It’s 2010 and Shaun Tait is opening the bowling for Australia against Pakistan at the MCG in a T20 match.
Australia has made only 128 runs and the bowler nicknamed “Wild Thing” has to make an immediate impact. He knows it, and the crowd can sense it too.
Tait sets off on a huge run-up before releasing the ball with his trademark slingshot action. The batsman waves his bat at the ball, missing it by miles, and it whizzes through to Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
There’s a brief pause from the crowd as they look to the scoreboard, then comes an almighty roar. Tait has just bowled 160.7 kilometres per hour, the fastest delivery ever recorded by a bowler in Australia. He looks up at the screen briefly, smiles ever so slightly and then returns to his bowling mark with minimal fuss.
Fast forward over a decade and Tait looks a little older, but still pretty fit, as he leans back on the pavilion steps at Hahndorf Oval in the Adelaide Hills.
He’s just played his second season of A-grade cricket for Hahndorf in the Alexandra and Eastern Hills Cricket Association.
“Ex-teammates of mine will laugh and say, ‘What are you doing?’,” Tait says.
“But it genuinely is good fun playing here.
“You think you are just going to come back and have a laugh, but then you end up really competing. Otherwise, you’re just letting everyone down, I think.”
Tait grew up in the Adelaide Hills, which means he’d always played for Nairne, one of the strongest clubs in the region.
After playing there again after his final game for Australia in 2016, he moved across to Hahndorf in search of a new challenge. The team was young, but talented and needed leadership.
In the first season he joined, he played as captain and took them all the way to the grand final. Only a dropped catch on the boundary in the final over stood between his team and an eagerly-anticipated premiership.
“I’ve never blown up at my team because you know what you are getting here,” he says.
“The only thing I demanded when I was captain was competitiveness and effort, that’s what I took from a higher level.
“And, expecting to win, too. It’s no good coming down here and thinking you are going to lose.”
A captain’s dream
One of the young players in that grand final was Ryan Trafford-Walker. This last season, the 25-year-old accountant was Tait’s captain. He admits it was daunting to be given the job, knowing the former Australian bowler would be in his side.
“I was pretty nervous about telling him where and when to bowl, I mean he’s the quickest bowler since Shoaib Akhtar,” Trafford-Walker says.
“But I have also known him for a couple of years now and he’s one of the best blokes I’ve ever met.
He says Tait’s assistance as a sounding board on the field was invaluable, while his accurate bowling helped the team considerably too. Although Tait now only bowls at half pace, due to an elbow injury sustained during his career, Trafford-Walker says he still bowls a “heavy ball”.
“One time at training he was bowling to me and I hit a half-decent shot and he didn’t really like it,” Trafford-Walker says.
“The next ball I could see Shaun took a few extra steps and his action changed a little bit and he’s bowled this ball, I didn’t see it.
“It was one of his old school yorkers and I didn’t even get my bat down before it hit the stumps. I just heard the metal stumps rattling behind me.
“If he still wanted to, he could still bowl a very, very quick delivery.”
Boosting the club’s profile
Despite wanting to play originally as a batsman, Tait’s bowling has been irresistible for Hahndorf this last season.
Since joining the club he’s taken 48 wickets at an average of 12 and a strike rate of just 29. He’s also managed a couple of centuries with the bat, including an unbeaten 120 against Kangaroo Island for the local representative side.
But despite all the on-field performances, Tait’s real skills are people-related, according to Hahndorf club president Greg Hassold.
“He’s very generous with his time and his conversations with people, and he’s a deep thinker,” says Hassold, who also opens the batting for Hahndorf’s first team.
“He won’t stand there at the back of the nets telling people what to do. When someone has had a bat or a bowl he might walk over and mention a few things.”
Hahndorf is now developing a cricketing reputation in the region too. Since Tait has joined the club, its senior teams have doubled in size and junior registrations have also increased, something that Hassold puts down to his fast bowler’s star appeal.
The former quick admits that he wants to pursue a career in coaching and coming back to amateur cricket helped him learn about team dynamics.
“Speaking to the players, addressing the group and being a leader — I didn’t really do any of those things during my Australian career,” Tait says.
A few months after that memorable night at the MCG in 2010, Tait bowled even quicker, hitting 161.1kph in a one-day match against England at Lord’s. It’s the second-fastest ball ever recorded in the history of the game.
He went on to take four wickets in a fearsome spell of bowling, earning himself man of the match. He cites the moment as a career highlight, along with his time playing at the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL and Australia’s World Cup victory in the Caribbean in 2007.
But, after calling time on his first-class career early due to injuries, does he regret not playing more than three Tests for Australia?
“It doesn’t bother me anymore. It was because the public and the media give you that thought, but when you retire you come to terms with all that stuff,” he said.
“The longer you go into retirement, the things I look back on are tours or good times we had, a feeling you had at a certain ground or a period when things went really well,” he says.
The next step for Tait is a move to the UK with his wife and daughter. He also plans to pursue coaching opportunities in Canada and Abu Dhabi. It means he’s unlikely to play regularly with Hahndorf Cricket Club next season.