The honest toil of the underrated John Maguire

The honest toil of the underrated John Maguire

There are few more backhanded compliments in cricket than ‘honest toil’, but it’s also kind of an accurate description, especially the ‘working’ part.

We all know the type: medium pacers who don’t get much swing or pace but can be relied on to throw endless overs, keep things tight, never too scary or too fast but keep the hitters honest.

Other terms used to describe honest toilers include ‘lion-hearted’, ‘workhorse’, ‘pack horse’, ‘reliable into the wind’, ‘unfashionable’ and ‘good team man’.

In the bowling hierarchy, honest strugglers rank well below speedsters and leggies, but often captains prefer to have them in their line-up because they are more reliable. Honest strugglers rarely tear through an opposition – such as Mitchell Johnson. But they also rarely cost you a series by spraying the ball everywhere – again like, say, Mitchell Johnson.

The smarter selectors even realize that honest strugglers in some countries do much better than speedsters or leg-spinners, such as in India, New Zealand and England. Our voters are not always among these.

Few bowlers struggled more honestly in the early 1980s than John ‘Moose’ Maguire, the right-arm fast-medium bowler who played three Tests and 23 ODIs for Australia.

Maguire was from Queensland, a state that has an excellent track record of producing honest strugglers – Andy Bichel, Michael Neser, Dirk Tazelaar, Geoff Dymock et cetera. They pound away under the hot Brisbane sun, nobly serving their state, without complaint, while the 150-plus click brigade – Carl Rackemann, Craig McDermott, Jeff Thomson, et cetera – get the press and fast track to the national side.

Maguire was born in 1956. Like another beloved Queenslander, Sam Trimble, he was originally from New South Wales, in Maguire’s case Murwillumbah. His family lived in Lismore for several years before moving to Brisbane when Maguire was 15.

He did not make his character cricket debut (for Wynnum Manly) until he was 20. Apparently he was discovered playing warehouse cricket, a competition for employees of commercial business houses in Brisbane. He made his first-class debut for Queensland in 1977-78, benefiting from Jeff Thomson’s absence from the Test team. Maguire took 6-68 in a match against Victoria and he became Queensland’s regular in 1978-79 in the absence of Thommo, who had “retired” in the second season of World Series Cricket in a bid to play for Packer).

After World Series Cricket, Maguire found it difficult to find a place with Geoff Dymock, Thommo and Rackemann, but became a regular in 1981–82.

Despite the unsexiness of Maguire’s bowling, his solid line and length had been noted, not to mention his high level of fitness and excellent attitude. He even bowled a bounce that hit Rick Darling of South Australia in the eye during a Shield game, effectively ruining Darling’s career.

Credit: Allsport UK/Allsport

The selectors selected Maguire in the 1982-83 ODI team. The circumstances surrounding this are interesting. Maguire played against NSW for Queensland in a Shield match in Brisbane. Queensland Cricket Association chairman Norm McMahon suspended play during the New South Wales innings to inform that Maguire was booked on a flight at 7pm to Melbourne that evening to play in the World Series Cup international against England following doubts over Australian pace trio Jeff Thomson, Geoff. Lawson and Rodney Hogg.

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Maguire left the field an hour before stumps with NSW still batting, with the bowler on figures of 2-80. Maguire was replaced by bowler Michael Maranta, who batted in Maguire’s place in the second innings. Queensland ended up losing that match by an innings and five runs. I’m not sure any extra runs from Maguire would have made a difference.

He was made the 12th man and was dropped, but he was called into the ODI team for a few matches.

By this stage Maguire was a cartographic draftsman with the Queensland Forest Department. “I don’t really go for the fanfare,” he said that season, before adding “I thought if I worked hard and got a couple of breaks it was possible” to be selected for Australia. “I only got the opportunity through injuries.”

He toured Sri Lanka with the Australian team in 1983 without playing in the Test – Australia went for two spinners – although he did play a few ODIs. He did not make the World Cup squad in 1983, and in retrospect Australia may have been better off taking Maguire than, for example, Jeff Thomson.

Maguire made his debut against Pakistan in December 1983, replacing an injured Rodney Hogg, taking 3-111 in a run-heavy game. It was just a one-off appearance, but Maguire became a regular in the ODI side that summer, never stealing the show but always providing constant support.

Maguire was picked in the Australian squad to tour the West Indies in 1984, nobody’s favorite was chosen, but as Peter McFarline said, “Maguire is prepared to do the hard work required on a tour like this”.

Bob Simpson said: “I think Maguire could be the surprise of the tour. He’s an honest hard worker and will bowl patiently for hours. The West Indian batsmen have shown they can be frustrated to the point of failure and I feel Maguire could be the bowler to do it.

