In another one of those ‘phone calls that change your life’, I was asked at fairly short notice to do a short trip as team doctor to the Australian ODI cricket team in the UAE where they were due to play games against Pakistan and Afghanistan. Cricket was my first love as a teenager and like many others I had dreamt of playing for Australia, but despite my cricket background I had never worked in cricket. Just the way things worked out. I had just finished at Liverpool so I was free to accept their offer.
It was a great trip, good bunch of players and coaches. Mickey Arthur was the coach and he made me very welcome. It was also a good chance to get to know long time cricket pysio Alex Kountouris whom I had met but didn’t know well. As it turned out it was my only trip with two legends of Australian cricket, Justin Langer who was batting coach at the time and Mr Cricket Mike Hussey who was on his last international trip – what a pity he retired so early! It was always good to catch up with those two around the trasps over the next few years.
The series itself was a bit strange. It was the hottest time of the year so we played all the games at night – even starting one T20 game at midnight – weird. The tour also involved Australia’s first even international atch agaginst Afghanistan. Amazing when you think about what was going on in the country at the time. We won the series agagnst Pakistan so I was privileged to be part of the famous Aussie cricket song which I discovered was sung after every Test match victory but only after a series victory in ODI cricket.
Towards the end of the tour I was asked if I would be available to do some more tours. Up until that time, the Australian cricket team, amazingly enough, had never had a permanent doctor and relied upon a group of half a dozen state team doctors to cover tours. Every position in the support staff was filled on a permanent basis except the doctor which I thought sent a bad message about the relative importance of the doctor within the team. I responded to their request by saying that it would be very difficult to fit cricket tours of 1-2-3 months around a full time position, but it would be easier to fit in the rest of my life around a full time cricket job. The team hierarchy were a bit shocked by that at first, but soon warmed to the idea and by the time the tour had finished, I was signed up to be the first full time Australian cricket team doctor. Interestngly at that time they did not want a permanent doctor for the home series as this was a perk given to each state doctor in his or her home test, so I sat out the summer series of 2012-13 and joined the team next in for their tour of India in February 2013.
The 2013 tour of India which has ever since been known as the ‘Homework tour’ was one of the most controversial in Australian cricket history. On the field it was mostly poor. Apart from Michael Clarke our bastmen didn’t cope well with the Indian spinners Ashwin and Jadeja, whereas the Indian batsmen Pujara, Kohli, Dhoni, Murali Vijay and Dharwan all reeled off big scores. There were some strange innings with Mitchell Starc belting his way to a 99 in the Chandigarh test, and Sids making a pair of 50 in the last test – the first no 9 batsman to do so.. But the tour will forever be known for the suspension of four players Watson, Johnson, Maxwell and Pattinson for failing to do a ‘homework’ task set by coach Mickey Arthur. They all missed the third test and then ironically Watson returned in the fourth as captain due to Michael Clarke’s back injury.
The next commitment for the Australian team was the 2013 Champions Trophy in England, to be followed immediately by an Ashes campaign., I was not on duty for the Champions Trophy tournament which did not go well with Australia eliminated after the group stage.
I arrived at the team hotel in London for the start of The Ashes campaign to be greeted with the news that Mickey Arthur had been sacked that day and was to be replaced by Darren ‘Boof’ Lehmann. That was certainly a worry for me. Mickey had been a big supporter of mine and I had never met Boof although I had heard that he thought we had too many support staff and certainly they had not travelled with a doctor in his playing days. Everyone felt a bit sorry for Mickey who is a great guy, but that is the world of elite sport. You are judged on your record and the Champions trophy disaster following on from the India debacle meant the end for Mickey.
Boof was planning a family holiday and then all of a sudden he was coach of Australia
The first Test at Trent Bridge was highlighted by the best ever innings by a No 11 batsman. Ashton Agar was a surprise selection instead of Nathan Lyon but it was as a batsman that he made his mark with 98 as part of a remarkable partnership with Phil Hughes that gave us a chance of victory. Unfortunately we finished 14 runs short in a great test match.
Then it was on to Lords which was a real thrill for me. I had been on tours of the famous ground before, but this was special looking up at all the names on the honour boards in the tiny change rooms, sitting on the players balcony that I had seen so manty times on TV, walking through the Long Room, and meeting Her Majesty.
The match itself was disappointing as we were comprehensively beaten after being bowled out for 128 in our first innings. Down 2-0 we had to win at Old Trafford to keep the series alive and we were in a strong position with England chasing over 300 and three down when the rain came on the final day and washed out our chance of a win.
