Cricket / Fifth Test: Gamble on May comes up trumps

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The Independent Online
SHORTLY after tea yesterday Tim May was to be seen in the outfield chewing away on his right finger, trying to tear off the dead skin that had built up on his right knuckle.

May has been imparting his off-spin with that knuckle for more than a dozen years and the result is an painful, calloused digit. He also has a dodgy knee, originally injured playing Aussie Rules as a teenager and since operated on close to a dozen times. Four years ago it failed so badly he had to be carried off in the middle of a Nehru Cup match in India.

He has become used to his wounded knee and aching knuckle, but it was a hamstring injury that would have kept him out of this Test were it not for the wicket. Allan Border took one look at it and decided May must play. When his first ball turned sharply past Matthew Maynard's bat, May agreed.

His eyebrows raised and his mouth opened in appreciative surprise. Four balls later Maynard was lured forward, caught pad-bat at silly point and the fitness gamble began to pay off. Graham Thorpe's dismissal was more fortunate but it was hard earned. May was conceding less than two runs an over at that stage.

The wickets took his haul for the series to 14, the best by an Australian off-spinner in England since the Second World War. Of all Australian slow bowlers in that period only two leg-spinners, Richie Benaud, with 15 in 1961, and Shane Warne this year, have taken more.

As a pair May and Warne have now taken 38 wickets and historians have to go back to Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O'Reilly, who shared 53 wickets in 1934, for a better partnership.

Warne attracted all the attention early in this series but as it has gone on, May has become the dominant partner. Warne did not bowl well here yesterday or at Headingley but May, with his variation of loop and flight, has been increasingly dangerous, taking vital wickets.

His improvement is partly down to greater confidence. He may have been on the international scene for a long time but only now is the ungainly, unassuming South Australian establishing himself. May made his debut in December 1987 and, the following year, took 14 wickets in three Tests in Pakistan before being chosen to tour England in 1989.

Things began to go wrong with a succession of niggling injuries, and the team's success, keeping him out. At home the bland Adelaide track, and his state's bowling weakness, led to his being used as a stock bowler. The loop went into hibernation and Greg Matthews and Peter Taylor took over as Australia's leading off-spinners.

Recalled last winter, May took 5 for 9 and at 30, as he looks down the wicket at John Emburey, he knows there is time to ensure his second international career is a lasting one.