Steve Magof­fin

Adam Collins re­flects on how for­got­ten Aus­tralian Steve Magof­fin con­tin­ues to strive after in­ter­na­tional ex­ile

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Adam Collins speaks to the Aus­tralian pace­man

Pages 6-7

To come up with some­thing new paid off and to fin­ish like that showed me that I can still com­pete

Aquar­ter hour from a Baggy Green. It came that close for modern day Sus­sex hero Steve Magof­fin to ful­fil the dream of ev­ery Aus­tralian crick­eter in 2009. Rushed from Sydney to Dur­ban,

The Age screamed: “Magof­fin in line for Test de­but” upon his ar­rival. After Ricky Ponting’s men con­ducted a smash and grab in Jo­han­nes­burg, his young quicks Peter Sid­dle and Ben Hil­fen­haus were strug­gling to over­come injuries.

“It cer­tainly looked that way,” Magof­fin re­calls of what nearly was to

The Cricket Pa­per. “I got my­self ready and all indi­ca­tions were I was play­ing. There were a cou­ple of fit­ness tests 10 or 15 min­utes be­fore the toss. But Peter and Ben passed and went on and per­formed well.”

After five sea­sons of metronomic con­sis­tence for his adopted state, West­ern Aus­tralia, Magof­fin had a hunch cir­cum­stances wouldn’t re­peat. “I was 29 and felt I needed to play that game – that it was my one chance.” He was right. An ‘A’ squad was picked shortly there­after and he wasn’t in it. The guard had quickly changed. “But to be around that team for a week was in­cred­i­ble, so I have some great mem­o­ries.”

The bet­ter part of a decade and 400 first-class wick­ets on, the 37-year-old had a sim­i­lar, al­beit lower-pro­file, ex­pe­ri­ence to start the 2017 sea­son. He tried to ready him­self to play on open­ing morn­ing, but he couldn’t bring him­self to take the risk on a re­cently in­jured knee.

When he did be­lat­edly be­gin, it was with a pre­dictable – if bit­ter­sweet – 5-51 haul on the first morn­ing against Not­ting­hamshire. The op­er­a­tive word be­ing morn­ing.

By the mid­dle ses­sion his knee had enough. The hosts were 180-7 when he picked up his fifth – a bag that in­cluded in­ter­na­tion­als Samit Pa­tel, Michael Lumb, Chris Read and James Pat­tin­son – but then amassed 447 in his ab­sence to set up an in­nings win.

“We’re nowhere near our best,” Magof­fin says of the start, cit­ing not only his own in­jury but Kol­pak sign­ing David Wiess and Ver­non Phi­lan­der, while Chris Jor­dan sits on the IPL bench. “That’s made it hard to com­pete across the four days and take 20 wick­ets.”

Rel­e­gated in 2015, it’s a long road back to the top flight from 0-2. “First, it’s get­ting back to win­ning habits,” Magof­fin says. “When I ar­rived we com­peted with the top sides across a whole sea­son. It is dif­fi­cult to work up the ta­ble if not string­ing wins to­gether.”

Hit­ting the re­set but­ton, cour­tesy of the 50-over win­dow now, works for both the club and Magof­fin’s knee. Usu­ally, the tim­ing would frus­trate him; bowlers at 194cm, who present the seam rather than bang it in, rel­ish bowl­ing in mid­spring. But that wasn’t his ex­pe­ri­ence in 2016 ei­ther, the first sea­son where the away toss rule was im­ple­mented to, in part, elim­i­nate the old-fash­ioned di­vi­sion two green top.

Magof­fin says it con­trib­uted to his com­par­a­tively slow start, his first nine games net­ting 23 wick­ets at a still ef­fec­tive 27 apiece.

Then he came home like the spear­head of old, racing through 39 vic­tims in the fi­nal seven rounds at 16, a run in­clud­ing five bags of five wick­ets, and match fig­ures of 10-70 against Worces­ter­shire.

“It was prob­a­bly more from a men­tal side,” he says of the ad­just­ment. “I didn’t adapt. I still went out and tried to bowl like I would in April or May.” Con­cerned thoughts crept in. Sure, he was con­tracted for 2017, but did he still have it? “It’s a per­for­mance-based game, so there was that feel­ing,” he ac­knowl­edges. “You have those mo­ments as an older player, won­der­ing if you can still per­form. If I don’t feel I can get the best play­ers out, that’ll be when I con­sider whether I want to put my­self out there.”

