A hometown Ashes Test debut, South Australia’s first Shield win in 14 years, and the Little Master out for 10 in Delhi. Peter McIntyre accrued a pretty decent list of career highlights.
Adelaide. Australia Day 1995. The Ashes. How much bigger can a debut get?
Australia was 2-0 up in the series, taking the games at Brisbane and Adelaide without much trouble at all. Warne and McDermott were tearing through; the top order was making runs. The England side was pretty typical for the mid-90s — unsure of their best combination, unable to decide what to make of Alec Stewart, and uncertain on whether or not to pick an all-rounder. It was pretty standard for an Ashes series between the ’89 win and the ’05 loss for the Aussies: win, win big (except for inexplicably dropping a dead rubbers), and basically embarrass a shambolic English team at its lowest ebb.
So with the Ashes retained, the selectors opted for some new talent. In came the South Australian pairing of Greg Blewett and Peter McIntyre. Blewett was taking the spot of Michael Bevan, while for McIntyre, he was replacing his struggling South Australian team-mate, Tim May. Blewett himself recalls the lead-up:
We obviously debuted together, and we played, up until then, most of our careers together. So in a way it was quite nice that someone else that you knew so well was going through the same sort of experience as you. So it was good to have Macca there. We were always good mates; we did a lot of the media together, a lot of the build-up.
England batted well to begin with, ending the rain-affected first day at 2/196, and it would take some time for McIntyre to get into the action. His first wicket was Phil DeFreitas — caught at a deepish cover by Blewett — and soon after he had Mike Gatting out for 117. Figures of 2/51 from 19.3 overs weren’t a bad first outing, but he only bowled eight overs in the second dig as Mark Waugh, then bowling part-time mediums, took five wickets.
With the bat, he made a pair. But to McIntyre, his innings meant more than the runs:
What made me really proud was that Warnie and I played together — they took two leg spinners in, probably a big gamble. We lost that match, I took a couple of wickets and got Blewwy to his hundred while I was batting.
While McIntyre is somewhat blasé about his role with the bat, Blewett’s recollection is a little different:
That particular morning, I was about 90 not-out and we were five down overnight, so it never really felt like I was going to run out of partners the next morning. But we lost a couple of early wickets, Craig McDermott wasn’t very well, and Macca was listed to come in at #11. And he is a fair-dinkum #11. He was never the best batsman going around — so I was a little bit nervous when I saw Macca coming out to bat. But somehow he survived long enough for me to get there, so I was very grateful. But he wasn’t filling me with confidence during that innings, I have to say.
Blewett’s debut hundred arrested a collapse for the Australians, combining with Ian Healy for a 160-odd run stand after 2/202 became 5/232. Despite recovering to take a first innings lead, a smash-and-bash engine room knock from DeFreitas and a pretty abject final day collapse (when Chris Lewis takes 4/24…), resulted in a 106 run loss. Not an ideal result for your first Test. In Blewett’s recollection, it was the only dampener on a game he described as “pretty much perfect”.
Everything about that game was pretty much perfect, apart from the main thing — winning. Apart from that, it was great for Macca to make his debut in Adelaide and similarly for me having been born and bred in Adelaide, it was great to play in an Ashes series and on my home ground. So yeah, everything was great.
It was a debut loss, but hey, a Test match was a Test match, and it was not a bad way for McIntyre to cap off what was then — and would remain — his most successful First Class summer: he took 40 wickets at sub-35, in a competition where most spinners went at 40+.
McIntyre’s Test debut – as well as Blewett’s – was the result of strong, televised Australia A performances (a method of selection which drew criticism from Gideon Haigh in his 1994/95 Ashes journal). And somewhat uniquely, that assignment with Australia A involved playing against Australia.
That season’s Benson and Hedges World Series Cup is one of those cult memories for Aussie cricket fans, arguably the most overt showing of Australia’s utter dominance and depth strength in the 1990s. McIntyre played for the Australia A team, added to the competition when the ACB was concerned about Zimbabwe’s ability to provide viable competition and draw crowds, that ludicrously outperformed both Zimbabwe and England to reach the series final…and then nearly knocked off the proper Australians to boot.
