Rick McCosker recalls 1977 injury and glory

Jan 09, 2012, 07:29 IST | Sai Mohan

MiD DAY catches up with McCosker, the Aussie opener, who batted with a serious injury in the 1977 Centenary Test

MiD DAY catches up with McCosker, the Aussie opener, who batted with a serious injury in the 1977 Centenary Test

It's a special journey to Algona Road in Charlestown, along the stunning coastline, north of New South Wales to meet former Australia batsman and selector Rick McCosker. McCosker (65) is sitting outside his Newcastle house, waiting for this writer to arrive.

Bandage and all that: Rick McCosker faces England's Bob Willis in the
1977 Centenary Test at Melbourne. PIC/Patrick Eagar Collection via
Getty Images

McCosker played 25 Tests for Australia between 1974 and 1980.  He retired only recently from the financial services industry. For him, working was very important 'because it brought him back down to earth very quickly after playing cricket'.

He got a call for the fourth Ashes Test of 1974-75. He thanks his first captain Ian Chappell for easing him into 'a side of rowdies' and helping him with his game. "I was never coached at any stage in my life. Probably the only person I got help from was Chappelli (Ian Chappell). He was, like me, a back-foot player.

Rick McCosker wears his Baggy Green cap at his residence in
Charlestown, New South Wales. Pic/Sai Mohan

At that stage, there were about 250 fast West Indian bowlers around, so you didn't get to get onto the front foot too often. I was getting out a little bit on the hook shot. Chappelli gave me some ideas on how to play the hook shot - which he was pretty good at.

Two years later...
McCosker revealed the emotions he felt before playing the 1977 Centenary Test: "The atmosphere was like a Boxing Day Test even few days before the match started. All the cricketers, past and current were staying at the Hilton Hotel. There were functions, cocktail parties and dinners. It was amazing just to be in a room with guys that had been just names before - Sir Donald Bradman, Arthur Morris, Peter May, Ted Dexter... it was a great occasion. The build-up was great. Everybody was really keyed up and tense."

The hook shot
"The wicket was pretty lively on the first morning. Ian Davis and myself opened. He was the first to get out - lbw. Bob Willis was bowling and as an opener, you know when a bowler is going to bowl a bouncer - they have got the look in their eye. I knew. But unfortunately, because I knew, I was ready, probably more than ready, and I had already played the shot before the ball got to me.

And that shot broke an unwritten rule, because you never play the hook shot at the MCG on the first morning because there is always a bit of moisture in the wicket; you are never sure of the bounce. I broke the rule and broke my jaw," he says.  "The worst thing was that it (the ball) dropped onto the stumps, and the bails fell off.
That was the first thing I realised. The Englishmen were all going up. They didn't realise what had happened except that the bails had fallen off. I didn't feel anything, I just heard this big awful noise inside my head. Everything just went numb. There was blood everywhere. I walked off by myself. Didn't fall or anything.

More than a bruise
"Upon reaching the dressing room, I laid down. Initially, the doctor said it's just bruising. But, the bruise kept getting bigger and bigger. And it got blacker and blacker, and the face just got up like a balloon. It started to hurt a bit. Fortunately, an orthodontist came into the dressing room. He asked me to get an x-ray. So, I went off to hospital, to find out that my jaw was broken in two places.

On the third day, I just sat in the dressing room and just watched the guys. They were really going pretty well. I felt okay. I knew I couldn't run, because you couldn't just do that - the vibrations were there - but I could walk all right. Greg Chappell (captain) asked me if I wanted to go out to bat. I said yes.  I wanted to get back out there. T

here's an old saying if you get kicked off a horse, you get back on again. Also because it was such a big match and such a big crowd, I wanted to be a part of it. One other reason was that Rod Marsh was getting fairly close to a hundred, and we were losing wickets. We wanted to help him get a hundred. Also we needed more runs because the wicket was so flat. We knew they had a good batting line-up. We knew we needed to get more runs.

"Greg kept saying wait. Gary Gilmour got out, and we close to the next new ball and Greg said 'I don't really want you to go out and face the next new ball'. So, he sent Dennis Lillee. He (Lillee) has never let me hear the last of it, that me being an opening batsman was shielded from the new ball (laughs). Then he got out. Only Max Walker and myself were left. So, Greg allowed me to go in," he says.

'Mind you business'
"You don't have to do this, you can turn and go back if you want to," were Marsh's exact words when a bandaged McCosker walked out to the MCG. "I told Rodney to mind his own business and get his hundred (laughs) or words to that effect. There were a few expletives which I can't put in there now. He understood what I meant."

An audacious McCosker hooked the first bouncer that was bowled to him. "It was from John Lever. Mind you, it was only 130 kmph, it wasn't really fast and it was a flat wicket and it was at the right spot and I hooked it for a four. It was just a reflex thing you did," he says.

"The crowd was so wonderful. They got really stuck into Poms when they bowled bouncer. They were always going to do that. It was Test cricket and you got to expect that. The England players didn't say anything to me (no chit chat). They knew that if they got too aggressive (with me) the crowd was going to get into them. But that didn't stop Greigy (Tony Greig, the captain). He told his bowlers 'bounce him.. bounce him..' He knew that was going to stir up the crowd but that didn't' worry him at all. And that was fine. I knew it was going to happen," he adds.

Marsh and McCosker battled for an hour that evening. Then, there was a rest day. "That wasn't good for me, because my head started to hurt. On the fourth day, we went out and I stayed with Marsh till he got his hundred.

"There was a lot in the papers and I thought a bit too much was made of it because there were other guys who did so well in that match. It was such a great match itself. What Dennis Lillee did in that match, What Derek Randall (174) did, What Marshy did," he says.

It's widely acknowledged that Lillee's spell on the final day helped Australia to a famous win. But, it's McCosker's act of bravado that will eternally be the takeaway from that Test match.

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