Jack Potter April 25, 2013

'I'd cancel everything to watch Clarke make a century'

Victoria batsman Jack Potter looks back at Shield cricket in the '60s, the young Shane Warne, and his experiences on the fringes of the Test side

When I first met Shane Warne, with that wide smile and genuine handshake of his, I wondered if this kid was simply too good to be true. "Either he's a really nice guy or a conman," I thought to myself.

I was 29 when I retired. People didn't go on much after that, unless they were playing Test cricket, and even then contemporaries like [Bob] Cowper and [Paul] Sheahan stopped early.

It was a thrill to captain Victoria to the Sheffield Shield in 1966-67. That was the year Bill Lawry and the Australian team were away in South Africa. I don't think the selectors or anyone else expected us to win a game. Six of our boys were new to interstate cricket. In our first match against Western Australia in Perth I got them all together after training and told them how 12 cricketers from Victoria were far better than anyone they had over here in Perth and we took the [first-innings] points. And they had [Tony] Lock, [Laurie] Mayne and a pretty fair side. Against South Australia I won the toss and sent them in. Les Favell [SA's captain] said to me: "You won't get a hit!" They made 360-odd but we beat them [with a first-innings lead].

One of the worst decisions I ever saw was at Edgbaston in 2005, when Ricky Ponting sent England in to bat on a belter when his best fast bowler [Glenn McGrath] had just been stretchered off in the warm-ups. Ponting the captain lacked the flair and imagination of [Michael] Clarke. Captains need to take a punt occasionally and be imaginative and ahead of the game. I never thought Ricky was.

Not everyone was happy when I got my first and only four-for in Shield cricket [in 1961-62]. It was about 4:30pm on a hot opening afternoon in Brisbane and the Phantom [Victoria's captain, Bill Lawry] decided to take the second newie to try and finish the Queensland innings off as the spinners were getting nowhere. In his second or third over Ian Meckiff broke down. Colin Guest was at the other end and Phant had no one else to bowl mediums. It was about 5pm by now and Bill came up to me and said: "You know that shit you bowl in the nets? Those little innies and outies? Just tie down an end and we'll finish 'em off in the morning. We don't want to bat tonight against Wes [Hall]." Never give a part-time bowler a new ball in heavy atmospheric conditions and ask him just to tie an end down. The bloody thing was swinging everywhere and I got four wickets in four overs and we bowled 'em out with 12 minutes left to play. It meant Bill, and Dave Anderson from my club Fitzroy, had to go out to face one over from Wes and you don't want to know: Lawry c Burge b Hall 0 and stumps! I was Bill's vice-captain but I reckon it took about a month for him to talk to me again.

One of the biggest thrills was being made captain of the Fitzroy team of the century, which, to me, was an unbelievable honour given to a galaxy of stars from the Harvey brothers through to Bill Jacobs.

I'll never forget batting with Simmo [Bob Simpson] on a turner one day [on the 1964 Ashes tour] and I was doing all I could just to stay in. At the other end Simmo was stroking them effortlessly. He was another level up on me. I was relating this story to one of my old club team-mates, Bill Heller, one day and he said that's the way he felt when he was at the other end to me!

Technique seems to have been forgotten among many batsmen I see, especially when playing against spin. If a young Neil Harvey was so successful by practising every night, skipping down the wicket and getting the ball on the full before it had a chance to bounce and spin, why aren't kids doing it every session? Victoria's Keith Kirby was bowling against him once in a Shield game. Harv was past his best but he still took the first four on the full and hit them wide of mid-on and wide of cover. Shorter deliveries inevitably followed and away he went, cutting and pulling.

I told Warne once: "Shane don't ever let me catch you smoking." He said: "Jack, you will never catch me smoking!" And I didn't.

"I told Warne once: 'Shane don't ever let me catch you smoking.' He said: 'Jack, you will never catch me smoking!' And I didn't"

I never thought I was anything but an average player. On a few occasions it all came together like in that 200 I got against New South Wales.

I was 12th man three times for Australia. I was on the field for about 15 minutes against the South Africans in Melbourne [in 1963-64] and Trevor Goddard took a quick single in my direction at midwicket. The ball bounced perfectly into my hands and I was able to flick it quickly back to Griz [Wally Grout] and he ran Eddie Barlow out. I came back into the dressing room feeling pretty pleased about myself and Sir Donald Bradman was in the viewing area. Instead of passing on his congratulations the Don said I'd ruined the match - Barlow was their top player and he wanted a contest so the crowds would come!