We then lost the fourth Test at Durham when we were set 299 to win and fell 70 odd short. Disappointing. We played much better at The Oval which saw a Watto ton and Steve Smith’s hitting Jonathan Trott for six to bring up his maiden test century. Having been on top for most of the Test Clarke made a more than generous declaration in a desperate attempt to win a Test and in the end only bad light prevented KP and England from snatching a remarkable victory.
So we lost the series 3-0 although to us it seemed closer than that. We could easily have won at Trent Bridge and I am sure we would have won but for the rain at Old Trafford. Then we dominated the fifth test until the very last session. That was not the end of the tour as we had a ODI series to go. Two of the five games were washed out and it was one all coming into the final match at Southampton. Two magnificent innings from Watson and Clarke and some good bowling from Mitch Johnson (who had not been selected for the Test series) saw us home by 50 odd runs. Mitch’s bowling certtainly worried the Poms and we were looking forward to taking then on on home soil a few months later.
One Day Internationals
There were lots of memorable moments on that tour.
As well as my doctor role I was quizmaster, ran the footy tipping competition, organised trips to football matches at Wembley and Stamford Bridge.
At the end of the Old Trafford Test, the team came back to my apartment in Liverpool and we had a BBQ on the balcony. Later that night we headed to The Cavern Club where the Beatles played 292 times before they became famous. Watto took the stage with his guitar and became another famous name to have played the Cavern Club.
By a quirk of ICC scheduling, we hosted the Poms only a few months later. And what a difference those few months made. A team which had lost 3-0 in England, white washed England 5-0 in a series that will be remembered for a long time. Seldom has the Australian cricketing public enjoyed a summed so much. The series will be particularly remembered as Mitchell Johnson’s summer. He along with Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle terrorised the England batsmen.
The most amazing thing about the summer from my point of view was that we managed to play the same XI in each Test. That is a massive load for the quick bowlers, but fortunately we finished a couple of the Tests early so they got some extra rest. Nevertheless it was a tribute to the support staff that they all got through the summer.
This XI were Warner, Rogers, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Bailey, Haddin, Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Lyon.
There were so many highlights, Brad Haddin‘s batting would have got him man of the series any other year but Mitch’s, Clarke and Warner’s Brisbane tons set up our win, Mitch’s 7/40 on a flat track in Adelaide, the moment we got The Ashes back in Perth, ninety thousand plus at the G on Boxing day, Buck’s ton at the G, and the celebration at the end of Pink Day in Sydney where we clinched the series 5-0. What a summer!
The ODI series after an Ashes tour is usually an anti-climax – I think the ODIs should be played before the Tests – but this series was memorable for the most remarkable ODI win of my time with the team. In the second ODI in Brisbane we were 9/244 chasing England’s tally of a round 300 - due in no small part to a great century from Eoin Morgan – when last man Clint McKay strode out to join Jimmy Faulkner. Jimmy took over and smacked the England bowlers around the Gabba while protecting Clint from the strike. Cocko (as he is affectionate y known) scored the last 25 runs needed in 7 balls to get us over the line with three balls to spare. One of the great ODI wins of all time. I will never forget the famous New Years Day win with Michael Bevan hitting Roger Harper for 4 off the last ball in 1996, but I reckon this was just as good. And I was part of it (so maybe I am biased)!!
We won that series 4-1 and the poor old Poms headed home with their tails between their legs. There was no rest for us thought as our tired team headed straight to South Africa
This was another cracking series with us winning the first of the three Tests at Centurion thanks to centuries from Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith and a remarkable 12 wickets for Mitch. Just as we had dominated the first Test, the South Africans smashed us in the second Test at Port Elizabeth setting up a classic final Test in the magnificent venue of Cape Town.
Our problem by this stage was that our bowlers in particular were in their last legs especially Ryan Harris with his long history of injury problems who was playing his eighth Test of the summer. This was the best Test match of my time with the team. Our first innings set up the victory with a slashing ton from Davey Warner and the gutsiest innings I have ever seen from our skipper. Michael Clarke was hit numerous times on the body during ferocious spell of bowling from Morne Morkel. At the end of day 1 he had somehow stayed out there and got to 91 not out. He spent all night in the physio room icing his battered body regularly. It subsequently turned out that he had a crack in one of the shoulder bones as well as widespread bruising. But he got out there the next day and continued on to finish 161 not out. Incredible.