Simpson was right. Maguire proved to be the most successful bowler on tour, taking 26 first-class wickets in 25, a better tally than Lawson, Rackemann, Hogg or Terry Alderman (or Tom Hogan or Greg Matthews. He only played in the last two Tests, taking 3 -121 and 4-57 – the latter being Australia’s second best bowling performance on the tour.

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Maguire’s 1-28 off nine overs in the second ODI played a key role in Australia’s one international win on the tour. His seven Test wickets of 27 were the best average by any bowler.

Peter McFarline summarized Maguire’s tour by writing “sent as the workhorse he was second, barely behind [Rodney] Hogg was the best in the tempo brigade. An honest toiler, who can go on for hours, he showed great endurance while lacking the natural talent of some others. His lack of pace negated some of his good work.” Maguire also went on a one-day tour of India in 1984, playing in all five ODIs.

Maguire had an excellent summer in 1984-85, taking 46 wickets at 27.67, including 6-48 against Touring India for Queensland. He was 12th man in the first Test but failed to break into the Test side for the rest of the series as the selectors went for Lawson, Hogg, Alderman and new boy Craig McDermott.

More surprisingly, Maguire was not picked for any ODIs. I’m sure he was discussed but the selectors preferred Rod McCurdy. Maguire also came close to being selected in the Ashes squad to tour England in 1985, when original selections Terry Alderman and Rod McCurdy revealed that they had signed to play in South Africa over the summers of 1985–86 and 1986–87 , they were replaced by Carl Rackemann and Maguire. However, it was revealed that they had both also signed and were unable to tour. They would be replaced by Jeff Thomson and Dave Gilbert.

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(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

Like the other rebel tourists, Maguire was banned from first-class cricket in Australia for two years and from representative cricket for three years. In the first summer in South Africa, he took 21 wickets at 25.90, which was decent. The second summer went very well – Maguire took 33 wickets in 23 (including 6-61 in one of the unofficial Tests). In 1986 he played in the Lancashire League.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had Maguire not gone to South Africa and been available for tours that would have suited his bowling – home to honest strugglers like England, New Zealand and India. I get the feeling he would have done well, but also would have been the last picked and the first dropped, which is probably a big reason why Maguire decided to go to South Africa.

Maguire played Shield cricket in 1987-88 and 1988-89, bowling well but not quite well enough to break into the national side. Ern Toovey, the Queensland selector, said in 1987-88 that “Maguire has surprised me with the way he’s developed his pace. He’s very quick, quicker than before. He’ll do the hack work”. Thanks, Ern. What was Maguire thinking when he heard such things?

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In 1989, Maguire received an offer to return to South Africa to play for Eastern Province, which was captained by Maguire’s old Queensland teammate Kepler Wessels. He agreed, meaning Maguire was banned for ten years – along with other rebel tourists who went back, such as Rod McCurdy, Kim Hughes, Steve Smith and Mike Haysman. Maguire bowled brilliantly, taking 60 first-class wickets at 15 in 1989-90, winning the South African Cricketer of the Year award and helping them share the Currie Cup and win the Nissan Shield and the Benson and Hedges Night Series – whatever they are.

Maguire bowled 359 overs in the Currie Cup, 63 of them in the final. He was supported by fellow Aussie McCurdy who had also joined Eastern Province, taking 45 wickets at 23.40.

In accordance Wisden, Maguire “bolted more overs than anyone all season, 430.2, and at fast-medium was seemingly tireless, adding to the timeless virtues of line and length a genuine appetite for bowling and a dedicated approach to fitness. Minutes after a match, he was supposed to be out jogging. As well as bowling, he hit a career-best 65 not out in the Currie Cup to rescue his team after Gerbrand Grobler had sent Eastern Province slumping to 116 for eight against Northern Transvaal.

Maguire returned to Eastern Province for 1990-91, taking 52 wickets at 23.4. He then played for Leicestershire in 1991 as their overseas player. According to the local newspaper, “one of the qualities that attracted them was his famous willingness to bowl all day”. Bob Simpson was manager of Leicestershire at the time and Maguire was a Simpson-type player. The Queenslander took 77 wickets at 31.64 over the 1991 English season and Wisden wrote “Leicestershire owed a considerable debt to the Australian fast-medium bowler, John Maguire for his efforts that summer”, although the team did not do very well – an internal county report said it was “a mistake to hire Simpson”. Maguire signed for the county for two years but apparently asked for a release for 1992 “for personal and business reasons”.

The South African ban was lifted in August 1991 after South Africa was readmitted to world cricket. Queensland considered recalling Maguire in 1991–92, but that did not happen and he played no more first-class cricket after 1991.

I don’t know what has happened to Maguire since then. His baggy green came into the possession of Russell Crowe, who sold it.

John Maguire had an interesting career with some ODI wins, a riot tourer, a disastrous West Indies tour, a membership of a strong state side that could never win the big prize. He took a lot of wickets, traveled the world and did some amazing things. That’s pretty good for an honest struggler.

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