When, at the end of the 2003/04 Australian domestic season, Jo Angel decided to retire, a giant presence was leaving the Western Australia ranks.
A giant man too, at six-foot six-inches tall. For more than a decade, Angel had been the man WA turned to match after match. The final statistics said it all: 485 First Class wickets, 445 of them for WA. When he retired, only Clarrie Grimmett had taken more Sheffield Shield wickets. And this for a man who was considered a ‘proper’ quick.
And in one-day cricket, his record was no poorer. Only five quicks have more Australian domestic one-day wickets, and two of those are medium pacers.
It’s amazing to think that when Angel retired, with all those wickets – over 600 in top-flight cricket – he’d played just seven internationals. Four Tests and three ODIs.
Was this because he was seen as a “WACA specialist”?
“I think so. I’ve had a few conversations with Andy Bichel about this, funnily enough, over the last few years. We’ve played a few Australian Cricketers Association games together, and he was considered much the same, as a Gabba-only bowler I suppose. But my First Class record’s pretty good at all grounds … so I think it’s just one of those perception things.”
For all Angel’s brilliance, and misfortune when it came to Australian caps, it was notable that he didn’t come into First Class cricket until 1991, when he was 23. It might not be a ‘late bloomer’, but it’s certainly not hitting his straps early either.
Some might suggest that it was Angel’s lack of luck in coming into a Sheffield Shield packed with quality (a quality perhaps now lacking) that delayed his entrance, but he disagrees.
“I think it’s just one of those things, circumstances really. I didn’t go down and start playing grade cricket in Perth until I was about 18 or something. So I think it was just that some of the other guys played representative cricket at under-17s, under-19s, whereas I never had any of that. I played a bit of Second XI cricket before I played for WA, so I suppose it was slightly different, the way I came into the system.”
Angel’s involvement with the game had gone through a truly Aussie process.
“I always played cricket, just playing with mates. Playing bloody footy and cricket, that sort of stuff. And yeah, that was where it sorta came from.”
When Angel came into the WA side, it was alongside the likes of Mike Veletta, Geoff Marsh, Damien Martyn and Tom Moody on the batting front, with Bruce Reid, Terry Alderman and Brendon Julian backing him up with the ball. Add Tim Zoehrer into the mix as wicket-keeper, and it’s no surprise that the side took out the 1991/92 Sheffield Shield.
“Yeah, I was certainly very fortunate in that regard. I remember talking to Terry Alderman, playing alongside him, because he was still playing then. It was, yeah, it was quite surreal for myself and Justin Langer. We’d only played seven games each, Jus and I. We played such a fabulous game [in the final], in the way it kinda ebbed and flowed over the five days. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much, until it took us a few years to get to another one.”
The following season, with just 13 First Class matches under his belt, Angel received an Australian call-up to play in the fifth Test against the West Indies. Angel had managed a relatively successful first season-and-a-half, but had hardly set the world on fire.
But having taken innings figures of 6/71 against Victoria in early January, and a five-for against the West Indies earlier in the summer, it was enough to get the Baggy Green nod.
“I was in pretty good form, but you never really expect that you’re going to play. Australia were very strong in that era, and I think I probably got a game with a couple of guys being injured. I was in reasonable form going in. But it’s just one of those things that I never got an extended run at it, which would have been nice.”
He next achieved Australian representation following an exceptionally successful third season with WA; taking 47 wickets at under 22. He picked up four five-wicket bags and a ten-wicket match along the way, and it was no surprise that he got selected for the tour of Pakistan.
The first Test was that Test in Karachi, and Angel still believes he had Inzamam-ul-Haq leg before wicket.
“Yeah, I think he was pretty out. There was a catch behind given not-out as well off the wicket-keeper. It’s just one of those things, unfortunately. I got Malik out twice, including LBW, in that game and it was the same umpire giving the Pakistan captain out, but unfortunately that one he didn’t, so.”
But he enjoyed the experience of playing in Pakistan nonetheless.
“I actually enjoyed Pakistan. It was a good spot to go and play. I like that sort of food so it didn’t bother me. I actually enjoyed it. There’s not a lot you can do unfortunately, afterhours there’s no club or anything to go have a beer, so it was down to the local embassy or beer back in the manager’s room. So that was probably the only downside to it, but I didn’t mind it. As I said, the food was good, and the pitches weren’t too bad. It’s like everywhere, you get a good mix of grounds.”
After that series, however, Angel played just one further Test – the WACA Test during the 1994/95 Ashes. And while he was seen by the Australian selectors as a Perth specialist, Western Australia certainly didn’t mind the selector’s folly. He took countless wickets for his State, including his best match figures – a ten-wicket haul against New Zealand in October 1993. It must be a day he remembers fondly?
“I do, apart from the fact that I ended up with a bloody broken finger from the bloody game which meant I missed out on the Test series that one. But yeah, it was certainly good fun. It was one of those funny things I suppose, I’ve always been a consistent wicket-taker, taking lots of threes and fours without always taking a lot of five wicket-plus hauls. And I suppose that’s probably reflective in my record.”
Angel was indeed consistent – he took at least 20 First Class wickets in the home summer every season until 2003/04, his last. How did he manage to keep up such regular success over such a long period of time?
“I think it was just preparation. That was all my preparation and everything was to be consistent, make sure your fitness was right, enough bowling was done to be consistent. That was what the game was all about. It’s a pretty simple game overcomplicated by people, I think.”
