For those without cable tv, Rob Key remains a background Pom who played a handful of Tests against Australia years back for just one 50.
But he is among the elite to make a Test double-century at Lord’s and his stories and refreshingly frank opinions challenge and amuse; it’s little wonder he has become one of the rising young stars of the Sky commentary team.
‘A lot of people contacted me on Twitter and said they would enjoy the fact that they weren’t going to be called a “clubbie” (a club player) from mid-on anymore.
‘I used to chirp to keep myself interested.’
From his teen years, Key felt himself invincible. He was sure he’d play for England.
Having had some Academy experience under Rod Marsh in Adelaide, he was among the back-ups named in the MCC’s 2002-003 tour downunder. ‘I was nowhere near ready (and it showed),’ he said.
A mid-game lesson from his coach at Kent, Australian-born John Inverarity, had widened his horizons. He was 60-odd not out at a break against Cambridge University and was feeling pretty happy about his early-season form.
‘That was %$#@ing shit,’ said Inverarity, exasperated at Key’s failure to take on the University’s finger spinner.
He took Key out to the nets, had him settle in his stance and use his feet to where a ball was positioned.
‘What’s that?’ said Inverarity.
‘A half volley,’ said Key.
‘I don’t know about you,’ said the Australian, ‘but I’d like to be facing half volleys all the time. Use your feet.’
Key averaged 31 in Tests and 40 at first-class level, doing it his way.
He says it was a privilege to face some of the world’s very finest bowlers from Wasim Akram to Shane Warne at county level. He regarded Warne as the ‘best bowler who ever lived’.
Key tells of his tussles with the leading Australians, the invincible mindset and air of the Waugh brothers, the relentless pressure applied by Warne and the skill and irreverence of Andrew Symonds.
‘When Warnie took on the Hampshire captaincy, he was phenomenal, someone who made everyone on his team and probably a few on the opposition perform so much better. Play against Hampshire before Warnie got there and it wasn’t the same. When he arrived he made those same players walk 10 feet tall,’ said Key.
‘He had this incredible knack of making every delivery like an event.’
Of Waugh’s relentless on-field focus, he said: ‘Every shot, every mannerism revealed a grittiness. He was practical and pragmatic, whereas (twin brother) Mark was a flamboyant character. Batting was an art to him.’
He believes relaxed cricketers are the ones who constantly shine and play to their highest standard more often.
In Brisbane in 2002-03, when Nasser Hussain famously sent the Australians into bat and they went to stumps at 2-364, Key says the Australians would have won the match batting first or second. ‘They were a better team and had a more relaxed mindset,’ he said.
‘On that first morning we’d been warming up for half an hour, doing endless stupid exercises, swinging our legs around like puppets even before the Aussies had even arrived at the ground. Everything was so intense. Eventually they appeared and just strolled across the outfield into the dressing room.
‘They had discovered that the best way to deal with pressure was to try and relax as much as they could… if the Ashes had been about who warmed up longer, then we would have won 5-0.’ – KP
- ‘Oi, Key,’ tales of a journeyman cricketer, Rob Key, $50