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Tim May: Classical Australian off-spinner who peaked late in his career

Tim May © Getty Images
Tim May © Getty Images

Tim May, born on January 26, 1962, had exemplary control as an off-spinner. The Australian could give the red cherry a considerable rip to leave the batsmen in a state of befuddlement. Bharath Ramaraj has more…

Tim May, the quintessential old school off-spinner from Australia during the late 1980s and early 1990s, took a long time to make his mark in Test cricket. With Greg Matthews preferred for his better all-round skills and the largely unknown Peter Taylor too flying on the wings of brilliance, albeit for a short period, May found it hard to break into the Australian setup.

Until 1989, he did play that odd Test match for Australia, but with little success. During their ill-fated tour of Pakistan in 1988-89 when Australia dropped a slew of catches one after another, May did make an impression on turning tracks. However, he was well down in the pecking order of Australian spinners.

In fact, it was in the nail-biter of a Test match against the West Indies at Adelaide in 1993 that the watershed moment came in his career. On a track with variable bounce, he spun a web around West Indian batsmen with flight and guile to send them back the pavilion like an army of sheep. Most of those Windies batsmen lunging forward had no answer to counter the wicked dip and spin of May. He should be proud of the way he deceived Carl Hooper in the air to outfox him. Hooper, a fine player of spin who played with softest of hands, tried to sweep him but was done in by the lovely drift of May. Unfortunately for him and Australia, they lost the Test by a mere one run.

Now that was the spell that kick-started his career. In England in 1993, he and Shane Warne had a whale of a time bowling to leaden-footed English batsmen. Robin Smith, a famed player of fearsome fast bowling was at sixes and sevens against both Warne and May. He took 21 wickets in the series and along with Warne’s box of tricks sent England to another humiliating defeat in the Ashes series.

The New Zealand team, minus a severely injured Martin Crowe for the final two Tests of the series against Australia by the end of 1993 were befuddled and bamboozled by spin twins, May and Warne as well. They ran through the opposition ranks with consummate ease.

Next up on the cards, on turning tracks of Pakistan in 1994, he spun it hard and made life difficult for batsmen by pitching it on the rough patches. However , a variety of factors ranging from injuries that he suffered in the first Test to Australia’s brilliant close-in fielders again being haunted by playing in Pakistan leading to catches dropped of virtually every bowler came in the way of May soaring to greater heights.

May, already on the wrong side of 30 suddenly seemed to be on the wane after that bitter series loss to Pakistan. Even English batsmen seemed to play him well in the 1994-95 Ashes Down Under.  In that series, he took a solitary wicket at an average of 219 — something that no one could have envisaged when he was ripping off-breaks across bewildered English batsmen in 1993 Ashes. His only invaluable contribution to Australia’s thumping series win in that series was batting with guts and gumption to take Australia to safe waters in the Sydney Test.

Interestingly, he played just one more season of First-Class cricket for South Australia, before hanging up his spiked boots. He though, unmistakably served South Australia with diligence and dedication.

Tim May played 24 Tests for Australia and took 75 wickets at an average of 34.74. He took three five-wicket hauls © Getty Images
Tim May played 24 Tests for Australia and took 75 wickets at an average of 34.74. He took three five-wicket hauls © Getty Images

May was a wonderful bowler to watch. He had all the tricks of the trade of an orthodox off-spinner. Spin, subtle variations of drift, cunningness and that spinner’s temperament to be prepared to get hit in order to take wickets. He was in the traditional mould of Australian off-spinners, as he believed in pitching it outside the off-stump, spinning it hard and making the batsmen drive through covers. On his day, watching him bowl was akin to a master-class in orthodox off-spin bowling.

Actually, when we look at his career statistics which reads as 75 wickets in 24 Tests at an average of 34.74, it has to be duly considered that bowling traditional off-spin and surviving for long on Australian tracks is a gargantuan task. One has to be a good off-spinner to play for a longer span of time in Australia and May was one of them.

In One-Day Internationals (ODIs) though, he struggled to leave an indelible mark. He took 39 wickets in 47 games at an average of 45.43. One of his better spells came in the quadrangular four-nation tournament held in New Zealand in 1995. In the final of that tournament at Auckland, he took three wickets against batsmen who played from the crease and eventually helped Australia to chart a crushing win and lift the coveted trophy.

After walking into the sun set of his career, he went onto serve as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Federation of International Cricketer’s Association (FICA) with distinction and devotion. His tenure though, came to a sorry end when he resigned from the post due to his ouster from ICC Cricket Committee in favour of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) backed Laxman Sivaramakrishnan.

At the peak of his prowess in the early 1990s, Tim May was brimming with confidence. He was one of the best spinners going around. Unfortunately, he didn’t have too many years left in him to carry that good form for long.

(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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