'Everything we touched turned to gold'
While growing up did you have any idea how much of a trailblazer you'd be for Tasmanian cricket?
Not at all. When you're younger you have a dream that you'd love to represent your state and your country and you quietly go about trying to achieve that. As a kid I played footy [Aussie Rules] during the winter and cricket during the summer. When the big decision came I injured my knee and that was basically it for football, so I thought I'd concentrate on the cricket.
You got picked during a really low point for Australian cricket, with a lot of new players coming into the side. How was that?
It was difficult but it was something that we just learned to deal with. You have a lot of players learning about Test cricket instead of a gradual turnover, so it was really hard. There were a few retirements and then the South African [rebel tour] business, but I think it gave players who stayed in the side a resolve to really try to bring Australian cricket out of that. Later on I made a pact with AB [Allan Border] when we were selectors that we'd make every endeavour for that situation not to happen to Australia ever again, because it is devastating when it does. So it built a resolve for us to be hard, and then once we started succeeding, we resolved again to not let that feeling go.
The 1989 Ashes tour of England seemed to change everything. Is it still your fondest memory?
The special thing about '89 was that we won the Ashes back, and we did it in four Test matches. It was a tour where everything we touched turned to gold. It was a really hard, long tour: winning a Test match, playing a county game the next day, travel a day, play another county game, then straight into a Test match two days later for four months. So in that respect it was quite difficult, but I don't think we got beaten in a county game [they lost once, at Worcester] and we didn't lose a Test match, so it was unbelievable. The icing on the cake is that we won back the Ashes.
And what about four years later in 1993?
We played really good cricket over there. There was the usual "this side's not as good as '89" and so on, which always gave us a spur when we arrived in England. I made my first hundred in England at Lord's, which was really special. I'd gone close a few times in '89, but didn't quite get there. Then when I got out in the first Test at Old Trafford for 93, geez it annoyed me. But then to make three in a row, at Lord's, the home of cricket, Trent Bridge and Leeds, was quite unbelievable.
In between 1989 and 1993 you couldn't quite catch West Indies as the best side in the world. Why was that?
They were still really good. We were close a couple of times against them, once in Australia in 1992-93, and we just let things slip a little bit in the West Indies on the tour before, in 1990-91. But then in 1994-95 things just fell into place a bit more and the team started to really click again. Things went for us. When we won in Barbados we all felt "Geez, we've a sniff here at doing this". That Australian attitude we'd been building on for a while - let's give it a red-hot go, we're no longer underdogs, let's not think that way, let's think positive - that helped us win in Jamaica. Wow. We'd beaten the best team in the world that'd been dominating cricket for the last 18-20 years, and it was a fantastic feeling to be part of that. I had mixed feelings on the day, because AB, who had been fighting for this for so, so long, was in the Caribbean, commentating. He came into the dressing room and he was very excited, but I actually felt quite sad that he wasn't a part of the group who finally did that after all the years he'd been fighting for it.
At times between 1989 and 1994, many judges felt you were the best batsman in the world. What impact did that have on you?
It's nice to think that people thought of me in that way. But it all boils down to, every time you go out there you have to do the best you possibly can. That was the main thing that drove me: it wasn't to be the best batsman in the world, but I was striving to be the best batsman I can be, which is a subtle difference. If you get there and people think that of you, it's nice, but it's not the be all and end all.
There's a popular view that it has been more of a batsman's game in recent years. How do you look back on the attacks you faced?
I've always said to my wife that if I ever start bagging players in the modern game, shoot me, because it changes, and history says it gets better. Their fitness levels get better, the way they conduct themselves, their athleticism. It's all very different to how it used to be. All I can say is, there were some very, very good bowlers in my time and that it was a challenge to face.
When did you start thinking about retiring from internationals?
The one-day game started to change around 12 months before I retired [in 1996]. And I realised I'd started to struggle a bit, not so much in the batting but in the fielding and that was affecting everything. I remember [chairman of selectors] Trevor Hohns coming to me during that summer [1994-95] after I'd played a couple of one-dayers and saying, "Babsy, we're not sure about you, the game's changed and we're going to probably move on for the future." When he told me that, my heart sank. But when I sat down and analysed why, he was right.