I'd cancel fishing, everything, if I knew Michael Clarke was going to make a century. He is a beautiful player who has lifted a notch since becoming captain. People say he's hiding at No. 5. I don't agree. I think his best is better than Ricky Ponting's, especially against the very best attacks, like the South Africans.

In 1982, I made the best Victorian post-war team.

I'm 75 this year. People say: "Why are you working?" Because I have to work. When Shane Warne came to England and signed with Hampshire, he was on a million pounds-plus. We got $7 a day. Prominent Test players like Alan Connolly, Neil Harvey and Col McDonald are all on pensions. Those past players have set it up for the current players. I'm disappointed Cricket Australia and the players' association don't always look after players who suffer relatively hard times.

After the fifth Ashes Test in 1964, we went across to the Hague to play a friendly. It was a matting wicket and it hadn't been laid really tight and I was hit by a short one. I went for the pull shot, was too early and it hit me flush on my right temple. No helmets back then, of course. There was this very loud noise in my head. The Indian balls they used in Holland that day broke five of the Aussie bats - as well as my head. I suffered a hairline fracture of the skull, and while the others went off I had to stay in London. My face had dropped on one side, causing me to dribble and slur. During the treatment the Harley Street specialist told me I wasn't going back home until I could say "Massachusetts Institution" without slurring. I didn't get back to Melbourne until November.

We started the Australian Cricket Academy from nothing. We treated them like Olympic athletes and not all liked it. Western Australia didn't send anyone at all in the first year. Victoria sent fringe players rather than their best younger ones, but once these fellas got into first-class cricket everything changed and we had to knock a lot back. The academy boys were all terrific kids. I'm not only proud of what they have done on the cricket field but proud of what they are doing now. Slats [Michael Slater] is a natural with his commentary. Stuart Law is now a senior coach at the Centre of Excellence. Jamie Cox also built an outstanding record at Shield level. And he captained Somerset and did really well. Justin Langer is coaching WA. When I first saw him, he'd hit everything in front of square leg. But he worked very hard to play straighter and his technique improved greatly.

Coaches always have to give themselves a get-out clause. Especially with a player like Warnie: you can't afford to say two strikes and you're out. He could have had ten strikes!

There are a million runs on the leg side. Most of the kids I coach can't play on the leg side at all. They miss so many opportunities. When playing off your legs, play it off your left pad. That left pad must be behind the ball. If it is, it means your eyes are behind it.

In my final match I made 82 and 105 not out against NSW. In the second innings I came in when Les Joslin was 48 and I beat him to a hundred. Les got into an Australian [touring] side that year. I thought I won't hit them any better than this, so I retired. I'd first played for Victoria at 18 and had enough.

We'd won two from two in the Sheffield Shield in 1966-67 and all of a sudden thought we had a chance. Back in Melbourne we beat WA outright, but only just. Writing in the local paper - Melbourne Sun - cricket writer Kevin Hogan said something like "Ten points but no praise for Victoria". I went on World of Sport and ripped into him. This was a new team and we'd beaten WA twice. The next day's Sun ran a big picture and then a story about us the following day as well.

Right-handers, when playing off the back foot, must be in a position to be hit on the left nipple - if a ball is to suddenly rise. They must learn where their off stump is - and learn to let the ball go. I didn't do this enough when I played.

Warne had this most magnificent legbreak but little else. I told him the good players would wait and pick him off and he needed to develop a straighter ball for lbws. I showed him the flipper and you could see his eyes widening. He'd never considered such a thing. Initially when he tried to bowl one it was hitting the side of the net, the roof, everything, and he said to me: "I'll never be able to bowl this." If anyone from the media had seen him, they would have wondered what was going on. We kept it really quiet. But when he realised there was a sniff of success, he worked and worked at it.

Cricket writer and commentator Ken Piesse runs a new and secondhand cricket books website

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on April 25, 2013, 14:56 GMT

    A top bloke and a big personal influence, even a decade on from being coached by him, his book is re-read at the start of each summer to get me into a decent frame of mind. As a coach, I regularly lend my copy of 'The Winning Edge' to young players wanting to improve their mental approach to cricket

  • Meety on April 26, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    Good article. Interesting about the get out clause, sort of flies in the face of modern man management!