[Playing for Australia A against Australia] was full on. I remember a game here, and I don’t think I was playing, but the crowd had started to turn: they were barracking for the Australia A team, wanting to knock off the Australian team. And I know Mark Taylor, who was the captain at the time, didn’t like it. They didn’t like it because they were losing support. We had a pretty good side; we were pushing them. And it was interesting that the crowds were starting to turn. And the crowds were coming!
The crowd behind the underdogs, the Australian team being booed at home, and the prospect of the 2nd XI knocking off the Firsts was of concern to the ACB. They called up Michael Bevan to the seniors and held the A’s at bay, but that second side, filled with young talents desperate to make names for themselves, had made their statement. They were players you’d see a lot of in the years that followed: Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn…
In some ways, playing that series was a shock selection for McIntyre — he’d been pigeonholed exclusively as a red ball specialist, having only played a single domestic one day game — as the South Australian selectors preferred Tim May to lead the white ball spin attack with support from Darren Lehmann’s non-turning non-spinners.
Probably because of my batting and fielding, I wasn’t great in those two departments, but I always felt I could perform in one day cricket. Playing those Australia A games, I always felt I could contain and take wickets. I tried to get some one day cricket in India [in 1996], tried everything, even off the long run trying to bowl some medium pace leg spinners, trying to impress Tugga [Steve Waugh] and say “I’m worth a game in the one-dayers”.
Even after his performances for Australia A — 3/45 and 2/48 against England and Australia respectively — McIntyre found it difficult to gain selection in limited overs cricket; by the end of his career, over half of his List A matches were played as a part of Australian representative sides.
Across his white ball career, he had 16 wickets in 11 matches, a sub-30 average, and an economy rate below five. Not too shabby for a leggie. So the continued non-selection naturally came as a disappointment to McIntyre, as he felt like he’d proven that he could contribute: “when I did play [white ball cricket] for South Australia, I took wickets! […] It was frustrating, that one.”
However, First Class — and Test — cricket was McIntyre’s primary focus; he wanted to take wickets for South Australia and lead them to victories and, ultimately, Sheffield Shield titles. In 1995/96 he would do this, playing an invaluable role in the Shield final – though on this occasion, it was with the bat.
We finished top that year and played Western Australia here in the final. Five day Shield match. Tim May and I were the spinners in the side, and we were playing a pretty strong WA unit. Adam Gilchrist absolutely went to town on Maysie and I — I think I went for 1/160 and we basically came into the last day needing 330-odd runs to win.
We’d lost wickets through the day, and there were some good partnerships that had formed. We got to about tea time and we were six down. Siddons had been batting for two hours and made zero, Tim May made zero over an hour. We were basically trying to hang in there [for the draw], and then in the last hour we were nine down.
I was batting with Shane George, and we hung around for the last hour. There were 5000 people here with about 45 minutes to go, it turned into about 15000. And we hung around, and drew it, so we won the Shield that year. It was very exciting. I’m not renowned for my batting, but I can hang around. [We were facing] Brendon Julian, Jo Angel, Brad Hogg, Tom Moody — it was a seriously good bowling line-up. They had Langer, Martyn, Gilchrist — it was a full-on Shield match, we had Gillespie, Lehmann, Nobes, Blewett. You know, the list went on. It was a very, very good final.
To leave the description at ‘full-on’ and ‘very very good’ undersells the match somewhat. The last two overs, bowled by Hogg and Julian, were perhaps the most tension-filled maidens you’ll ever watch. The last two overs, bowled by Brad Hogg and Brendon Julian, were perhaps the most tension-filled maidens cricket’s seen. Every single ball that George, and then McIntyre, survived were met with raucous cheers. And if the crowd weren’t inebriated enough already, it was going to be a long night for the locals once McIntyre defended the final ball – running off the park in pure, unadulterated jubilation. South Australia had won the Shield, their first in fifteen years, and the Adelaide Oval all-but exploded.
