Tim May played 24 Tests and 47 ODIs for Australia, was named by Shane Warne as his best bowling partner, and retired prematurely to take on the cause of his fellow pros as the first president of the Australian Cricketers Association. But who knew he’s such a funny bugger?
For starters there was his book Mayhem, that told the stories of what happened on tour, albeit with name changes to protect identities. And clearly his teammates knew, including Damien Fleming and Merv Hughes, who hosted the United States-based May on Fleming’s Bowlology Report podcast this week, extracting some classic tales of misadventure related to the 59-year-old, as well as receiving some sage wisdom about the state of Test cricket.
May, 59, was an off-spinner who bowled with excellent control in long spells.
His greatest individual Test performance was in 1992-93 against the West Indies where he took 5-9 in the tourists’ second innings and then scored a career-high 42 not out as Craig McDermott was out agonisingly short of victory after a 40-run stand.
May bowled in tandem with Warne for the first time in that match and they were excellent together during the 1993 Ashes tour when May took 21 wickets and Warne got 34.
Remarkably, May achieved all this despite being clearly jinxed from a young age, as he revealed in a hilarious conversation on the podcast.
“I was about two and I got mumps really bad and nearly died,” May revealed. “Then nothing really happened until I was about eight or nine.
“I honestly didn’t realise it at the time, but those years between two and eight were my golden years.
“Later I suffered five broken arms as a kid. One was falling out of a tree when I was climbing a ladder and my sister thought it would be a great idea to pull the ladder out from underneath me. I plummeted to the ground and landed on a big root.
“Another one I was playing basketball and I was dribbling for a lay up, tripped over my shoelaces and banged into the bloody pole that holds the basketball net up.
“Another one … I won the grade four tennis championship at school against a guy called Derek Jolly Miller and in true style, when you win a game you jump the net. I didn’t quite clear it. I just plopped down the other side of the court and broke my arm.
“But I didn’t tell anyone for two weeks I just cried in my bed for two weeks before I said mum I think we should get an X-ray.”
His shocking bad luck continued throughout his cricket career and Fleming recalled that Steve Waugh had a list of every time May had been hit at the nets.
“I just remember when anyone slogged one out of the net someone would yell ‘MAISEY’, even after you’d retired,” said Fleming.
May recalled an incident in 1989 when he was cleaned up by a powerful Tom Moody strike at training.
“All I can remember was someone yelling out ‘watch out!’ I turned around thinking some poor bugger’s going to get hit here, and the next thing I know I’ve been knocked backwards, it’s smashed me in the teeth, my lip was cut on the inside and the outside.
“I don’t know how many stitches I had but I was walking around for the next two to three weeks looking like one of those African tribesmen who think it looks good when they put plates in their top lip.”
May said he was also onto his 14th knee operation.
Once he was fielding near the boundary in the Nehru Cup when his knee packed it in.
“It was the end of the over and the next over was just about the start and I was meant to move positions,” said May. “But I couldn’t move. Everyone’s looking at me going ‘f—ing Maisey, what the hell?’
“They brought a stretcher on. There were 20 guys carrying it and the crowd’s throwing bananas at me as I’m carried around. I went and got X-rayed and had all these bone fragments in my knee and had to return home.”
Hughes recalled a domestic match where he added to May’s long, long tale of woe.
“My length to most batsmen was short so I couldn’t see why I need to change things up to you. I bowled one short hit you in the hand…” Hughes recalled.
“You are supposed to be brave and I did my best to be brave,” May said. As Hughes came into bowl, May found he couldn’t hold the bat.
“I couldn’t even get my gloves off,” said May. “The physio’s come out with a pair of scissors. He’s cut my glove off, and on the left hand there is a cricket ball [sized lump] on top of my hand – the thing just instantly swelled.
“The Einstein of a physio said ‘so where did it hit you, Tim?’ Which like, f— me, it’s pretty bloody obvious, you idiot. Anyway I was operated on that night, and have an iron rod stuck in the hand, so yeah thanks Merv.”