We declared at 7/494 then got the South Africans out for 287 with Harris and Johnson taking 7 between them. Time was now our enemy so we declared at 5/303 after another cracking Warner century leaving the South Africans the imposing taly of 511 to win and us with four sessions to bowl them out. We started well and had them 4/71 at stumps on Day 4. On Day 5 the Safas mounted some strong resistance with Philander and Steyn looking like they would hold on for a draw. With five overs remaining and two wickets to get, Ryno was given the ball again. He was exhausted and his knee was so bad I had drained 30mls of fluid out of it at lunchtime. Somehow he summoned up the energy to bowl Steyn with his first ball – a beautiful yorker - then three balls later knocked Morne Morkel’s off stump out of the ground to give us a win in South Africa against the Number 1 ranked Test nation. It was a beautiful moment and those of us in the dressing room went beserk. What a Test match. What a performance to take us to the Number 1 spot in the Test rankings.
Our next tour was to Zimbabwe in August 2014 for a triangular ODI series with the hosts and South Africa. Not a great tour for us with an embarrassing loss to Zimbabwe in one of the games and a comprehensive loss to South Africa in the Final.
Then it was back home for an ODI series against South Africa. With both teams getting ready for the World Cup a few months later this was an important series for us and we played well winning the series 4-1 with Steve Smith the deserved Player of the Series.
After the South Africa series we had a few days off at home before assembling in Brisbane for the Border-Gavaskar trophy series against India. I came out of a meeting in Melbourne and turned my phone on to find a message from my youngest son who was in New York saying ‘what’s happened to Phil Hughes. It sounds bad’. I then found out that Phil had been hit in the head while batting in a Shield match at the SCG and had been taken off to hospital apparently unconscious.
I jumped into my car, headed straight to the airport and caught the first flight to Sydney. I had been in touch with NSW team doctor John Orchard and went straight from the airport to St Vincents Hospital where Phil had been taken. John met me there and filled me in on the details. Phil has suffered a vertebral artery dissection, a condition I have to admit that I did not know much about. That was certainly to change very quickly!
John had dome a magnificent job resuscitating Phil on the field but by this time he was distressed and exhausted. He needed a break, so I sent him home and took on the job of co-ordinating communications between the hospital, Phil’s family and the cricket community. Phil’s mother and sister had been at the game and were now at the hospital as was Michael Clarke who was especially close to ‘his little brother’. Later we were joined by Phil’s father and brother as well as his manager James Henderson.
The news from the doctors was not good. Phil had a significant bleed into his brain and they had to take him to surgery to alleviate the pressure on the brain. The pressure was stable at that time, but the next 12 hours was crucial. I stayed on the Intensive Care ward that night getting a couple of hours sleep on a chair in the waiting room. Early that morning there still seemed to be some hope but during the morning the pressure in the brain started to increase again and by lunchtime it was clear that Phil was not going to make it. The doctors told the family in the early afternoon that Phil was in effect brain dead and that he would not survive.
The incident had a massive impact on the Australian public and the media were anxious for updates which I provided twice a day. All I could basically say at that stage was that he remained unconscious and there had been no improvement.
The doctors told the family that they could have as much time as they liked to say their goodbyes to Phil who was their adored son and brother and seemed to be the focus around which the family existed. Michael Clarke was a tower of strength and support for the family over this period. He was a constant presence, calm, supportive, caring. Quite remarkable.
One of my other jobs over this period was to liaise with the cricket community. I well remember two difficult phone hookups that night, one with the CA Board and the other with Phil ’s South Australian team mates who had returned to Adelaide after the abandonment of the Shield match. None of them were really aware of how serious the injury was and when I told both groups that he was not going to make it, I was aware of a stunned silence on numerous phones around the country.
Phul Hughes was a much loved team mate and oponnent in the cricket community. I would venture to say if there had been a poll among cricketers on who was the most loved cricketer in Australia, “Hugh’ would have won it easily. He was always smiling, friendly, happy and caring towards his team mates. I remember when we played a tour game at Worcester in 2013 where Phil had played some county cricket, it was clear that everyone in the place just loved him.
The next morning Phil’s team mates all came to the hospital and I ushered them into Phil’s room in the ICU two at a time to say their farewells. Most of these young men had never seen death and never known a friend to have died. It was a traumatic experience for them all and yet most said they were glad they had had the chance. Finally early in the afternoon the family said good bye for the last time and the life support system was turned off. Phil passed away peacefully.