Blewett terms it a “small miracle” that McIntyre and George hung on:
Macca I don’t think ever took his batting too seriously. When he came out to bat — and it didn’t matter what the situation was — I found him very humorous trying to go about his stuff. But he batted for a long period of time, him and Georgey, who also wasn’t renowned for his batting. We thought we’d pretty much stuffed that game up, but they just hung around which was brilliant. We ended up with a great crowd down there at the Adelaide Oval, and certainly it was one of the highlights of my career that those two were able to hang on.
I got a few runs in that second innings, but when I got out — and then we lost a couple of wickets — and it was one of those situations where it was so nerve-wracking, it was almost really hard to watch. I actually took off for about an hour or so in my car. I left the ground and just thought ‘we’ve stuffed it up’ and I couldn’t bear to watch it for a while, so I took off.
And when I came back, I was like the rest of my teammates: just sitting there watching Shane George and Peter McIntyre block out over after over as we’re getting closer and closer. It was a real countdown of the amount of overs left in the day, and the crowd really built up. And after that final ball, which Macca blocked, he sprinted to the change rooms and all the crowd ran on to the ground and it was fantastic scenes. We hadn’t won a Shield in a long time and we haven’t won one since, so it was pretty special.
To compete in the Sheffield Shield throughout the ‘90s, you needed a serious team; it isn’t remembered as a golden era of domestic cricket for nothing. South Australia had well and truly put a serious side together, with solid domestic performers and international-class players all down the team sheet. But perhaps one of the most crucial components was McIntyre’s spin partnership with Tim May.
It was tremendous [bowling in tandem with May]. We did it a lot, I loved Maysie and he was a quality off spinner. When it gets hot in Adelaide, the pitch starts to break up and we always had a lot of fun. The ball would spin, the opposition would come here and know they’d be facing spin on the last day, so it was really good fun.
As Blewett notes, the two spinners bowling in tandem was a core component of South Australia’s plans, and a major contributor to their success.
Most teams have the ball spinning both ways, so it was great to have Macca spinning the ball away from the right handers and Maysie spinning it away from the lefties. Maisie did well when he played for Australia — another really good bowler — so to have those two guys who both had good experience under their belts as well was really good.
Adelaide Oval at the time was quite a flat pitch and quite dry, so we tried to build our games and build our teams around that — try to get as many runs on the board as we could, quickly, with our good batting line-up and then we had a couple of good quicks as well to try to make some early inroads, and then it was really over to the two spinners to try to bowl the opposition out on the last day. They normally got a fair bit of help on that last day, and to have those two boys who would always generally bowl well together — they wouldn’t bowl too many bad spells — won us a lot of games. So they were an important cog throughout those years.
McIntyre took 39 wickets in that Shield-winning season, May, in the final summer of his storied career, took 44.
* * *
The year is 1996. Australia have just lost the final of the World Cup to Sri Lanka, and they’re soon off on a tour of India – a country in which they’ve failed to win a Test series since 1961. It was only a one-off Test (the ACB and BCCI instead scheduling 7 ODIs), but, crucially for McIntyre, Shane Warne was ruled out, still recovering from finger surgery.
Brad Hogg was already over there, initially as Warne’s understudy. Then-25, only a couple of years a spinner, and more all-rounder than pure bowler, Hogg was all of a sudden thrust into the side as Australia’s premier slow bowler. The selectors couldn’t just drop him and bring in two experienced spinners once Warne was deemed unfit, but they could send an SOS for one: Peter McIntyre. Even if Hogg was the one initially picked as a travelling understudy, it would be McIntyre tasked with filling the Warne-shaped hole out on the field.
To some degree, Hogg’s initial selection over McIntyre was more down to the way he turned the ball, and his potential, than their respective First Class merits. Warne generally preferred to bowl in tandem with spinners turning it the other way – May and Robertson; Miller and Cullen – and, as Greg Blewett notes, it is conventional selectorial and coaching wisdom:
Not too many teams played two — well I can’t remember, off the top of my head, how many teams would have played two leg spinners in the same team […] Normally teams will want the ball spinning in opposite directions if you play two spinners, and that counted against him. Macca did get another opportunity in India when Warnie was injured […] but obviously it was tough for him to break in with Warnie around.