And then there’s this, from a tour game in England in 1989.
“Some guy threw an apple at me and it exploded all over my face,” May recalls.
“I took some wickets so had to go up in front of the press at the end of the day and a guy said ‘you got hit by a foreign object’. I said ‘yeah, I got hit in the melon by an apple’.
“Everyone reported that I got hit in the Adam’s apple with a lemon.”
May also revealed an unusual custom he stuck to with his allocation of match day tickets during his career.
“It was reasonably immature, but I watched Ferris Bueller maybe 30 times,” May said of the iconic 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
“I just loved Ferris and thought if Ferris ever heard about me he’d come to the game. So every game that I played, I left two tickets for Ferris Bueller at the gate. I never actually knew if he turned up.”
May transitioned from playing into a critical role in the establishment of the Cricketer’s Association, and even that story has a touch of humour to it.
“We went to the West Indies in 1995 and it was just after that the ACA was formed,” said May. “We had a discussion when we realised where we were in the Australian sporting landscape – how little we were paid compared to footballers, rugby players.
“There was just one state that had contracts and everyone else would just get 20 bucks a day to play.
“We looked at past associations and there had been a couple of attempts to set them up before and they failed for two reasons.
“One, we just didn’t have the money to fight any sort of legal battles or get proper advice, etc. and set up an association – a lack of financial resources.
“And the previous attempts had also failed because a current player within the Australian side had always been the designated administrator for the association.
“Those guys were always put into a position of ‘mate if you kick up a fuss here, you’re not going to be in the Australian side again’. So your representative would back down through self interest, and fair enough.”
So it was decided they needed an ex-player to head the organisation, which May technically wasn’t.
“Before the next cricket season started, I got a call from Tubby [Mark Taylor] and he said ‘look Tim, I’ve spoken to some of the senior guys. We’d like you to head up this association and drive it from here’.
“It was very flattering, except I was still a current player. I hadn’t retired. But the penny dropped pretty quickly – I wouldn’t be playing for Australia again. I retired after that phone call.”
Hughes and Fleming thanked May for being the driver of a generational change in how cricketers were paid.
“Thanks but it was my job,” May said. “Shit, my cricket career was ruined. That wasn’t a very successful cricket career so I thought I might try to be a success at something.
“Your job is so much easier if all the players stick together, and everyone did. Nobody should ever forget all the players sticking together when they were really under the pump from the media and the general public etc – tall poppy syndrome or whatever.”
Later May headed the international players union and has lived in Austin, Texas for the past 16 years.
He reflected on the state of cricket in the US and in top-tier nations.
“The five-day stuff will never work here,” said May. “The one-day stuff will never work over here, it’s too long. But the T20 stuff, people I know that have watched it, love it.
“It’ll never be a big sport, but it’s got a niche market, which would make a big contributor to the ICC’s revenues, and just to the game.”
He was also subdued about the future of Test cricket on the international stage.
“Whether we like it or not, players will gravitate to money. And therefore, I think cricket is going to be more and more about the shorter form of game,” said May.
“Everyone says Test cricket is paramount. That’s number one. And yeah, it is until it’s not.
“And it is just not affordable to play Tests in a number of countries. It may be that Test cricket in ten-15 years time is just played between, a handful of countries. But everything depends on the direction that India take, because they’re the controllers of cricket.
“I certainly think that one thing that could aid Test cricket is to make it more affordable. And I think the revenue model that exists at the ICC level is flawed. It’s flawed in favour of India, Australia, England.
“There is a lot more assistance I think that the ICC can give and if they truly believe that Test cricket is the pinnacle, well then show it by supporting it in the financial sense.
“And then people will gravitate to the game of Test cricket and it will become affordable for those countries.”
Damien Fleming will be writing expert pieces for The Roar this summer, starting Saturday with his Australian Test XI for the upcoming Ashes.
Check out his latest podcast for more great tales, and Merv Hughes stopping the other panellists dead with his call for neutral Test curators.