I was lucky in a lot of ways. One of my aunts was a moderately successful sports journalist, who focused heavily on cricket, and was always around cricket players. A couple of times she even went so far as to meet international players, and that was when I met my first, Gus Logie.
When I say “meet”, I don’t count the ones who I got autographs from, a 10 second chat in which they don’t really hear what you are saying, in between overs, or balls being bowled, when you frantically line up to get their name on your cricket bat. I met hundreds of cricketers like that. I mean the ones I had actual proper conversations with.
Gus Logie was a nice guy. He was a fringe player on the best side in the world. He was shy and quiet and didn’t like to talk too much. He didn’t have the bravado I imagine Viv Richards would have had. He didn’t like to talk about cricket.
The second one was by pure accident, when Trans-Australian Airlines, or TAA, had a promotion in which children under a certain age could be upgraded to first class for free. I twice met famous people during that promotion. Once was an Olympic gold medal cyclist whose name has since left my memory, and the other was Wayne Phillips, the batsman who was forced to be Australia’s wicket keeper, then was dumped because of his poor abilities behind the stumps, even though his batting was good.
It was the day after he was dumped, and the press didn’t even know about it. I had an insight into what was going on, a secret that I couldn’t tell anyone until two days later when everyone knew. It provided a great insight not only into his own life but into how cricket works. For about two hours we talked, and he told me all about how unfair he thought it was, how he was given one set of rules, then was punished for not following another set that he wasn’t asked to follow. “I never wanted to be a wicket keeper,” he told me. “I just wanted to be a batsman.” It was a similar story with his friend David Hookes, who had been dumped a few months previously, in spite of doing everything that he was asked to do, and was never brought back in to the Australian side, in spite of some great domestic performances.
I went to their match, a Sheffield Shield match between South Australia and Tasmania. They had just broken the world record for the highest partnership for any wicket in first class cricket, a record that has since been broken a couple of times. I got to watch the continuation of the partnership, or so the scoreboard advertised it, since the record was also against Tasmania. The scoreboard said that their partnership was effectively 667 runs, a record that would still exist today, if that was how partnerships worked. They were unbeaten in their last innings against Tasmania and scored some 200 more runs the next time they faced the same opponents.
After the match, a celebrating Wayne Phillips invited me to have a chat with him, as he said that I made him feel good by his previous conversation, and he introduced me to David Hookes as well. The three of us had a meaningless chat, the results of which didn’t really matter. Hookes gave the standard encouragement for me that one day I might play state cricket too. It was false, of course.
I had several bone deformities that made it impossible for me to play serious cricket. No amount of training and practice could make my body be a different shape to what it was. Phillips knew and he was okay with that. I knew I would never play cricket for Australia, or Tasmania, or any other state, or anything beyond the back yard. The one season I played in Grade 5 was such a disaster that I knew I would never do it again, unless I played as wicket keeper. It was the only position which my bones would allow me to play. But I was never considered to be good enough. I never even played a match as a ‘keeper.
The next one after that was Ricky Ponting. I was at university by then, and Ricky Ponting’s local first grade club was University-Mowbray, and I was eligible to try out. One of my friends was playing in the club and he told me to try out, so that I could play with Ricky Ponting. I knew I wasn’t first grade level, or second grade, or third grade, or any grade that they might have, and it’d just be annoying for him to have to put up with it. Ponting was yet to make his state debut but the local press were convinced he’d be Australian captain. Mind you, they said the same thing about Jamie Cox and he never played a game for Australia, let alone as captain. But Ponting did, and was made captain, a fact that the local newspapers celebrated years afterwards, for their prediction if nothing else.
After the failed opportunity to play with him, another friend told me that he was always at the Casino, and to go down there at certain times on certain nights and I would meet him. I actually went a few times but we could never meet him. We saw him, as he was there every night, but he shied away from the public.
I was resigned to never getting to meet him until, to my surprise, he turned up over my back fence. He wasn’t living in the same street as me and wasn’t my neighbour, but he lived in a house that shared a fence with me. We thought it might just be someone who looked like him, so my housemates took out their binoculars and spied on him. Ponting got pretty angry about that and called the police. We weren’t breaking any law, but they nonetheless confiscated our binoculars and told us to leave him alone.
I did meet him, though. One day, when I was working in the garden, he seemed to notice me there, and yelled out if his annoying neighbours were there. I said that I was there, and apologised, and tried to make amends, but to no avail. He told me to leave him the **** alone and ran inside. Soon afterwards, he moved.
The next one after that was David Boon. Our local bank was running a promotion in which David Boon would appear as the “celebrity bank manager”. It was my bank, just not the right branch. The conditions were that I had to apply for a home loan. So I went through the stages to apply for one, even though I didn’t have the money and had no intentions to get one. David Boon shook my hand then told me no autographs and to piss off and stop wasting his time, as it was for serious home loan applicants only.
The next one was Doug Bollinger. I was at my work Christmas party, which was held in a local restaurant that had windows that let everyone see from the outside. New South Wales were playing a T20 “KFC Big Bash” match the next night, in Burnie, and Doug Bollinger and the New South Wales players ran around looking for somewhere to drink. Bollinger poked his head into the pub, perhaps noticing that there were some 28 women and only 1 man (me) and some of them were quite pretty.
They had no idea who he was, in spite of my telling them, and they were busy flirting, when I decided to go up to him and introduce myself. Well, he ran. Don’t ask me why he ran, but he did. I don’t think I look scary or intimidating but he seemed to think I was one of the girls’ husband or at least boyfriends and was going to beat him up, so he ran into the street, so I ran after him, shouting out that I just wanted his autograph. Brett Lee met me and he was happy to provide an autograph, and asked me to say hello to him after the game.
I went to the game but Brett Lee must have forgotten, as I never saw him. I was meant to meet Dennis Lillee too, but he never showed up either.
That’s it for the list of famous cricketers I’ve met.
I had Jamie Cox over for lunch a few times, but he was never famous. Dene Hills too, and there was a guy called Greg Campbell who played a few matches for Australia, who was a friend of a friend.
I did meet several of Ricky Ponting’s family members later on. One of his nieces went to school with one of my sisters, but he refused to ever meet me properly. I got a message that he thought that my housemates were jerks, though, and he wasn’t entirely convinced that I wasn’t.
While I didn’t meet him personally, I did talk to Sunil Gavaskar via a Cricinfo live chat once. Cricinfo said it was Sunil Gavaskar, at least, and I am pretty sure they were telling the truth. That was during the 1999 World Cup when he was providing text commentary.
I also met women’s cricketer Shelley Nietschke a few times, as she was working with my step-mother. I even recorded one of the World Cups for her, and, as far as I know, she still has my video. We never really talked cricket, though, and in those days women’s cricket wasn’t a big deal.
They are kind of mini-celebrities, cricket players, but they are people too.
I’ve met a lot of other celebrities too, of probably the same level as these guys, but it is somehow different than meeting a famous international comedian for a 10 minute chat, or a famous singer or actor. I just try to treat them like normal people.
I still wish my housemates hadn’t spied on Ricky Ponting, though. I still feel bad about that.