'I don't want any leniency because of my age'
Brad Hogg has turned conventional cricketing logic on its head by accepting a one-year contract to play for Melbourne Renegades in the upcoming Big Bash League season at the age of 46. The former Australia left-arm wristspinner has enjoyed a fair bit of success in T20 cricket since he turned 40. Here he speaks about just what keeps him going at an age when most of his contemporaries have long moved on to a life beyond the game. Hogg reflects on why wristspin is making a strong impact on the modern game, his impressions of Kuldeep Yadav, and how he thinks the Ashes will turn out.
What drives you to go on at 46?
I just love the game, simple as that. I retired once before and regretted it. I was doing that to save a marriage, and that has been well documented. At the end of the day, if you love something and you can still do it and you are being given those opportunities, you have to take it with both hands. I just love the game of cricket. I want to keep playing until batsmen knock me out of the park and I don't get picked again, or my body just folds. I just want to make the most of my opportunities.
Physically, what are the challenges, especially off the field, while preparing for games?
At the end of the day, it is just keeping fit. I think whether I was playing or not, I would always want to keep myself fit.
Obviously, my batting is falling off because I don't spend enough time in the nets against good-quality bowling these days, and I don't get those opportunities because in T20 cricket if your top four don't make the majority of the runs, you are going to lose most games. So I just focus to make sure my bowling is right and my fielding is right and I am physically fit and keeping up with the younger fellas. As far as I am concerned, I don't want any leniency because of my age. If I am playing, I train as hard as the younger guys, and I have to pull my weight.
How have fellow players responded to having you around? Are they amazed at what you are able to do at this stage of your career?
When I walk into the change room, it is quite funny, you see younger guys who are 20 and you think, "Right, when I was 20, I was looking at these 35-year-olds and thinking, 'Well, how experienced are these guys.'
Yes, I am looking at these younger guys coming through and it is just a privilege to play with another generation of cricketers that are coming through. I still have the energy, I still have the love, I still am the guy that mucks around in the change room and has plenty of fun, so things haven't changed as far as that goes. In the team that I am playing, the Renegades, we have Brad Hodge, who is also over 40. So we've got an older brigade there and it's fun to mix the old with the new. I think it's a good mix as well, because the experience that Brad and myself have had throughout our careers, we can pass that on to the younger generation and it's good to be able to see where the younger guys are and how they are evolving and changing the game.
I am just amazed at where the younger players are taking the game. When I retired for those couple of years and I commentated, it was very easy to go out there and say, oh, he's not doing this or that, and you tended to forget how hard the game was. That was a great learning curve for me to come back and play the T20 format, and even the longer formats in lower-level cricket. You realise the game is not easy and you should lighten up on players and give a different view or give some positive criticism rather than taking the easy route and giving the negatives.
How would you compare the 46-year-old you to the 36-year-old you as a bowler?
I have a better head on my shoulders. When I was 36, physically I would have been a little bit better, a little bit looser. But I didn't have the mind that I have now. I didn't start bowling till I was 23-24, so I was still wet behind the ears about legspin bowling when I got to 30. I have probably learnt more over the last six years with my comeback than what I did on that initial journey. So if I look back and if I had the experience now when I was 30, obviously I would have been a different bowler. But you can't look back, you can't change things and I don't want to change things. At the end of the day life is about experiencing the ups and downs and making sure you adapt to those challenges, and take those challenges head on and find the answers to succeed.
Do you see yourself becoming a template of sorts for T20 players around the world in terms of what they can achieve even when they get older?
I don't think you compare yourself to other people or you hope that people aspire to achieve what you do. As far as I am concerned, I see myself as a role model as a sportsman. If it wasn't for the fans out there, the followers, we wouldn't have a game. For each individual that wants to pursue cricket, it is their own journey. They make what they want of it and it is up to them. The only advice I can give to anyone is that if you still want to do it, age is not a problem. If you have got that dream, just go ahead and do it, because you only live once. The motto that I am trying to have now is, "Train as though you are second, play as though you are first." I saw that the other day on Twitter and I think it is a very good quote!
Is the focus just on the BBL or are you looking at playing more cricket next year? IPL? CPL?