  • HLANGL on April 25, 2013, 20:10 GMT

    "I think his best is better than Ricky Ponting's, especially against the very best attacks, ...." Hmmm, not sure.... Clerke may be a superb player, true, but Ponting had been one of the greatest players in the trade who could be slotted even in any all time XI without any hesitation. To me, with all due respect to Clerke, Ponting at his best wouldn't be surpassed by that of Clerke's. It's pretty unfortunate that people tend to judge Ricky Ponting based on the performances in his twilight years & the few Ashes defeats. To me, he deserves much better than that. Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting have been the 3 most complete players during recent times thought there had been quite a several other players like Adam Gilchrist, Shewag, Saeed Anwar, Sanath J'ya, Kevin Peterson, etc. who had got very special skills and could surpass anyone on their day. But none could match Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting if the overal combination [ flair + Influentiality + overall longterm consistency ] is concerned.

  • Gloucsfan on April 25, 2013, 16:20 GMT

    Excellent article, well done

  • on April 25, 2013, 13:18 GMT

    The former ACA head former sounds like a fabulous chap. Can you ever imagine Pat Howard talking about cricket in such a knowledgeable thoughtful way? Never.

  • Vivek.Bhandari on April 25, 2013, 10:13 GMT

    Nice article; and good to see Cricinfo journalists scaling the length and breadths of their respective countries to cover even non Test playing cricketers

  • on April 25, 2013, 14:56 GMT

    A top bloke and a big personal influence, even a decade on from being coached by him, his book is re-read at the start of each summer to get me into a decent frame of mind. As a coach, I regularly lend my copy of 'The Winning Edge' to young players wanting to improve their mental approach to cricket

  • Meety on April 26, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    Good article. Interesting about the get out clause, sort of flies in the face of modern man management!

  • HLANGL on April 25, 2013, 20:10 GMT

    "I think his best is better than Ricky Ponting's, especially against the very best attacks, ...." Hmmm, not sure.... Clerke may be a superb player, true, but Ponting had been one of the greatest players in the trade who could be slotted even in any all time XI without any hesitation. To me, with all due respect to Clerke, Ponting at his best wouldn't be surpassed by that of Clerke's. It's pretty unfortunate that people tend to judge Ricky Ponting based on the performances in his twilight years & the few Ashes defeats. To me, he deserves much better than that. Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting have been the 3 most complete players during recent times thought there had been quite a several other players like Adam Gilchrist, Shewag, Saeed Anwar, Sanath J'ya, Kevin Peterson, etc. who had got very special skills and could surpass anyone on their day. But none could match Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting if the overal combination [ flair + Influentiality + overall longterm consistency ] is concerned.

  • Gloucsfan on April 25, 2013, 16:20 GMT

    Excellent article, well done

  • on April 25, 2013, 13:18 GMT

    The former ACA head former sounds like a fabulous chap. Can you ever imagine Pat Howard talking about cricket in such a knowledgeable thoughtful way? Never.

  • Vivek.Bhandari on April 25, 2013, 10:13 GMT

    Nice article; and good to see Cricinfo journalists scaling the length and breadths of their respective countries to cover even non Test playing cricketers

  • Vivek.Bhandari on April 25, 2013, 10:13 GMT

    Nice article; and good to see Cricinfo journalists scaling the length and breadths of their respective countries to cover even non Test playing cricketers

  • on April 25, 2013, 13:18 GMT

    The former ACA head former sounds like a fabulous chap. Can you ever imagine Pat Howard talking about cricket in such a knowledgeable thoughtful way? Never.

  • Gloucsfan on April 25, 2013, 16:20 GMT

    Excellent article, well done

  • HLANGL on April 25, 2013, 20:10 GMT

    "I think his best is better than Ricky Ponting's, especially against the very best attacks, ...." Hmmm, not sure.... Clerke may be a superb player, true, but Ponting had been one of the greatest players in the trade who could be slotted even in any all time XI without any hesitation. To me, with all due respect to Clerke, Ponting at his best wouldn't be surpassed by that of Clerke's. It's pretty unfortunate that people tend to judge Ricky Ponting based on the performances in his twilight years & the few Ashes defeats. To me, he deserves much better than that. Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting have been the 3 most complete players during recent times thought there had been quite a several other players like Adam Gilchrist, Shewag, Saeed Anwar, Sanath J'ya, Kevin Peterson, etc. who had got very special skills and could surpass anyone on their day. But none could match Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting if the overal combination [ flair + Influentiality + overall longterm consistency ] is concerned.

  • Meety on April 26, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    Good article. Interesting about the get out clause, sort of flies in the face of modern man management!

  • on April 25, 2013, 14:56 GMT

    A top bloke and a big personal influence, even a decade on from being coached by him, his book is re-read at the start of each summer to get me into a decent frame of mind. As a coach, I regularly lend my copy of 'The Winning Edge' to young players wanting to improve their mental approach to cricket