In spite of a promising beginning that peaked with a polished early stint in Australia’s ODI team, Callum Ferguson’s career ultimately ended with a long, slow fade to retirement after the brief high of a Test debut in 2016.
That Test, against South Africa in Hobart, saw Ferguson ignominiously run out on the way to the national team’s fifth consecutive long-form defeat. Ferguson and his fellow South Australian debutant Joe Mennie were summarily dropped after Rod Marsh resigned as chairman of selectors, signalling Cricket Australia’s intent to head into another, more youthful direction after choosing “Ferg” at the age of 31.
As much as Ferguson would have liked to prove that selection decision wrong, and had even begun this season with fleeting thoughts of fighting his way back to the front rank of Test team aspirants, the panel’s judgment was born out by how he would slip in and out of the Redbacks’ XI in subsequent years, including his omission from the first game of this season.
“It’s a really tough question that I asked myself, why not keep playing through the season,” Ferguson said in explaining his retirement. “I’ve been a bit frustrated at my own lack of consistency over the last few years, I feel like I haven’t been at a level I’ve been comfortable with. I feel like I’ve got punches to throw and I feel like I’m going to make runs every time I walk out to the crease. But more so I think at 35 my dream of playing for the country is probably gone, I was thinking that while I was making the decision. Now it is gone to wear the baggy green again.
“I think I went into the season feeling like if I put a big 1000-run year on the board I’ll be a chance to get back there. The selectors have shown in the past they’re willing to go with guys who make big runs at an older age, but probably getting left out at the start of the summer took a bit of the wind out of my sails, and that was a tough one to take, but I’ve been around well and truly long enough to understand how the game works. There’s people put in roles to make tough decisions and tough decisions are what make great teams and great associations.
“I would’ve loved to play in a couple of wins the last couple of games. That hasn’t eventuated and I think looking at the fact we’ve got one more game before the break, at the end of this game hopefully get a big win on the board, build some momentum, and I think it’s time for someone to get a crack at Nos. 5 or 3, make it their own and hopefully take us to a big second half of the season. Right now I don’t feel like I’m the right one to take us all the way through.”
“I have gone into every innings thinking I’m going to make a 100 in the next one and unfortunately, I haven’t done that consistently enough to be able to say ‘no, that’s my spot’, particularly in the eyes of the selectors”
Quite simply, Ferguson was unable to make the spinal runs in the first innings of a Sheffield Shield game that generally define the arc of each contest. The brutal reality of life after that one Test was that Ferguson never made another first innings century in a first-class match, a sequence spanning 44 innings for just 694 runs at 15.77 with three 50s. This was no more frustrating for anyone than Ferguson himself, and it was not a pattern that could be allowed to continue if South Australia is to regenerate as a Shield force.
“I was given the message that my performances in first innings over the last 12-18 months hadn’t been good enough, and they hadn’t been good enough in my eyes either, and I can’t argue that fact,” Ferguson said. “I was struggling with the idea that I wasn’t in our best top five, but I think when you get to the stage of my career I’m at, I’m always going to feel like I’m in the best five.
“I have gone into every innings thinking I’m going to make a 100 in the next one and unfortunately, I haven’t done that consistently enough to be able to say ‘no, that’s my spot’, particularly in the eyes of the selectors. Obviously at the start of the season they didn’t think that was the case, and I’ve got to live with that.”
It was a sad end, too, for one of cricket’s more likeable and at one time promising batting talents. Certainly, Ferguson showed enormous potential in his early years, never more than when he was called into Australia’s white-ball team in early 2009 and proceeded to look very much at home over 30 matches in which he compiled 663 runs at 41.43.
How Ferguson might have fared if he had been able to spend more time surrounded by the best of Australian cricket at the top end of the game will never be known: a serious knee injury suffered while fielding during the final of the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa in 2009 cost Ferguson a season, and he did not play a white-ball game for Australia after 2011.
Three of the key figures Ferguson was surrounded by in the earliest days of his career were there again at the end. The South Australia coach Jason Gillespie, the high performance chief Tim Nielsen were both on hand right at the beginning, as a starry-eyed junior watching them in a Shield game at Adelaide Oval, while the assistant coach Greg Blewett had also been there most steps of the way – as a younger man Ferguson had occasionally been referred to as “mini-Blewey”.
“The SACA since I was 12 years old have given me every opportunity to make a success of a cricket career, turn it into a lifestyle and a way of life to an extent,” Ferguson said. “I couldn’t be more thankful, they’ve given me absolutely every opportunity all the way through to the point of making it to a baggy green, cap 445, which is the dream.
“I was telling the guys just before I remember being up on the hill as a young lad drinking free coca cola on a Dollar Day, day three of a Shield game, I think it was a Sunday and Dizzy was charging in from one end and I think Vin [Nielsen] was taking the ball behind the stumps and that’s probably where the dream began, if not in the backyard pretending I was David Boon.”
Retirement has arrived for Ferguson a few months in the wake of fatherhood, and he is now likely to juggle those duties with a continuing T20 career, most recently as a canny captain of the Sydney Thunder.
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