I am just focused on trying to get through this tournament first and seeing how the body is. I just don't want to let a team down. And when I mean let a team down, I mean physically. At this stage, I feel like I can physically do it. We've gone through everything with the management of the Renegades and that is why we have both agreed to play another year.
Look, it will be absolutely fantastic if I can play to 50, I do have that goal. But you do have to be realistic. At my age, something could happen just at the click of the fingers and you've got to accept that. You have to make sure you are prepared for it and make sure you have other things in line so that you can transition away.
There's a lot of talk about wristspin v fingerspin in limited-overs cricket these days. Do you believe wristspin is more impactful in the shorter formats?
I am always going to be biased. I think wristspin does have more impact. I think with the rules with offspinners that turn it the other way getting a little bit more stringent, I think that has taken the effect of offspin away and legspinners are starting to come back on the stage and dominate. I think that is a very good move. I am glad they have come out and been tougher. If you look at it, there are a lot of bowlers out there that bowl offspin that don't have the variety of turning the ball the other way but are still very successful, because they bowl a nice consistent line and length.
Wristspinners can turn the ball both ways. They also have the ability to skid the ball on, with backspinners and flippers and topspinners to get the extra bounce. Offspinners can do that too, but I think legspinners have more variety. For me, legspin is a better spectacle as well. I don't think we have seen a better bowler than Shane Warne - someone who was charismatic, had that attitude and flair. What he brought really gave a big impact to the promotion of the game of cricket.
Look, you've got Kuldeep and Chahal in the Indian team dominating. You've got Adam Zampa in the Australian team, who didn't have the best of series [against India], but grew in confidence. I just think legspin is the way to go, and if you look at the England Ashes squad, they have picked a young legspinner that hasn't really been proven in Mason Crane. And it's going to be interesting to see how he goes in Australia. Yasir Shah from Pakistan is just breaking records left right and centre, so legspinners from around the world are having a huge impact.
Talking about Kuldeep - he has credited you often for his progress. Do you see him as a more improved bowler now than when you first saw him?
It's nice for Kuldeep to mention my name but at the end of the day it is his career. He's worked hard for what he's got and he deserves everything he's got. He's got a great foundation for international cricket, and he's shown a lot of improvement as well, which is a great upside for India. The one thing he can learn from this series is that when he has tried to quicken the ball up, that's when he can be a little bit inconsistent, so that's something that he's got to work on.
Look, he's 22, he's got a long career ahead. He's got these little, subtle things he has to improve on, and that comes from core strength, from growth. He's still a young lad. I am expecting big things from Kuldeep. (I hope he's not listening!) He's got a long career ahead for India, if he wants it. He will find a way to improve on those weaknesses and that's the thing about Kuldeep - he's always looking to improve his game, and that's what I loved about him at Kolkata Knight Riders: he wants to be in the contest. There was a stage there where I was playing a couple of games, but he wanted that spot. He deserved that spot and he kicked me out of that spot. That's what the game is all about, new generations coming through.
What do you make of Australia's wristspin resources, especially in limited-overs cricket?
I think we've got depth in fast bowling and we've got some good spinners in Australia but they are not experienced. We probably lack experience in both the spinning departments and the middle order. They are probably the two areas that we need to look at improving in the near future.
Adam Zampa hasn't had a great series but the thing I love about him is he always likes being in a contest. He would be disappointed in the way he's performed over here, but he will come back from that, that's the type of character he is. At the end of the day, Australia have got to look for those answers. We have the talent, it is probably just the mental process that is letting us down. When we are under pressure, we seem to just fall away. That's a learning curve. When you are playing international cricket, you have to learn quickly. If you don't, someone else will get that opportunity. So those players who aren't in the team at the moment have got to be looking out where these guys are at the moment, where their flaws are, what they are doing wrong, and make sure they are preparing for an opportunity when they get it.
And to end, an Ashes prediction?
At the present moment, where England are, I think Australia should win it quite comfortably. England seem to have a fairly inexperienced batting line-up and they will rely heavily on the likes of Root, Cook and Ali. That inexperienced batting line-up might open some holes up for Australia.
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75