Then it was time for one last press conference. I suggested that Pup might like to speak on behalf of the family and together we all composed his speech which ultimately he did very courageously. It can’t have been easy to talk about his ‘little brother’ so soon after his death. I asked to speak at the press conference for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to explain a little bit about the injury. Secondly I wanted to thank the SCG, emergency and St Vincent’s staff who had all been magnificent. Thirdly I wanted to de-bunk a story that was going around saying that the reason Phil died was that the ambulance was slow to get there. While there was a slight delay in the ambulance being called, Phil was getting excellent medical care at the ground and the ambulance issue was irrelevant. The fourth issue was that I wanted to make people aware of how magnificent Michael Clarke had been over the previous 48 hours. Michael had probably not been the most loved Australian captain ever, but he certainly rose to the occasion in this incredibly difficult situation. Finally and probably most importantly I wanted to reassure the Australian cricketing community that this was a freakish accident, that it was not going to happen to them or their loved one next time he or she played cricket, and that cricket was basically a very safe sport. I must admit I was struggling to hold it together by this stage but got though the conference without completely falling apart.
After that I walked over to the SCG with Jasmes Suthertland and Pat Howard who had both been very supportive of me personally over that time. The cricket community had gathered in the Long Room to share their grief. A number of them went out to the pitch to spend time at the spot that Phil had fallen. I realised that there was still a big job in front of us when one of the country’s senior players came up to me and said
‘Doc, you’ve got to keep telling us it was a freakish accident and that it won’t happen to us, or else we can’t go on”.
Having not really slept for 48 hours and trying to hold things together for everyone else, I struggled a bit that evening, especially when I got a call from the USA from one of my sons who I realised was almost exactly the same age as Hughesy. I started to think what it would be like to lose a child and felt even sadder for the Hughes family.
There was the slight matter of a Test series that was supposed to start a few days later in Brisbane. In fact that day after Phil died we were all supposed to gather in Brisbane to commence our preparation. That morning we all gathered in the change room at the SCG and I once again went through the circumstances of the accident and tried to reassure the players of the freakish nature of the injury and how rare it was. The players then discussed whether they could play the Test match in Brisbane as scheduled. It soon became clear that there was no way they could play at least until after the funeral which was likely to be after the due start of the First Test.
After that meeting Pup and I went back to see the Hughes family again and start planning the funeral. As the funeral was not to be for a few days, we all went home. I had a group of the Victorian players around to my house one evening to talk through the accident and encourage them to talk. We swapped Hughesy stories and had a laugh – there were lots of stories!!
We all then headed up to Macksville in country NSW to the funeral which became a massive nationally televised event. Once again Michael Clarke performed magnificently with a beautiful speech, but it was a tough day for all of us.
The next day we said goodbye to our partners and headed to Adelaide. The first two Test matches had been re-arranged and we were going to play the Adelaide Test before the Brisbane one. Nevertherless it was a big ask to get these distraught players ready for a Test match in a few days time.
In fact on our first training day in Adelaide, most of the players just could not get out and bat. Some who did only lasted a few balls, and I remember thinking there is no way we are going to be ready to play in three days. However things gradually got better and we fronted up on day 1 in Adelaide. It was such an emotional occasion with 408 Phil’s Test number prominent on the turf and a tribute to Phil at the start of the match which left everyone with tears in their eyes including the batsmen who were about to go out and face the Indian pace bowlers. The batsmen did an amazing job and I have always found it interesting that the three players closest to Phil – Davey, Smudge and Pup - all scored centuries. An incredibly emotional day.
Then when it was our turn to bowl, Mitch Johnson hit the Indian star batsman Virat Kohli on the helmet first ball. There was an eerie silence around the ground until it became clear that no harm had been done but I think that incident affected Mitch quite a lot. I don’t think he ever bowled with as much aggression again.
And then we pulled off an amazing victory at the last minute which seemed very appropriate. Lyono ripped thought the Indian batsmen on that fifth day. Normally when we sing the victory song after the game we gather around the pitch, but this time it was around the 408 sign on the turf. Once again not a dry eye in the place.
