January 31, 2014

For the love of Aussie hard-cases

No country produces more leathery, ornery tough guys than Australia (which does not explain what Monty Panesar's doing in this XI)

"Dinner? No thanks, I just killed a python, ate it and rinsed my mouth out with some broken glass" © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

1. Kepler Wessels
Trained so hard to become a Test opening batsmen, he scored 162 on debut for Australia despite a) being South African, and b) batting like a lobster with a cramp. Later, as coach of Northamptonshire he made Monty Panesar bowl so many overs he didn't know how to do anything else.

2. Geoff Marsh
Installed a bowling machine in the shed of his wheat farm and had his wife feed him cricket balls that shot from the beast at 100mph. Marsh made sure never to anger his wife before training. A devotee of the punishing 10km road run (even though he'd already made the Test team) Marsh would sprint the full distance and would be disappointed if he wasn't vomiting by the end of it. A Bob Simpson Mini-Me, he ran coaching sessions for Australia and Zimbabwe and would be disappointed if his players weren't vomiting at the end of them.

3. Don Bradman
Hit the ball against the corrugated-iron water tanker in the New South Wales Southern Highlands town of Bowral for so long that he became the greatest batsman in the history of the game. Was a man who trained mind and body in a time when such things were considered "a bit out there", almost like voodoo.

4. Bobby Simpson
Took the mid-'80s Australian team from completely stone-motherless useless to World Cup winners in two and a bit seasons by making them run between wickets and throw at the stumps so long they dreamed of it in their sleep. Famously called Andrew Flintoff a word so rude that the big Lancastrian went on to win the Ashes for England. As a batsman Simpson was immune to barbs that he was more boring than Bill Lawry, once compiling 311 against England at Old Trafford in about 13 hours.

5. Viv Richards
During an ODI against Australia at the MCG in 1984, Richards was so incensed at the nonchalant fielding of Winston Davis that he ordered his fast bowler completely off the field. Dismissed while fielding - it takes a special cricketer, and an extremely hard taskmaster, to effect that mode of dismissal. If the Australians sledging ever became a bit much for the stocky Antiguan, Richards was not averse to offering to sort things out behind the sheds in a pugilistic fashion. Not many - indeed not any - took him up on it.

6. Allan Border (Captain)
Ol' Captain Grumpy. In the 1986 Tied Test, Border made Dean Jones stay out in the Madras heat, taunting him to "show some guts or we'll get 'Fat Cat' out here" - a reference to rotund Queenslander Greg Ritchie. Jones, though vomiting, dehydrated and cramping so bad he would be bent like a pretzel in the ambulance to hospital later, went on to score 210. On a tour match on the 1989 Ashes tour Border was unamused that fiery fast bowler Craig McDermott had sent down a succession of no-balls. When McDermott brushed him off he said: "I'm talking to you, %&^#$. Come here. You do that again and you are on the next plane home, son." Then Australia won the Ashes.

7. Steve Rixon
Coached NSW to five successive Sheffield Shield finals (winning three) before putting the Kiwis on a training regimen so hard they have made the World Cup semi-finals most tournaments since. Demanded that New Zealand selectors include a bespectacled orthodox spinner despite the fact he was only 18. Daniel Vettori has gone okay since. As a player, Rixon hit Dennis Lillee for six on the last ball of a day, and though it was in a Tooheys "How do you feel?" television advertisement it was still quite a hard task to master, especially as the "actors" had consumed several cans of the sponsor's product.

8. Brad Hogg
The world's oldest ever T20 player would still challenge most of the punks as beep-test champion. In his prime Hogg could outlast whippets like Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds in this brutal test of aerobic staying power. Hogg learned his training regimen from Geoff Marsh, who learned it from Bob Simpson, making Hogg the third generation of hard-training nutjobs to play for Australia.

9. Dennis Lillee
Supremely fit at a time when cricketers were as likely to smoke cigarettes as eat something during the lunch break, Lillee did so many road runs, his back spasmed like a broken Victa two-stroke lawnmower. His therapy? Train harder until he got really fit. Classic vision showing the great man attached to multiple heart monitors and oxygen machines, running on a treadmill like the Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin. On the field Lillee bowled lots and lots of overs, and kept bowling them, sometimes even after his captain wanted to give someone else a go. His appeals pretty much demanded umpires award them. Gave Javed Miandad a literal "kick up the arse". Played until he was 50. And I will always love him.

10. Monty Panesar
Bowled so much in the nets that he never learned to bat or field or run or swim or do push-ups or catch a bus or read the papers or pick up chicks.

11. Glenn McGrath
Ran up and down sand dunes near his southern Sydney home despite already being in the Australian team and having 500-odd Test wickets. In his early days "Pigeon" lived in a caravan and had a creed of "hitting the seam or whatever's in the way". Worked on his batting so hard that he scored 61 in a Test match, with a technique like a frightened praying mantis.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here