Angel’s consistency was particularly instrumental when Western Australian won consecutive Sheffield Shield titles, in 1997/98 and 1998/99. What led to the team’s success?
“I think we just had a very strong side, with a good core group of senior players. Tom Moody, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Brendon Julian, these sort of guys who had been around the system long enough. And I suppose the same as any good sporting side, when you’ve got a good group of core senior players like that you’ll have more success than not. We had a couple of good players came in, Mike Hussey was around at that time, Ryan Campbell, Simon Katich. So it was just a good setup, it was.”
He glosses over his own impact there – among that group of senior players, he was the leader of the bowling attack. And his longevity, consistency and leadership was rewarded in 2002/03, when he captained WA in two Sheffield Shield games. It was an experience he enjoyed.
“Yeah, it was good. It didn’t happen very often, it’s pretty hard for bowlers to do. You end up not bowling yourself enough sometimes when you’re in those situations. It was a lot of fun, and a great honour to do that. I was lucky enough to do that a couple of times, and represent my State and so on.”
Among his brace of great performances for his State – 16 five-wicket hauls speaks volumes – Angel considers none as particular favourites.
“I suppose none particularly [stand out] any more than any others. It was always quite good having my best First Class performance at the SCG, until right near the end of my career when I beat that playing Queensland at the WACA. That was a pretty good game that one, but I don’t sort of write any others higher than any other one. Every wicket is important, sometimes you can take two or three wickets which are just as key, it just depends on the context of the game. The ’99 Shield final up in Brisbane I took three wickets in the second innings which took the guts out of their middle order which put us well on the way to winning the game.”
He continued to be successful beyond the 1990s and into the early years of the 21st Century – indeed, it was January 2003 that he set his best innings figures in First Class cricket. How did he manage to adjust and adapt to continue his success with age?
“I suppose the thing I had to adjust to, was particularly that we really didn’t have an into-the-wind bowler for the back half of my career at the WACA. And it’s a pretty important role, and I was able to adapt and mostly take that role and that probably extended my career. And I was able to adjust and do that role for my side, but as I said it was all about consistency.”
Interestingly, Angel’s theories didn’t change from ground to ground. For all the talk about how you have to change for the conditions, Angel worked off the same principle he mentioned earlier – that cricket’s a simple game overcomplicated by people.
“It was pretty much the same [between grounds], a good length’s a good length no matter where you play. You might adjust things a little bit to help you to play, but by-and-large things are pretty much the same no matter where you go.”
Angel’s views on how to bowl in one-day cricket are also built on base principles.
“You’ve just got to be aware of what the batters are looking to do, in terms of the situation of the game. Sometimes you can attack, other times you have to be a bit more defensive. It’s about adapting to the state of the game.”
It was in the one-day game that he played a handful of matches for Gloucestershire. The Norwich Union League (as it was then) was a three-way race for the Division Two title, and Angel’s appearance in the last three games of the competition helped Gloucs pip Surrey and Essex to the post.
“Yeah, that was good fun. That was actually the last time I played in the UK. I went over with my two young boys at that stage, and I was playing league cricket up near Manchester. And Ian Harvey, who was the overseas player at Gloucester, he got called back for an Australia A tour so they needed someone to fill in. They only really wanted me for the 40-over comp, because they were struggling in the Championship so they weren’t too worried about that. I played the last few 40-over games … and they won the title, so I really, really enjoyed that. John Bracewell was their coach then and I got on well with him.”
Since Angel’s playing days, Australian – and world – cricket has changed. The Sheffield Shield has virtually dropped off the radar, and certainly isn’t the competition it once was.
“I think it just hasn’t got the same profile now, unfortunately. There was quite a bit of coverage on free to air, particularly in WA, Channel 9 used to cover usually at least a session on a Saturday, Sunday afternoon. So it doesn’t get that anymore, I think there’s a little bit on pay-TV, but it doesn’t get the profile, I think that’s the biggest thing it battles with now.”
But he doesn’t believe the standard has dropped too much.
“I think the standard is still pretty good. Probably batting wise we’re a bit lighter on than bowling wise, we’ve certainly got lots of good bowlers banging on the door at the moment. Even if all the guys went down injured, there’d still be three or four guys you could pick who could do the job for Australia. Batting wise, especially in the longer form of the game, we’re not as strong I don’t think. But there’s a couple of guys out injured. Khawaja I think is one, I say to people he looks like a class player, particularly in the longer form of the game. I think the guys have started to realise that Test cricket is still the number-one thing they need to aim at, whereas I think with the initial hoopla to do with Twenty20 cricket, probably took a few guys’ focus away from the longer form of the game.”
And Angel believes Australia’s bowling stocks, as he mentioned there, are really terrific.
“They’re as good as anyone going around. Everyone talks about the South African side, but I think particularly our depth is second-to-none. I don’t think any of the other international nations have got the same depth as what we’ve got currently. I don’t think Australia’s bowling stocks, especially fast-bowling stocks, have ever been better.”
Drawing things appropriately full-circle, Western Australia’s bowling depth has been equally noticeable of late, and Angel certainly enjoys watching his State knocking pins over.
“Yeah, it’s been great to see the guys really start to have a bit of success the last few years. It’s been a long time coming, they’ve competed in the last two Sheffield Shield finals, they’ve won the last couple of Big Bashes, won the domestic one-day comp as well this year. It’s great to see WA back to the top again, and it’s full credit to Justin Langer and the players, they’ve managed to get back to doing all the simple things right. And success follows from there.”