Phil’s death cast a shadow over the whole summer and to be honest I don’t remember much about the India series except that Michael Clarke tore his hamstring tendon in Adelaide and missed the remaining Tests with Steve Smith surprisingly preferred to Brad Haddin as the replacement captain. I had my doubts at the time but it turned out to be an inspired decision and Steve really grew into the job. It was an audition for the future and he passed with flying colours. We won the Second Test and then had the better of two draws in Melbourne and Sydney, so won back the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
World Cup 2015
The story for the summer was whether Michael Clarke would recover in time to lead Australia into the home World Cup. It was a tight timeline. Michael tore his intramuscular hamstring tendon nine weeks before the start of the World Cup. He needed surgery to repair the tendon and then a comprehensive rehab program. The selectors did not give him much leeway and said that he needed to play our second WC match or else he would not be picked. So we aimed for that game against Bangladesh in Brisbane. Ironically the game was washed out, but Michael was ready to play and played our third game with no further problems. All credit to the physio and fitness staff, as well as Michael’s single minded determination.
The 2015 World Cup was a marathon with six pool games then a quarter final, semi final and final. For us it started with a win at the MCG against an England tram that did not progress past the group stage and finished at the same venue six weeks later against New Zealand. For me there were two key moments.
One was our loss to New Zealand at Eden Park with the Kiwis hitting Paddy Cummins for six off the last ball. They always say you learn more from a loss than a win and I think we learnt a lot from that loss, changed things around a little, decided to build the innings a bit more slowly at first instead of coming out all guns blazing from the first ball. The aim was to get to 150+ after 30 overs with plenty of wickets in hand and then accelerate from there.
The second was in Adelaide when we were heading for defeat against Pakistan with Wahab Riaz bowling an inspired spell and peppering Shane Watson with bouncers. Watto was magnificent and finished 64 not out seeing us through to victory, but it could have been so different if the Pakistanis had not dropped a sitter off Watto at fine leg early in his innings. I was sitting with Michael Clarke at the time and we both made the comment paraphrasing the famous Steve Waugh line to Herschelle Gibbs from 1999 ‘they’ve just dropped the World Cup’.
The game of the World Cup was undoubtedly the semi final between South Africa and New Zealand. We obviously had a vested interest in the result as we were due to play the winners and we were pretty happy when the New Zealanders pulled off an incredible victory in arguably the best ODI ever played (maybe second to the SF in 1999!!). We were pretty confident of beating NZ at the G in front of 90,000 Aussies.
The only real threat that could stop us winning the trophy was if NZ captain Brendon McCullum got going and scored one of his trademark whirlwind centuries. So from the moment when Mitch Stark sent McCullum’s bails flying in the first over we were always going to win. They reckon that wicket led to the greatest roar in the history of the MCG – everyone there that day knew how important that was - and once again Mitch had delivered for us. He was appropriately awarded the Player of the World Cup.
The WC had indeed been a marathon but we had prepared very well and had an even team. No one player stood out, each player seemed to perform at least once when we really needed them. There was a great spirit in the team and much credit must go to Boof and his coaching team.
West Indies 2015
After the excitement of the ODI World Cup, it was back to Test cricket and two challenging tours, the first to the West Indies for two Tests . The first Test was in Domenica a tiny place with with a cricket stadium built for them by the Chinese – bizarre.
Prior to the game I had to rule our Chris Rogers with concussion following a fairly innocuous blow on the helmet at training. Chris had some symptoms, but wasn’t too happy when I told him he couldn’t play – although he did admit a day or two later that he ‘wasn’t right’. He finished up not being right for the second test either.
We won both the Tests pretty easily with Adam Voges joining the select band of Australians who made a century on debut in Domenica and then Steve Smith making a magnificent 199 in a comfortable victory in Kingston Jamaica. In both Tests our pace trio of Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood kept the Windies to low totals. So we retained the Sir Frank Worrell trophy. I actually remember Frank Worrell (shows how old I am) and that amazing series in 1960-61 that many say as the best ever.
Then it was straight on to the UK for another Ashes tour. We had thrashed them in Australia in 2013’/14 and they had been terrible at the World Cup, but it is never any easy task winning in England.
The tour started badly for us losing Ryan Harris to a career-ending knee injury during one of the lead up matches. That was a sad day for all of us as not only is Ryno one of the most loved cricketers going around, but he would have been a valuable asset in English conditions.
We didn’t have a visit from the Queen scheduled this time, but we did get to meet Charles, the Prince of Wales, prior to the First Test in Cardiff
The First Test was a funny one. We played OK but lost in four days, just losing control of the game for a couple of crucial sessions when Balance, Root and Ali got away from us in the English first innings, then a middle order collapse in our second. It was a bit of a shock as we really felt confident going into the game.