Behind McIntyre, the cupboard was looking a little bare in 1996. Tim May had retired, so no recall there. Stuart MacGill had yet to arrive, and Gavin Robertson wasn’t playing in the Shield due to work commitments. Paul Jackson was 35 and had taken his summer’s poles at 50, while the best performed spinner in the country was a geriatric Mo Matthews. Brad Oldroyd, David Freedman, Craig Howard and John Davison. The part-timers of Clinton Peake. Brad Stacey, Mark Hatton and Michael Farrell. A 21-year-old Rob Baker. Bryan Doyle. All solid cricketers – Freedman, for instance, simply peaked at the wrong times, and the highly-rated Howard was destroyed by injury – but hardly a collection of all-time greats ready to step up.
It goes without saying that replacing Warne is no easy task, even if his later exploits in India suggest he wouldn’t have done that much anyway. But McIntyre was replacing him in India, in 1996. Tendulkar was at the peak of his powers, Azharuddin hadn’t gone down for fixing yet, and two young batsmen had just broken into the team: Dravid and Ganguly. And that doesn’t even begin to mention the conditions.
Luckily I’d had the heat here in Adelaide, because it does get pretty hot, but it’s constant in India. It can be humid, it’s a different place, and obviously you get your Delhi Belly and whatnot. I loved India and loved touring there, going around the place. Obviously [they] love their cricket. And [Geoff Marsh] trained us pretty hard. We’d have three-hour training sessions, especially since we weren’t winning, Swampy put us through a lot.
From the home setting of Adelaide, under that familiar scoreboard and with familiar faces all around, to the oppressive heat and humidity of New Delhi. McIntyre’s second Test couldn’t be more different to his first.
It was a tough tour, it was a time where there had been some situations after the World Cup and the boards weren’t getting along as well as they could have. We played at New Delhi, Feroz Shah Kotla, and I think I finished with 3/103 — picked up Tendulkar for 10. I think Heals missed stumping Ganguly, so I think my 5-fer went out the door! But I thought I had a pretty good Test, hung around with the bat alongside Steve Waugh. It was nice to be there playing as the number-one leg spinner.
Nayan Mongia batted over eight hours for 152, as India ran up 361 in response to Australia’s 182. McIntyre bowled 37.4 overs in the first innings. Hogg bowled 17, grabbing the wicket of Ganguly in the process. Steve Waugh saved Australia from the ignominy of an innings defeat, but even with a stumble – losing three wickets in a small chase – India comfortably emerged with a win. Not much to write home about for most.
But for McIntyre, the wicket of Tendulkar was one he’d never forget. Light-hearted comparisons to Warne’s Gatting Ball aside, the point stands: Sachin Tendulkar, out cheaply, at home, in the mid-1990s. Not many bowlers can claim that on their resumé.
[Getting Tendulkar] was a massive moment, […] you know, to pick up a legend like that for 10, caught at first slip by Mark Waugh, it’s a big highlight of your career when you pick up a batsman like that. It’s almost like the crowd goes into shock when he gets out.
But Warne would soon make his return and a promising 1996/97 summer from Stuart MacGill – backed up by a dominant 1997/98 season alongside Freedman – made it apparent that McIntyre’s international career was almost certainly over; he was now behind two attacking leggies, not just Warne. When it came to a supporting spinner, the role went to Gavin Robertson, turning it the other way to Warne in India 1997/98 and to MacGill in Pakistan 1998/99, or to Colin Miller, whose ability to double as a solid offie on top of his first change seamers gave Australia the best of both worlds: two spinners and three quicks while only picking four bowlers. Throw in Michael Bevan used as an all-rounder, and McIntyre’s chances slimmed further still (as Blewett recalls, “he played in an era with the greatest leg spinner of all time, so he didn’t get too many opportunities, did Macca.”)
McIntyre had a standard First Class season in 1996/97 – 35 wickets in 10 matches, paying 40 apiece – but he only played five games across the two summers following as injury struck. As his body began to push back against years of bowling, and as MacGill began to surpass him as the second choice leg spinner, it became obvious that cricket wasn’t going to last forever.
