Shane’s first words after the introductions were: ‘Is there an ashtray handy?’ Australia’s budding leg spin champion was overweight and lacking discipline, says JACK POTTER
The third year of my contract as head coach at the Cricket Academy was momentous. National selector Jim Higgs rang and asked if we could fit in another young player from Melbourne. Higgs told me that the lad was a promising leg-break bowler but was overweight and had a problem with discipline. He’d also miss the start of the Academy year as he was in the UK.
Our program was already full but I agreed to an interview and two weeks after the Academy had begun work for the year, a rather chubby blond-headed fellow walked into my office and introduced himself. He was confident and charming and having shaken my hand, he immediately asked me: ‘Is there an ashtray handy?’ The kid’s name was Shane Warne, who was to become the finest in cricket history.
I told him I’d only agreed to see him as a favor and he needed to improve his fitness. He had one chance to impress and would be immediately dismissed if I had any problems with his behavior or attitude. As a long-time schoolteacher I’d had plenty of experience managing students who didn’t think the rules applied to them. I told him that if I ever caught him smoking he would no longer be at the Academy.
You should have seen the look on his face. Some of the other Academy kids and even some of the staff weren’t happy that Shane was admitted at the 11th hour. He hadn’t played in the Under 19 championships or any of the youth internationals with a touring English team. Why was this kid getting special treatment? We went into the indoor nets (at the Adelaide Oval) and I had him show me what he could do. Higgs was right. Warnie had genuine talent.
I told Shane that I was impressed by his leg breaks and the spin he put on the ball and asked had he thought about how was he planning to dismiss batsmen? To truly succeed, he’d need more in his repertoire. I showed him how to bowl other deliveries – the flipper, the top spinner and a back spinner, the ball that skidded straight on.
His first attempts went all over the place, but I said “keep working at it” and I’d see him again. To his credit, he practiced assiduously with a tennis ball in the passage of the guesthouse where the Academy boys were staying. A week or so later he asked me if I had time to see how he was going. I put on a baseball mitt and waited at the end of the practice nets, not really knowing what to expect. He pretty much had all the deliveries I’d shown him, with control. And they were hard to pick.
So many factors speeded Shane’s rise – Higgs’ initial recommendation, my willingness to let him into the Academy and show him what I knew about spin and the fact that I had been prepared to give (his ultimate coach) Terry Jenner a job after his release from prison. Most importantly, Shane had to be prepared to do the work – which he did. Shane worked hard at the Academy, but his time at the Academy wasn’t without its problems… and it was to end early. In the winter of 1990 we had arranged a trip to Darwin. The Northern Territory climate allowed for the preparation of good wickets. Turf matches were organised against a combined Northern Territory XI.
It was to be Shane’s first real test against reasonable opposition. Darwin was fairly hot and the day before the scheduled match I gave the lads a free day to go swimming and see some of the city. We were scheduled to meet after breakfast the following day. They got up to various boyish shenanigans and one of them had shown more of himself than was considered decent to a young lady at the pool. She was furious and demanded action be taken especially ‘against the blond one’.
On the morning of the match I met one-by-one with the three responsible, Shane, Greg Blewett and Warwick Adlam. Although they were all involved, the main culprit was Warnie, the oldest of the trio. ‘Touring cricketers don’t behave like this,’ I said. Our Academy was a government-funded program and the AIS and other sponsors could potentially withdraw their support should news of their indiscretion get into the papers.
I’m not sure Shane realised just how close he came to being expelled then and there…
Born Lucky, the story of Jack Potter, Australia’s finest 12th man is available for $60 posted from Ken Piesse and cricketbooks.com.au, PO Box 868 Mt Eliza, 3930, Vic. Ph 0419 549458