So then it was on to Lords for the Second Test. And it couldn’t have been a greater contrast with this time Australia winning by the massive margin of 405 runs in four days. Centuries to Chris Rogers and Steve Smith, then solid bowling with everyone contributing, saw us back on track in the series.
For me the Lords Test was probably the strangest of my time in cricket. In the Australian first innings Chris Rogers was struck on the helmet by the first ball of the second morning from Jimmy Anderson. I went out to him but apart from a cut behind the ear the seemed ok and continued on for a few more overs before he was out for 173.
He was fine after that and fielded throughout England’d second innings, then opened the batting in our second dig. Chris had got to 49 not out when he knelt down on the pitch and summoned help. When I got out to him he said that he was dizzy and the ‘grandstand was moving’ behind the bowler. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but clearly he couldn’t continue so he retired hurt. The dizziness and double vision settled after a while but recurred later on that day.
I was concerned so took Chris off for an MRI scan which cleared him of an intracranial bleed. It turned out that Chris had an unusual condition called labyrinthine concussion where his balance mechanism in his inner ear becomes disturbed. We sent to see Britain’s leading expert in this field who reassured us that it would settle down reasonably soon, but could not give us a time frame. As it turned out it took about a week for Chris to feel ok again and he was able to play the next Test.
So it was one all and we were on a high after that Lords win. Next stop was Birmingham where once again the series swung 180 degrees with two horrible batting collapses leading to an embarrassing loss in three days.
It was certainly back down to earth for all of us and we had to win the Fourth Test at Trent bridge the site of that fantastic Test on the previous tour
The Trent Bridge wicket always moves around a bit, so we were disappointed to lose the toss on an overcast morning. Not surprisingly England put us in to bat. By lunch the Ashes were lost. A series of poor shots from our batsmen and some outstanding bowling from Stuart Broad on his home turf had us all out for 60 with Broad taking a hard to believe 8/15. Of course by the time we started bowling those helpful clouds had disappeared and England had a much easier time of it. After that first innings the result was inevitable and we lost by an innings again in less than three days. We were getting plenty of days off but all for the wrong reasons.
This Ashes loss was devastating. In 2013 I thought we did OK. We probably weren’t quite as good as England in their conditions and we could have won two of the rain-affected Tests. But this was different. England were no better than us. They just put a higher price on their wickets and were prepared to ride out difficult periods whereas we were always trying to hit our way out of trouble.
So England had a 3-1 lead and had regained The Ashes. It was a bitter pill to swallow. There was one Test to go - the traditional final Test at The Oval. On the day before the Test we had a visitor to our training session – Roy Hodgson the England football manager who I had got to know well during my time at Liverpool. Roy and some of his staff members enjoyed chatting to our players and coaches.
The final Test was also to be the final Test for Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers and the England team very graciously acknowledged the departing players. It was also the return of Peter Siddle to the team. In retrospect Sids should have played earlier as his bowling is best suited to English conditions. Unfortunately these days everyone is obsessed with pace so Sids was out of favour.
This game continued the pattern of one-sided wins this time with us winning by an innings and 46 runs in three and a half days. I must admit winning this game just made me more frustrated and angry that we had lost the series. We should never have lost the 2015 Ashes.
2015-16 summer – NZ and Windies
Then it was back home for another Australian summer with the visitors New Zealand and the West Indies. And of course with the retirement of Michael Clarke we had a new captain Steve Smith. Steve had stood in for Michael the previous summer when Pup was injured and it proved to be an inspired choice.
On good batting wickets our batsmen had a run-filled summer. In the First Test in Brisbane Davey Warner made a pair of tons, Usman Khawaja celebrated his return to the team with a first innings century, and Joe Burns reached his ton with a towering six in our second innings., and Australia won easily. The second test in Perth was played on a ‘road’ and resulted in a boring draw. The days of the bouncy WACA pitch seem to have gone. Not often you see two double hundreds in the one match but Warner and kiwi bat Ross Taylor took advantage of the easy wicket. It was also the final Test for Mitchell Johnson whose career has had its ups and downs but will forever be remembered for his astonishing 2013/14 Ashes series where he destroyed England mentally and physically. Johnno was a great guy to have on the team, an amazing athlete and I felt he probably retired 12-18 months too early. He still had plenty to offer. Maybe that placid Perth wicket wore him down.
The third and final Test of the NZ series was in Adelaide and was an exciting low scoring game. We were set 187 to win and seemed to be cruising at 4/161 but then we lost three quick wickets and scraped across the line with three wickets remaining.
