How One Very Average Batsman Sandpapered Over Our Cricket Wounds
No matter what level we play, sport has the power to make us feel both super ordinary and superhuman.
Super ordinary because it connects us deeply to teammates, clubmates, friends, complete strangers.
Superhuman because, just occasionally, we do something on the sporting field that astonishes even ourselves.
Rob McLean did something both ordinary and astonishing on the weekend in a game of cricket about eight levels below first grade. Video of his feat went viral on social media, with everyone from regular fans to Australian international players congratulating him.
The best part? It's making people love cricket again.
McLean, 41, is a married father of two who lives in Gawler, South Australia. He's played club cricket across South Australia for the best part of 30 years. But despite three decades of padding up and pitching it up, he’s never quite nailed down his ideal role in any team.
“I’ve never really known what I am as a cricketer,” the part-time batsman/bowler/keeper admits.
On the weekend, Rob McLean might just have finally cracked the puzzle.
It was an ordinary spring morning at Unley Oval in Adelaide. Wicket a little tacky from recent rain but drying out quickly. Temperature in the mid-20s. You couldn’t ask for a better day.
Sent in to bat, McLean’s Trinity Old Scholars don’t start well. They are 4/46 when McLean strides to the wicket. He’s a hard-hitting right-hander but he’s never passed 44 in his seven seasons with the club.
You remember when Steve Waugh or Mike Hussey would walk to the crease with Australia in trouble and you’d say to yourself: “It’s OK, these guys will steer us through this”?
No one is thinking anything remotely like that when McLean walks out, least of all the man himself.
But McLean has two things going for him. Firstly, as mentioned, the pitch is drying out and starting to play truly. Secondly, he’s statistically overdue for a big score. As in, very overdue.
McLean starts well enough.
“I just went out there to hold an end up and do whatever,” he says.
Every low-level cricketer will relate to going out there “to do whatever”. Every average sportsperson who’s ever hit/thrown/caught any sort of ball will relate to going out there “to do whatever”.
McLean and his batting partner Jamie Forwood add 40 runs or so for the fifth wicket before Forwood falls. Trinity 5 for 90. McLean hasn’t done anything dramatic yet. Just a whole lot of his trademark “whatever” with a bit of “this-n-that” thrown in.
He shouldn’t even be here at all.
“Generally, I'd rather players who are going to be playing well into the future get a game ahead of me,” he says. “I think that's more important for the club.”
On this day, McLean was originally down to do the scoring for A-Grade. But one thing and another happens and he’s in a mood to play, so he plays.
And pretty soon he’s in a mood for scoring runs. McLean’s last half-century came when he was playing for Loxton against Berri up in the Riverland region of South Australia more than a decade ago. Before long, he raises the bat.
“I brought up my first 50 in about 15 years with a back foot cover drive,” he recalls with pride.
A back foot cover drive? Ya really think, Rob?
The video evidence suggests otherwise. Lusty cross-bat offside hoik might be a more accurate description.
But it was an undeniably effective shot, and the important point is this. Indeed, this is the important point of every amateur sporting fable: if it felt like a shot Don Bradman himself would have played, then for the person who hit it, that’s the shot it was.
The cheers are loud as McLean reaches the milestone. Because the C-Grade match was forfeited and the A-grade match abandoned, most of the club is on hand.
McLean rolls on, all substance and little style. In the 70s he is dropped at slip, in the sort of chance which is almost never taken at this level.
“If I’d gotten out then, I would have thought ‘that’s all right, it was a good dig’ and I would have got more cheers from the boys and all that sorta gear,” McLean says.
McLean heads in to tea on 88 not out.
“The boys started to talk about the century, asking me about my previous top score. I told them it was 86, so I’d already beaten it,” he says.
“I was getting nervous because I’m a heart-on-sleeve sorta bloke. I’m a Collingwood supporter and I’m used to losing grand finals, you know?”
A teammate offers some wise words. His name is Grady Hudd and he’s the editor of The Bunyip, the improbably named newspaper of McLean’s home town of Gawler. Hudd is a Geelong Cats supporter and he tells McLean “don’t be afraid of success”.
“I had that rattling around in my mind when I went back out there,” McLean says.
“Thanks to his advice, I didn’t change how I batted at all -- not that I’m skilled enough to do that. But there was no reigning it in from that point. I just went where the prevailing winds took me.”
McLean races through the not-so-nervous 90s in a couple of overs. There is a reprieve on 96 when the bowler grasses a regulation caught-and-bowled chance.
“I was hitting them pretty well and I think he was surprised it hadn’t gone over his head,” Mclean quips, tongue so firmly in cheek it almost punches through.
And then, the fateful delivery. The Unley medium pacer trundles in. McLean can’t recall his name or locate the scorebook to check, but it could be any low-level bowler, anywhere, anytime.
“It was nothing too frightening and I hit what you might call a short arm jab. I could see the fielder on his heels a bit -- probably thinking it would go over his head -- so I scampered through for a single.
“I do take some audacious singles, even at this age. I used to love watching Dean Jones play because of his running between the wickets.”
You won’t be surprised to learn McLean was pretty chuffed to get congratulations from Deano on social media. But the thing that pleased him the most was the reaction from ordinary Australians.
As he scores his century, McLean fist pumps the air. It’s all very Davey Warner, but he says he wasn’t thinking about the Australian opener who is currently serving a suspension for his part in the ball tampering affair.
“It was just genuine elation. In life, you have to keep pushing through at times. I do love cricket, but I lost a bit of passion for the international game after what happened earlier this year, as many people did.
“For me, my passion for the game is about my club now -- people with a genuine interest in the game and a love for it.”
In a not insignificant way, Rob McLean has helped remind Australia why we love this game. That’s what the social media reaction was all about. It was Australians understanding that the feats of one ordinary person having one very extraordinary day are what we all play for.
The win-at-all costs mentality of the national men’s team? Much more important to take a leaf out of the Rob McLean book and “just do whatever”. Because one beautiful day, “whatever” will be “wow”.
There was a hilarious moment as McLean brought up his ton, when a teammate yelled "job half done, Robbie!" -- which is the encouragement you give batsmen you actually expect to make large scores.
For the record, the job would turn out to be two thirds done. McLean would raise the bat one more time on this day. He was eventually dismissed for 151, the fourth-highest score in club history.
“A young lad I’d been particularly brutal on was bowling, and I was batting out of my crease,” he recalls.
“He sent one down the leg side and it bobbled in the keeper’s gloves and if I’d dived, oh, I might’ve made it. But I was I done, I was tired.”
Rob McLean. An average sportsman displaying world class sportsmanship to the last.