and shone like a beacon to take seven for 36 in the second innings.
There were still questions marks hanging over his ability to bowl on flat decks of Asia. When Australia toured India in 1997-98 without the services of Gillespie and McGrath, they had a very inexperienced attack on paper. Indian batsmen known as famed players of spin smashed Warne to smithereens. With Kasprowicz too unable to find any movement in the air with the old ball, India thwacked Australia in the first two Tests of the series. In the final Test though, Kasprowicz added a new string in his bow by generating prodigious reverse swing to help Australia save some face by winning the dead rubber match. During that time, he also had a chastening experience of bowling to Sachin Tendulkar at the peak of his prowess in a One-Day International (ODI) tri-series in Sharjah. Under the searing heat, he lost a few kilos, but came out of playing Asia as a better bowler.
Poor Kasprowicz, as with McGrath coming back from his abdominal strain that had kept him out of the tour to India and Damien Fleming sneaking into the Australian setup largely on the back of his banana-bending swing bowling, Kasprowicz again had to sit on the bench. He played in that odd Test like again Pakistan in 1999-00 at WACA, but with Lee too having emerged as a fast bowler to watch out for, Kasprowicz struggled to play regularly for Australia.
In 2001, Australia plumped for Kasprowicz to play in India. The only Test he played was at Kolkata. In what turned out to be a truly remarkable Test match with VVS Laxman’s timeless composition, full of lissome flicks and drives taking India to a believe-it-or-not win Kasprowicz, just like other quickies struggled for penetration, especially in the second innings.
After that series, Australian selectors seemed to have forgotten Kasprowicz forever. He is even said to have considered playing rugby then. But in 2004, Kasprowicz earned a shock recall to play in Sri Lanka. It was perhaps due to the fact that he had previous experience of playing in sub-continental conditions.
Kasprowicz had a glorious year in 2004. On good batting surfaces of Sri Lanka and India, he used the cutters and by bowling cross seam made life of batsmen feel like hell. Unfortunately, his yeoman services that helped Australia to script a famous Test series win in India went largely unnoticed. Gillespie and McGrath were immortalised and rightly took the plaudits, but Kasprowicz too deserved a rousing tidal wave of appreciation for his gutsy fearlessness and heart-wrenching spells he bowled with the older ball. During that year, he also bowled a spell of seven for 39 against Sri Lanka at Darwin when they toured Down Under.
With his reputation of him being a fine exponent of the away swinger to left-handed batsmen, he was expected to trouble English openers Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick in the 2005 Ashes. By then though, he seemed to have lost that extra bite in his bowling. Just like Gillespie, Kasprowicz was taken to the task by England’s batsmen and Australia lost what turned out to be a see-saw Ashes battle 2-1. Sadly for Kasprowicz, it was the last time he played for Australia. After retiring from First-Class cricket in 2007-08, he has now become a fine commentator.
Michael Kasprowicz started out as a tearaway and then became a wily fast bowler, who also could turn into a diligent workhorse in subcontinent. Unfortunately, he played in an era when Australia had an assembly line of fine pacers. He ended his Test career with 113 scalps in 38 Tests at an average of 32.88. He played 43 ODIs, took 67 wickets at a noteworthy average of 24.98.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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