Shaun Tait's chance to be 'The Wild Thing'
A career bogged down by the weight of expectations and marred with injuries has got a new lease of life, and Tait has to make the most of it
'The Wild Thing' is as much a nickname as Barack Obama is a ballet dancer. Nicknames are meant to subtle, minute references to a person. This one is loud, it's attention demanding. Amongst cricketing nicknames, of the kind of Tugga, Pigeon, Binga and the like, this one stands out.
The only one as violent as this would probably be ‘Whispering Death'. It belonged to a certain West Indian legend by the name of Michael Holding.
'The Wild Thing', unlike Holding was a newbie when this nickname was assigned to him. And he spent his entire career trying to justify the aura. Before he could, his extremely fragile body gave up on him. The expectations became too much. 'The Wild Thing' disappeared into the wilderness, even before it had properly come out of it.
Some players rack up numbers. They are providers of statistical orgasms. Most hundreds, highest strike rate, best conversion rate, stuff like that.
There are others, very few, with whom numbers don't matter. They can't be studied or analysed. They need to be seen, they need to be felt, they need to be lived. Shaun Tait is one of these players. An enigma, an adventurous delight.
When we think of players, there are these images which come to our minds. With Tait, the images that come to us are in stark contrast to one another.
The first one is of a distraught Tait after the loss to India in the Perth Test of 2008. Going in to the match, he had been built up as this monster who was out there to demolish the entire Indian team on a traditionally quick WACA surface. He had himself spoken about bowling nothing less than 160 km/h thunderbolts. The 'monkey gate' incident in the preceding match at Sydney only added fuel to the fire, and raised the stakes higher than ever.
With all this hype generated around him, in what was just his third test, Tait fell flat. He bowled 21 wicketless overs, going for 92 runs in the process. In a normal scenario, it would have been brushed off as a bad match. But this was anything bar normal.
The hype. The Wild Thing's hype. It became, for the first time in his life, his biggest curse. So much so that he took an indefinite break from cricket after this Test. And he never played another one.
The summer to remember
The second image is happier. It's a year on from the first one. It's of Tait bowling against the touring West Indies, South African and Pakistani sides in the T20I's, returning to competitive cricket a year after the Perth test.
This time around, there were no expectations. No build up. No nothing. And the Wild Thing flourished. He bowled with unmatched freedom, with the confidence of an unburdened man. There was venom in his bowling, there was a rarely seen menace. And it made heads turn. Crowds packed the stadiums. Batsmen were hallucinating about Shaun Tait snorters. The world was talking about it, about him.
That's the thing with Tait. Whenever he plays, he has people talking about him. Good or bad. He always does.
That summer, in those T20I, Tait regularly bowled above 155 km/h, he took wickets and he broke bones. That summer, Tait carried the Wild Thing tag proudly, without being weighed down by it. That summer, Tait was what he always should have been- a superstar.
That summer, Shaun Tait was the Wild Thing.
No Tait sans injury
But it lasted just one summer. He played for another two years. He did reasonably, but he didn't turn heads. He didn't attract crowds. He was not the showstopper.
Eventually, after the 2011 World Cup, injuries became too frequent and the Australian selectors decided to look elsewhere. Everywhere. At 28, the Wild Thing was gone. The injuries, the gradual build up of expectations as he played more, the pressure was not for him.
He thrived when he was free. He thrived when he could fly. Sadly, the summer of 2009 was the only time he flew, the only time he was the Wild Thing.
A chance at redemption
Then, on the 18th day of 2016, Tait, somehow found himself back in the Australian T20I team for the matches against India in the lead-up to the World T20 in March.There was a lot of luck involved, for you don' t find all your first choice pacers injured at once too often. But, a call-up is a call up nonetheless.
And this is Shaun Tait's chance, his last chance to be the Wild Thing he always had the capability to be.
When Glenn Maxwell was first selected for Australia, he asked Tait whether he could wear his #32 jersey, for Tait was the senior player then.
This time around, Tait is not. He'll have to wear a different number. It's not a bad thing, this. It's almost as if he is starting all over again. And this time, he can get it right. He can, he is free from expectations. It's his time to fly.
Before any series, we want players to take these many wickets or score that many runs. With Tait, it's different. Like it has always been.
We just want him to be 'The Wild Thing', our ‘Wild Thing’.