STARS KNEW HOW TO MIX BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
SHANE Warne keeps offering to help Cricket Australia fix the national team and Cricket Australia keeps spurning his advances. Warne took wickets and managed distractions. He knew how to sledge and maintain a busy social life, even if he confused the two at times. In short, Warne embodied the pinnacle of Australian cricket: slightly bogan, sometimes tubby but with a ferocious will to win. And he did it without bitching about playing too much, a “high performance manager” or “elite honesty”.
Warne wants to second former players as consultants to the team. It has to be fun, he says of the game. He is on to something. The greats should share their stories with the current players, who appear to spend most of their lives answering questions about how much sleep they’ve had and how they feel out of 10.
Ian Chappell: Straight, articulate and thoughtful. Never worried too much about curfews or how rested anyone felt. “I found I slept extremely well on half a dozen beers … in fact it acted as a perfectly good sleeping pill,” Chappell wrote in his autobiography. Doug Walters: This journalist once interviewed Walters; afterwards, I couldn’t recall the conversation, read my notes or walk. He was great company, I think, a throwback to gold chains and fugs of smoke. He probably told the tale about his benchmark for beer drinking in 1977 on a flight to Sydney from London, an Ashes trip. He surprised himself — and drinking competitor Rod Marsh — by downing 44 beers and lighting cigarettes the wrong way around. Walters said punters asked him more about the 44 than the Test 100 he scored in a session in Perth.
Rod Marsh: Australian wicketkeeper whose bold efforts on that flight against Walters went largely unrecognised. His example in bettering Walters’ mark on the same journey, six years later for the 1983 World Cup, is a touchstone in determination. He had finished his 43rd beer as the plane banked to land in London. “I can’t make it,” fast bowler Dennis Lillee reported Marsh as saying in a subsequent book. “Bullshit,” Lillee encouraged. “The challenge had by now assumed the assumed the significance of winning an Ashes series … we tilted Rodney’s head back and literally force-fed him”. Lillee, in a powerful show of team unity, said he loaded Marsh on to a luggage trolley to get him through Customs.
David Boon: Like Marsh, does not talk about beers on planes. Doesn’t like talking at all, as far as we can tell, which means much of his wisdom has been deciphered from a VB Boonie figurine, a beer promotion giveaway that spoke at random moments and terrorised pets. Why not give every player a Boonie doll recounting the 1989 Ashes flight to London, when Boonie guzzled 52 (or 53) beers and walked from the plane, albeit, in the words of Steve Waugh, “Weekend At Bernie’s style”? The punishing warmup seemed to work. Australia reclaimed the Ashes and Boon averaged 55 for the tour.
Merv Hughes: The workhorse who inspired spectators to imitate his outfield warm-ups. He could tell today’s hothouse flower players about pig-outs when his weight would balloon, about putting his tongue in his captain’s ear, about being sledged as “Sumo” and cashing in with T-shirts instead of complaining about on-field nastiness and about finishing a drinking session at 11pm and getting a pizza on the way home — before day two of a 1993 Ashes Test in a series in which he took 31 wickets. Hughes could tell the players about never complaining about having to bowl too much — on a wonky knee. And of playing a simple game best by, to borrow from Warne, being free to be who he was.