Then it was a three Test series against the West Indies which will be most remembered for a remarkable 449 partnership between great mates Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh, the second biggest partnership in Australian cricket history. This continues Voges amazing start to his Test career where he had Bradman-like averages. The other feature of the first test in Hobart was the return to form of James Pattinson a wonderful fast bowler who had suffered a series of injury setbacks. It was great to see Patto bowl us to victory.
The Boxing Day Test saw a comfortable win for us with Burns, Khawaja, Smith and Voges all scoring first innings centuries and Nathan Lyon taking seven wickets for the match. The Sydney Test was a washout with only enough time for Davey Warner to smash a century in the final evening.
So it had been a good summer albeit against mediocre opposition. The bigger challenge came at the end of the summer with a three Test tour of New Zealand. The kiwis were very confident they could knock us off over there.
New Zealand 2016
The First test in Wellington resulted in an easy win for us with Voges making a double ton and Khawaja a century to give us the win by an innings and 52 runs.
The second Test in Christchurch was a lot tighter. It will be remembered largely for Brendan McCullum’s remarkable century off 52 balls in his last Test match – the fastest test century ever. Burns and Smith countered with big scores and we win by seven wicket sin the end.
A very good tour with two excellent Test match performances was a good way to finish a successful summer.
Sri Lanka 2016
Our next tour was to Sri Lanka for three Tests in July/August 2016. This was a really disappointing tour, Despite good preparation, our batsmen failed to cope with the Sri Lankan spinners and we lost all three Tests by 106 runs in Kandy, 229 in Galle where we cold only muster 106 and 182 in our two digs, and 163 in Colombo. Once again we struggled on the sub-continent.
2016-17 summer - South Africa and Pakistan
Our bad run of form continued into the Australian summer where our first visitors were South Africa.
The first Test in Perth started well when we rolled the strong South African batting lineup for 244 with Starc and Hazlewood doing the damage. Then Davey and Shaun March got us off to a good start and at 0/158 we were right on top. But then one of our familiar collapses and we were all out for 244 a lead of only 2. Then the South African batsmen got right on top with Elgar and Duminy making tons and then de Kock and Philander rubbing it in. We were eventually set over 500 to win and fell well short despite 97 from Uz.
Off to Hobart in freezing weather for the second of the three Tests. This was about as bad as it got for Australia. All out for 85 in our first innings - of which the skipper made 45 not out - and then not much better on our second dig - all out for 161 after being 2/129 to lose by an innings and 80 runs.
Crisis time in Australian cricket. The media savaged us and the Cricket Australia hierarchy were on hand to manage the crisis. Chairman of Selectors Rod Marsh fell on his sword and ‘resigned’. Mass changes were made to the team with poor Callum Ferguson and Joe Mennie dumped after just one Test.
Into the team for the third Test in Adelaide came newcomers Matt Renshaw, Nick Maddinson and Peter Handscomb, as well as Jackson Bird and keeper Matt Wade specifically to ‘bring back some aggression’. It worked with a much better performance and a win by 7 wickets chasing a tricky small target of 127.
The feeling around the team and among the public was much more positive and everyone was looking forward to our next visitors Pakistan also here for a three match Test series. The first Test of that series in Brisbane was a strange match. After we batted first and made 419 with another century for Smith and a first for Handscomb, we skittled Pakistan for 142 with Starc, Hazlewood and Bird all getting three. We looked on course for an easy win. We batted a second time and declared at 5/202 leaving Pakistan a massive 490 to win. They certainly gave it a good crack. We had them 6/220 then their tail really wagged and they finished up only 39 runs short.
The Boxing Day Test is always a highlight and Pakistan started well wi th Azar Ali making a double century in their total of 443. The Melburne pitch is a good batting wicket these days and we replied with centuries to Warner and Smith as well as 97 for Uz to have a first innings lead of 181. Then we ran through the Pakistani batting and had them all out for 163 giving us an win by an innings and 18 runs.
The Sydney test started in extraordinary fashion with Davey Warner scoring a century before lunch on the first day – only the fifth batsman in history to do it and the first in Australia. Then his opening partner Mat Renshaw made 184 the highest score in history by anyone under 21 and the seventh youngest Australian to make a Test century. Then I had to rule him out of the Test half way through due to concussion from a blow on the helmet while fielding at short leg. This prompted further debate about the use of a concussion substitute. This was covered in an ESPN article you can read here.
