PERTH - Forget facing Brett Lee or Shoaib Akhtar. It was the job interview that scared Craig McMillan the most.
Seated in a room with two managers of a Christchurch clothing outlet, heart thumping harder than it would at the Sydney Cricket Ground, McMillan underwent the first job interview of his life as a sales representative.
"It was pretty nerve wracking. No retail sales experience and trying to answer questions, it definitely put me out of my comfort zone which was partly why I did it, to see what it was like," he told NZPA this week.
"It was a good experience but it reaffirmed that I wanted to go back and play cricket, that at age 30 I still had a couple of good years in me yet."
McMillan didn't get the job. He got an encouraging call back saying he'd interviewed well, but someone else had sales experience.
This was a key moment in his life, just weeks after Black Caps manager Lindsay Crocker called in June to tell McMillan he'd lost his New Zealand Cricket (NZC) contract.
As a specialist one-day player, he was told the test specialists, who receive higher ratings points, had bumped McMillan from the queue.
Not long ago he was on a base retainer of more than $100,000, plus match payments. Now it was a standard provincial contract with Canterbury, about $30,000 a year, and a life without cricket was suddenly a real possibility.
"For a while there was a bit of anger and hurt that I wasn't regarded in the top-20 cricketers in the country which I had been for close to 10 years. It was a bit of a kick in the guts."
The only positive was the arrival of daughter Lucie, a sister for Mitchell, two. It averted McMillan's mind from cricket woes as he and his biggest supporter, wife Cherie, decided what to do next.
Give up and search for a nine-to-five job, or fight back?
This was the man with 55 tests and 176 one-day internationals to his name. At 21 he thumped Shane Warne over his head for six to bring up 50 on test debut.
A year later he defied Muttiah Muralitharan in steamy heat for a gritty 142 which earned a test victory in Colombo. In 2002 he battled 40degC heat in Rawalpindi -- superstitiously wearing a sleeveless jersey -- for a memorable 105 against Akhtar and pace bowling legend Waqar Younis.
So he took up a six-week contract with the Nelson club in the Lancashire league, and got his mojo back.
He relished bowling 15-20 overs in a 50-over match then scoring a century to win the match. It wasn't first-class standard, but it told McMillan he could be an international allrounder again.
"I didn't think I was finished as a New Zealand cricketer. I recommitted myself to coming back and doing everything I could to get back in the side. If it didn't happen at least I'd given it my best shot."
Back at Canterbury with questions hovering over his weight and fitness, there were torrid sessions as he was "put through the wringer" by Canterbury coach Dave Nosworthy.
National coach John Bracewell was on the phone telling him to score centuries for Canterbury and he did, stringing them together pre-Christmas.
He was recalled for the first time in more than a year when his brother-in-law Nathan Astle got injured, but Muralitharan bamboozled him in Queenstown and the question marks remained.
Fast forward to the SCG last Sunday. It is one of the most imposing ground in world cricket, and there were more than 36,000 largely Kiwi-hating fans yelling all kinds of obscenities.
To compound matters New Zealand were struggling at 53 for four, as McMillan strode to the crease not having topped 30 in four comeback matches.
Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf missed a big edge by the chunky New Zealander on one off Glenn McGrath. McMillan stood his ground, eyeballed a fuming McGrath and set about making the Australians pay.
He smacked Stuart Clark into the crowd at long on and later cracked Lee over the backward point boundary for six more, en route to 89 off 87 balls, an innings which should have his team to victory bar some fielding blunders.
He could barely contain his child-like glee afterwards.
"It was a big boost. Being in and out of the side over the last 12 months I didn't achieve the consistency I wanted, and perform like I have in the past.
"It's given me the confidence that I know I can compete against the best and actually perform. Hopefully that will transpire into some good performances in the next four games."
Bowling is still a big part of the McMillan package, after shaking off a recent history of side strains.
It's the more sedate, sensible version, far removed from the brash youngster who kept trying to bounce out the great Sachin Tendulkar during the 1998-99 home series against India.
Captain Stephen Fleming turned to him in Hobart with Shane Bond absent for the unenviable task of bowling to Andrew Flintoff at the death. He nearly did the unthinkable to take England to the penultimate ball of the game.
"That wasn't quite the script I'd envisaged, I thought one or two overs but not the last five.
"It got close, again it was a bit of a battle and I loved it.
"I'm always yelling at Flem to give me a bowl, I wasn't far off (in Adelaide) but we wrapped it up. Part of being injury-free, fully fit, I'm back bowling how I did a couple of years ago."
With the bat, he needs to break his past habit of frustratingly low scores, and the occasional brain explosion, when hinting at a big one.
McMillan scored only two against England on Tuesday and needs an SCG repeat in the upcoming doubleheader in Perth to rubber stamp his World Cup spot, as fellow allrounder Scott Styris' return looms and the batting order squeezes up.
"Personally it was a nice innings but I realise I need to back that up with some consistency which got talked about when I came back into the side. I want to try and show that.
"I got caught out last year looking too far ahead when I was trying to get back in the side and lost some momentum. I'm sure the World Cup's in the back of most players' minds, but I really haven't let myself think that far ahead."
Retail sales will have to wait for a while yet. Which could be a good thing for the customers -- and the New Zealand cricket team as well.