I did have some shoulder problems, I’d basically blown a bicep tendon, so my shoulder was starting to have problems. And I was starting to get to the point where I had to think about a career after cricket. It was a difficult time because the professionalism of the game was coming in, and they wanted you to train at 9am then come back at three, four, five in the afternoon. And I picked up a job, so I’d come in at six in the morning doing my fitness work, as the other blokes were walking in I’d be walking out. When I was doing my skills work I’d be organising for some batsmen to stick around, and as they’re walking out I’m coming back in.
Not everyone can handle the balance of working alongside elite level sport; even fewer actively want the combination. But for McIntyre, it spurred him on and shifted his focus; his perspective on the game changed.
He missed almost all of 1998/99 through injury – taking 1/186 in his only First Class game that summer – but when he returned in 1999/00 and 2000/01, he was back to the McIntyre of old. If anything, he was bowling better than he previously was. His wicket tally was lower – he played less games – but his averages were his best since his first year at South Australia. The combination of job and cricket, alongside the captaincy of Darren Lehmann, had worked.
[The balance was tough], but I think I had my best years when I was working alongside playing. Towards those last couple of years, I honestly thought I had my best years under Darren Lehmann when he was captain. I enjoyed the balance, of taking the pressure off that if you don’t bowl well for two games you might be out and not have an income, [whereas] if you have the income coming in [irrespective], you can play with a bit more freedom. Darren is a very close mate of mine — godfather to my daughter — he was fantastic and able to help me out. And I think if I had him [captaining] earlier in my career, I’d have been a much better player.
The following summer, 2001/02, would prove to be McIntyre’s last. He struggled for wickets in Shield cricket, then re-christened the Pura Cup, and South Australia’s attack began transitioning to a pace focus, all-rounder Brad Young providing a holding spin option from the middle order.
I’d started working in the sales world, and I actually wanted to go on. I think I finished when I was 35 and I felt like I could keep going. We’d had the discussion with SACA and they’d said they wanted to bring some new blood in. So I thought ‘you know what, I want to go prove them wrong playing club cricket’, but then I thought that with the new job, starting the new career, it was time to finish up. But I did feel like I could keep going.
Young combined with two imports: ex-NSW batting all-rounder Mark Higgs and Victoria’s bowling all-rounder John Davison. They weren’t strike bowlers in their own right, rather support for a pace attack anchored by Paul Rofe and Shaun Tait. Maybe there was a way back for McIntyre: his replacements hardly set the world alight and, as Blewett notes, there was a lack of depth in spinners and a shift to drop-in pitches – but with a young family at home, it simply wasn’t worth it. The passion for the game never left, though, and the option of playing club cricket still floated around McIntyre’s head.
I turned 50 early this year and still thought I could play the game. Probably two years ago I got myself fairly fit, went down to the local club in Kensington and did some bowling and I thought “geez maybe I could slip back into this,” then I thought “don’t be stupid, you’re in your late 40s”.
But rather than jammy mid-40s T20 comebacks (though McIntyre reckons T20 would have been a lot of fun to play), it was in March 2002, at just short of 36, that McIntyre took the field for South Australia for the last time. He ground out a handy 40 with the bat, arresting a collapse before falling to Scott Kremerskothen. He took two wickets in his 31 overs. South Australia lost by an innings.
The first victim to be caught in McIntyre’s web, proudly displayed on that famous scoreboard, was Michael Bevan, out stumped for six back in 1988. The last was Jamie Cox, caught by Mark Harrity for 174, a full 14 years later. There had been another 198 recorded up there in between, and there were plenty more taken elsewhere.
I’m in the top five wicket takers for South Australia. I would have liked to struck quicker and for a lower average, but you look back at the history here and spinners have always been mid- to late-30s here, and it’s historically been a tough ground to bowl at. [To have taken] 300-odd wickets, and to be top five in South Australia is something I’m proud of, especially given I spent the first part of my career at Victoria.
Looking out across the picturesque parklands beside the Adelaide Oval, with the ambient roar of the crowd not far behind him, McIntyre is in no doubt:
“I’m completely satisfied with my career.”