Geelong Advertiser - - RACING -

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.

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