All to prove ... Rob Quiney, left, with Nathan Lyon during training at the Gabba this week. Photo: Getty Images
BEFORE Rob Quiney made the transformation from KFC-loving park cricketer to Test batsman, his father, John, used to sit on a rock at St Kilda's Junction Oval and watch his son play cricket.
''That's Johnny's rock,'' said Nick Jewell, Quiney's former St Kilda and Victorian teammate, and long-time friend. John Quiney died from cancer in 2008, aged 58, but he will be well represented by relatives, friends and St Kilda cricketers at the Gabba on Friday when Rob receives his Baggy Green cap and makes his Test debut against South Africa.
''He'd be over the moon,'' said David Johnstone, former St Kilda Cricket Club president. ''He'll be up there, with his bourbon and coke, having a bet, watching his boy play for Australia.''
Quiney joined Jewell at St Kilda in 1999-2000, playing in the thirds and fourths and working in a nuts and bolts factory before club sponsor Puma organised him a job packing sporting goods into boxes.
Jewell says Quiney has his dad's affable, knockabout nature, so has been instantly accepted in every dressing room he's entered. As an athlete, he had some work to do.
''I've always been chubby,'' Quiney quipped this week, as he prepared for the serious business of his first Test after the excitement of his call-up for injured vice-captain Shane Watson. ''I still like KFC, but it's in moderation now … I know that if I do have the Colonel, I've got to burn it off the next day.''
For his rookie pre-season with Victoria the late David Hookes, then coach, brought in AFL fitness trainers to shape up the squad. ''For Bobby, who was probably at his largest at that stage, it was a bit of a rude shock,'' recalled Jewell, before boarding a plane to Brisbane. ''I think he had some knee problems early and that was probably from carrying that extra load, but he's a totally different shape now.''
Quiney was a thumping batsman then, but shorter on patience than the experienced 30-year-old who will stride onto the Gabba in control of his game. ''He was very brash, very much a park cricketer with a good eye, hitting across the line,'' Jewell said.
''He'd play four or five dot balls then try to hit a boundary, but his talent was unbelievable. And if he got out, he'd be straight back up sitting with the boys with a smile on his face. It's probably half the reason he got his start, I reckon. It wouldn't have been from dominating [club] performances. The type of guy he is, you just want him in your team.''
At first, Quiney recalled, ''I just thought I would play first XI, that would be the pinnacle''.
But after breaking into the Victorian team in 2007, and later proving he could be more than a short-form slogger, his ambitions grew. In the past two seasons, he has been one of the most prolific batsmen in the country.
''My first pre-season with Victoria was a massive eye-opener. It made me think, 'righto, you've got a good opportunity here, make the most of the talent you've got and if you tick all these other boxes you don't have to say, what if?' I pulled my finger out and got a lot fitter because I had to. My last two years have been my most consistent. I knew there might have been a little window of 12 or 18 months where I could try to get my foot in. I've needed to continue to make runs. I've never given up. If anything [my desire] has probably grown stronger because beforehand I may not have believed that I could make it to this level.''
Quiney, whose girlfriend Helen and baby Amelia will be at the Gabba, hopes his hard road to the team will prove a firm foundation. ''I think it can be, and in my case I hope it is. But we're not going to know until the first Test, and see how I go.''