Mind­ful of that pres­sure, the old dog tried a new trick. Namely, a new grip. “Not be­ing where I was in the past, I thought I’m just go­ing to use it in games, and it was the turn­ing point,” he says. “To come up with some­thing new paid off, and to fin­ish like that showed me I can still com­pete.”

It con­tin­ues the most grat­i­fy­ing pe­riod

of Magof­fin’s ca­reer, one that started in Oc­to­ber 2004, or nine months be­fore YouTube was in­vented.

From the heat of Perth to a lit­tle vil­lage 25 miles from Hove, this is now home, con­tent­ment and per­spec­tive fol­low­ing.

“I came when I wasn’t wor­ried about get­ting picked for Aus­tralia, which can be such a distraction,” he says. “Had I gone about a few things dif­fer­ently I might have got that op­por­tu­nity.

“But I’m very proud of what I did. Now I’m not wor­ried about those things, and en­joy it so much more. And fun­nily enough, you then per­form bet­ter.”

Num­bers tell this story, sea­sons of 57, 65, 72, 73 and 62 wick­ets re­spec­tively since join­ing Sus­sex. That makes 334 at a dreamy av­er­age of 20.67. In 2015 he went through the 500 first-class wicket bar­rier, now boast­ing 581 at 23.20 – not bad for a bloke who was sacked at 31 and nearly quit with West­ern Aus­tralia let­ting him go within two years of tour­ing with Aus­tralia. The re­jec­tion hurt.

“It took me a while to work out if I wanted to keep play­ing cricket at all,” Magof­fin ad­mits.

But it started a chain re­ac­tion that changed his life. Dar­ren Lehmann was build­ing a team to win a Sh­effield Shield, lur­ing Magof­fin back to his na­tive Queens­land. Sure enough, he banged the door down, tak­ing 23 wick­ets at 17 as the Bulls claimed the 2011-12 ti­tle.

Magof­fin’s pas­sion for the game was re­newed and stocks high. Then came a change in the ECB’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion rules. Since his stint at Worces­ter­shire in 2008 non-capped in­ter­na­tion­als had been barred. Now there was a new loophole. Through the cit­i­zen­ship of his wife, who he met at Worces­ter, he could re­turn on a spousal visa. Mark Robin­son needed a quick for six weeks, and “in the space of a day” he was signed.

Six weeks be­came six sea­sons. But what about seven? Or more? “I cer­tainly haven’t put a cap on it,” Magof­fin says, re­it­er­at­ing he’ll go around as long as he gets the best play­ers out. As for why his body lets him pre­vail, he be­lieves an un­com­pli­cated ac­tion serves him well. “The fact I’m not 100 ki­los could also be help­ing,” he laughs, al­lud­ing to years where his skinny frame counted against him, his de­but not com­ing till 24.

Sta­tis­ti­cally, for an Aus­tralian he’s pro­gress­ing into rar­i­fied air for wick­ets. While his foray into the county cir­cuit came too late to reach the fa­bled 1,000, Magof­fin isn’t short of tar­gets.

“Some crick­eters say they aren’t in­ter­ested in num­bers but I haven’t come across one, and I’m no dif­fer­ent,” he laughs again. “Six hun­dred is the next big one for me, and for Sus­sex I’m not far off 400. This year and next hope­fully have me touch­ing that.”

When it’s over, he’ll rel­ish ex­pand­ing a coach­ing role with bowlers from the juniors to the 1st XI. He won’t be lost to the game.

But it’s hard to imag­ine he doesn’t have quite a few overs still in those long legs yet, and this story doesn’t have an­other twist or two left ei­ther.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

In the line of fire: Steve Magof­fin was close to a Test call-up with Aus­tralia in 2009 after star­ring for West­ern Aus­tralia

Back home: Dar­ren Lehmann lured Magof­fin back to his na­tive Queens­land in 2011-12

Dream start: Magof­fin bagged five wick­ets in an open­ing morn­ing spell against Notts this year

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