IT’S TIME TO GET BACK TO (OLD) SCHOOL
THE game of cricket has been good to me.
It has enabled me to travel the world, meet some great people, enjoy the sweet taste of success — and also the bitter taste of defeat.
The game has shaped me as a person and taught me many life lessons along the way.
Last weekend, I was privileged to attend the AIS Cricket Academy 30-year reunion and, above all else, it provided a time of reflection.
Firstly, where had those 30 years gone? Time has flown since a blond-tipped young boy from Wonthaggi, who had just completed his HSC exams, was offered a scholarship as an inaugural member of the very first intake of the cricket academy.
It was a fantastic 12 months, where I learnt that making a real investment in my game, combined with plenty of hard work, was the only way to pursue my sporting dreams.
Nothing was guaranteed but we, as the chosen few, had a better chance than most if we were to take this chance and squeeze the life out of it.
The group was littered with teenage superstars who had been schoolboy run machines or under- age state and national bowling standouts.
It was, however, crystal clear and totally understood that raw talent alone would not guarantee any of us success at the top level.
To make it to the top, a simple pathway was clear. I’m not so sure that in a world of high performance academies these days the same clear pathway exists. It’s clouded, confused and overstated.
First and foremost, most players had to be good enough to climb through the grades at a strong clublevel competition, known back then in our state as “District cricket”.
If you consistently performed, not promised to perform, you would be invited to join state practice. Then, if you were prepared to work hard and keep performing, you might win a state tracksuit as an official member of the state training squad.
I still have my first ever Kleenex tissues cream-coloured Victorian state tracksuit.
Why? Because it really meant something. In fact, it meant everything to achieve this — and still does in my world.
To follow in the footsteps of Richie Robinson, the late Ray ‘Slug’ Jordon and Michael Dimattina — the main gloveman who preceded my time behind the stumps for the Vics — was a genuine honour.
It was an era where hard, tough, experienced older men played District cricket. More importantly, the majority stayed involved in their latter years to nurture the next wave of youth ushered into their club ranks in the lower grades.
It was a system we all respected and one that produced top-quality cricketers who were match-hardened, ready for the rigours of firstclass cricket — if that opportunity ever presented. They are the days I remember most of all.
The late, legendary John Scholes shaped me in the school of hard knocks. He never allowed me for one minute to get ahead of myself.
The modern-day player wearing sunglasses in airports and pretending to be listening to messages on their mobile phones as they strut through airport lounges to avoid eye contact or conversation with inquiring media would be something Scholes would only offer one warning.
At my father’s funeral, I’ll never forget wearing sunglasses to conceal my emotions, as our eyes say so much. My life mentor Scholes approached me to offer his condolences and quietly but sternly said: “Now get those sunglasses off right now and don’t hide.”
As always he was right, and with tears streaming down my face I took off the mask and bared my soul.
How I wish Scholes was still with us to straighten a few of the modern-day players in humility and ethics.
Upon reflection this week — and given the current state of Australian cricket — I could not help but see the irony in the fact that the group that assembled in Brisbane to reminisce had only one Test player among us — and sadly Stuart Law was one of only a few unable attend the reunion due to his coaching commitments with the West Indies.
On the plane flight up to Brisbane, I sat alongside youth teammate, then state adversary and now trusted friend, Jamie Cox.
Here is a man who had played more Shield games than any other in the history of the game, captained his state in difficult times, played several years of County cricket to harden himself in preparation for when the call-up to Test cricket came.