Then there was Pete Handscomb continuing his amazing start to his Test career becoming only the second player to make a fifty in each of their first four Tests. In the end we won comfortably by 220 runs.
It was a good end with four consecutive Test wins after those two horrible losses to start the summer.
The next tour was the toughest of all - a trip to India. My first tour had been there and we had been thrashed. Could we do better this time with the memory of our recent dismal performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan away fresh in our minds.
As always a lot of thought and preparation went into this tour and I felt quietly optimistic before the first of the four Test starting in Pune. The first day had its medical drama with Matt Renshaw rushing off the field in the middle of his innings for an urgent toilet break and having to retire hurt. He went in to top score with 68 out of our disappointing first innings total of 260. When India batted it was SOK, Steve O’Keeffe, our ‘second’ spinner who was the star taking 6/35 in India’s total of 105. When we batted again Steve Smith showed his class with an innings of 109 – arguably his best ever Test innings. We made 285, leaving India the challenging target of 440 to win. Once again SOK bowled superbly for another six wicket haul – 12 for the match – and Australia won by 333 runs. It was the first Australian win in India for 12 years and India’s first loss at home to anyone for four years.
A famous victory and right up there with my most satisfying moment in sport. Really pleased for SOK who has had his ups and downs (largely self-inflicted) over his cricket career, but is one of the nicest guys I have met in cricket.
After the Pune win we really had high hopes of winning a series in India which would be a remarkable achievement. We went close!
In the next Test at Bengalaru we had a solid first innings lead of 87 and needed 188 for victory in the fourth innings of the game. Unfortunately we couldn’t cope with the Indian spinners and were all out for 112 going down by 75. We should have won that one.
Instead it was one all going to the third Test in Ranchi. It turned out to be high scoring draw with the highlights from our point of view being another mammoth Smith innings of 178 not out and a maiden Test century for Glenn Maxwell. Maxi had always promised so much and it was so pleasing to see the joy on his face when he got his century. Hopefully the first of many.
So it all came down to the fourth test which was held in the picturesque surroundings of Dharamsala right up the north of India with the stadium surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was only the second Test to be played there.
Dharamsala is quite close to McLeod Ganj the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama. We were fortunate enough to be given an audience with the great man.
I even got to ask him a question!
The Test match was a good one. After the respective first innings (with another Smith ton) India led by only 32 and would have to bat last. However our second innings was disappointing and we could only get 137 leaving India only 106 to win which they did for the loss of only two wickets.
So we lost the series 2-1 but had every right to be proud of our efforts.
In the break between the second and third Tests Frank and Judy Demasi, the Lloyd family, and Diana and I all went to the Taj Mahal for a couple of days. Fantastic.
Our next commitment was the Champions Trophy in England which turned out to be a wet disappointing tournament for us.
We were in a group with England, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Our first two games against Bangladesh and NZ were not completed due to rain, so we had to beat England at Edgbaston to progress to the knockout stage of the tournament. England were far too good for us that day with Morgan and Stokes smashing our bowlers all over the park after we had amassed a reasonable total of 277. We had England 3/37 but then those two got going and it was all over. Even the rain couldn’t save us.
Disappointing for us but all credit to Pakistan coached by our old friend Mickey Arthur who went on to be the surprise winners.
That turned out to be my last involvement with the Australian team who decided they wanted a younger full time doctor. It was sad to go as I thoroughly enjoyed my five years (and 51 Tests), but it was time to move on to other things.
What were the highlights of my five years. There were plenty of them but in chronological order I would say:
1. The 2013/14 Ashes in Australia – 5-0 win with Mitchell Johnson terrorising the Poms
2. Winning the second ODI against England at the Gabba in 2014 after being 9/244 chasing 300 – Jimmy Faulkner - unforgettable
3. Winning the Cape Town Test with an injury ravaged team against South Africa in 2014 to win the series 2-1
4. Winning the Adelaide Test against India the week after the death of Phil Hughes
5. The World Cup final – 90,000+ at the G and that moment when Starc sent McCullum’s bails flying
6. Winning the Adelaide Test in 2015/16 against South Africa with a virtually new team after being smashed in the first two
7. Winning in India at Pune in 2016 for the first time since 2004.
And the worst……
Well obviously the death of Phil Hughes was the low point, but from a cricket viewpoint, as I have mentioned above, losing the Ashes in England in 2015 will always frustrate me because I believe we had the better team.