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Mike Whitney, born on February 24, 1959 was a fine left-arm seamer. But he had to go through his fair share of trials and tribulations to make his mark in the international circuit. Since retiring from the game, he has also enjoyed a successful career in the media. Bharath Ramaraj has more.
One day you’re playing in the serene lawns of English County cricket with a few hundred spectators watching the game. Next day, you’re playing for the country in the Ashes series. This is not akin to riding on some fabled fantasy dream, but the true story of Australia’s former left-arm pacer Mike Whitney.
By the time Australia played in the final Test of the now famous ‘Ian Botham’s Ashes’ at the Oval in 1981, most of their quick bowlers had broken down. From Jeff Thomson, Carl Rackemann to Geoff Lawson, Rodney Hogg and the firebrand quick Len Pascoe, were all missing from action due to injuries. Whitney, with just four First-Class games under his belt was called up as a replacement. He was then playing for Gloucestershire in county cricket which made it easier for Australian manager Fred Bennett to approach him. Whitney was left in a state of trance when Australia’s captain Kim Hughes came over to him and informed him about his selection. Hughes told Whitney, “Congratulations. I need you to bowl a good line and length tomorrow.”
Whitney, suddenly from being in the obscurity had millions of cameras focusing on him. He was even sharing a room with the legendary Australian pacer, Dennis Lillee. In short, in the world of sport, yesterday can feel like light years away.
But dreams don’t last long, as after passing the baptism by fire in the final Test of the Ashes series against England with reasonable success, Whitney’s world crash-landed with a huge thud. The hard-working left-arm seamer didn’t play another Test for next six years. Yet, he continued to put in ultra-consistent performances in the Sheffield Shield. Finally, Australian selectors gave him that long awaited break in the game against New Zealand in Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1987-88.
He penned his indelible mark in that game not just with the red cherry in hand by scalping four wickets, but also washed away the challenge of facing Sir Richard Hadlee in his pomp with dauntless courage, fine prowess of adhesion and warrior-like tenacity by surviving 18 balls to take Australia to safe waters.
With the likes of Lawson, Tony Dodemaide, Terry Alderman and a young bowler with a heart of a lion, Merv Hughes coming through the ranks, Whitney had to fight tooth and nail to be picked for Australia. There were occasions when he was clambered all over the park. For instance, West Indian batsmen took a liking to his seam bowling in 1991 at Jamaica, but to his credit, he didn’t fall by the wayside in a wallow of mediocrity.
In 1991-92 when India arrived on the shores of Australia, the troika of McDermott, Bruce Reid and Merv Hughes were expected to cause most of the damage. However, Whitney too shone like a beacon by bowling with industrious spirit to snare 11 wickets at the WACA, Perth. On a track with nice carry, Indian batsmen were made to look like a fish out of water by Whitney. The left-arm pacer didn’t swing the ball like a boomerang, but just hit the right lengths and twinned it with chronometric precision to test the batsman outside their off-stump. The left-armer’s angle also helped him to make life of Indian batsmen difficult.
He was also a fine seamer in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). In fact, in the 1992 World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand, Whitney was Australia’s leading wicket-taker. It turned out to be a disastrous tournament for the hosts, as they were shown the exit door in the group stages of the tournament. Whitney, though, bowled heart wrenching spells on some flat decks to come out as a true winner.
Unfortunately for Whitney, by the end of 1992 season, Australian selectors decided to hunt for young and fresh legs. Australian cricket was brimming with talent what with the likes of Jo Angel, Glenn McGrath, Mathew Nicholson, Wayne Holdsworth, Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz already making their mark. Such was the competition for places that it seemed like McGrath and the 90mph express fast bowler Holdsworth could push him out of his state side, New South Wales. It resulted in Whitney playing his last Test of his career against the West Indies at MCG in 1992-93. The only consolation for him being Australia won that Test mainly on the back of resplendent performances by Shane Warne and Mark Waugh.
Whitney continued to serve his state team, the New South Wales with dedication and devotion for one more year, before walking into retirement life in 1993-94.
Since retiring from the game, Whitney has gone onto become a very popular anchor on various shows. Indians were in particular, hooked to his TV shows on AXN between 1996 to 1998. He also has a band called Mike Whitney band. The band is greatly involved in doing charity work.
Mike Whitney played just 12 Tests for his country. But let it be playing for his state side, New South Wales, English County, Gloucestershire or Australia, he put his heart on his sleeve and strived every ounce of his energy. A colourful character indeed!
(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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