Six Ball Over: Darren Wates

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With the JLT Cup reaching its crux — a tournament trying to reach the masses with free live streams online, hosted at close-to-the-community grade grounds, and starting even before the winter codes came to a conclusion — we at Mind the Windows have decided to hark back to the glory days of domestic Australian one-day cricket.

The days of Andy Flower, the ING Cup Sign, and Victorian teams stacked with players who couldn’t get an Aussie gig but would’ve played 100 times anywhere else. The days of Saturday afternoon Channel 9 broadcasts, Scott Kremerskothen, and Tony Greig’s car key.

The days of men like Darren Wates, who played 50 one-dayers for Western Australia yet just 15 First Class matches, who was a perennially-handy and occasionally-match winning bits-and-pieces all-rounder, and summed up all that was great about early-2000s Australian cricket. Dan McGrath had a quick chat with Wates about his days under a Baggy Yellow.

 


Q1 — The JLT Cup (or whichever name you remember it by) is a competition that has always held great memories for fans and young cricketers. Going back to your childhood, what’s your favourite memory of the competition?

I was a WACA member from a very young age – wouldn’t even have been double figures, age-wise. So for me it was really going down there and seeing the guys in the yellow uniform with the white ball – we got lights at the WACA in the late 80s, so I’d go to the day-night games.

As I got a little bit older – and by that stage I was a budding cricketer as well, playing club cricket – it was seeing some of the people you knew, who might have been three or four years older than you, getting their first go.

I think that’s the big realization for any young cricketer who’s getting a go at the next level, who’s [starting out] playing in a park one weekend. As you see someone from your team – or the other team – getting a go at the next level, and you’re thinking ‘wow what an amazing jump – how’s that guy going to go?’, but on the other hand you realise you’re actually not that far away from it. When you actually get there, some of the elder statesmen remind you that it’s just another game of cricket in a park – just with a few more people watching.

That’s a difficult thing as a young kid coming in – you do think it’s different, with all these good players. The bowling is faster, on average. Everything’s a bit different. So that sort of phase, when you’re on the brink and then you get a chance is interesting and, obviously, you learn a hell of a lot.

 


Q2 — You made a victorious List A debut against the touring Pakistan side in 1999/00, backed it up with another win in your Mercantile Mutual debut, and later secured the season’s Best New Talent award. Can you talk through those early days in a very strong WA side, where you were learning to find your way at the professional level – and having success doing so?

I was 22 at the time, just signed on my first contract with the Western Warriors. In the lead up to that season – July, August – I could remember watching the international cricket and watching Pakistan play, and everyone was talking about Shoaib Akhtar. So I’d seen him bowling some ridiculously quick spells on TV and you sort of think ‘wow, that’s crazy, how could I ever face up to that sort of stuff’. Then fast forward three months – the second ball I faced was Shoaib Akhtar.

It was in the first innings of the match, I’d come in at eight and it was around dusk at the WACA so the sun’s starting to set. So you mark your guard and look up and there’s this bloke standing out near the fence – it’s like being down the other end of a shooting gallery, that’s what it feels like as he goes on this 30 or 40 metre run to pelt the ball down at you. The other thing as you tap your bat, is you look at the wicketkeeper behind you and he’s not far from the fence the other way.

You sort of think ‘wow, what am I going to do here’, but you do realise it’s just another game of cricket – albeit the ball arrives for you to hit a lot quicker than anything you’ve ever experienced before. That was certainly an amazing debut – to get thrust out into the international stage in the first game.

I’ve got a photo of the scoreboard from that game; to look at the WA line-up and put my name in there is almost a little embarrassing (and quite humbling). I took the ball and Gilchrist was the wicketkeeper, you had Martyn and Moody and Langer in the slips, elsewhere there was Jo Angel, Brendan Julian, Simon Katich, Ryan Campbell. Other than one or two others everyone had either played a lot of international cricket or were on their way to play a lot of international cricket. It’s an amazing thing when you look back on it – a pretty fond memory of the day itself.

It was an interesting phase – that was the year I was doing my articles [as a lawyer]. I’d done five years of uni and then it’s your first year of practice – just like another training year really where you’re the rookie of the law firm and you get to do all the tasks that no-one else wants to do. So that was all happening at the same time for me, and there’s this amazing opportunity to play cricket for WA. Luckily I was able to get quite a lot of time off work and, actually, put work on the back foot for that first six months.

My first Mercantile Mutual Cup game was at the MCG on a Sunday, and that was the weekend following the amazing partnership that Gilchrist and Langer had to win the Test against Pakistan in Hobart. I was the 12th man for the four-day side leading up to that one-dayer – those two flew in on Friday evening to join the squad and said ‘oh who’s the 12th man, would he like to come out for dinner with us?’ So I’m sitting there having a bite to eat with the two guys that were the nation’s heroes of that week. And it wasn’t a quiet meal, because everyone who walked past wanted to say g’day or ask for an autograph – everyone wanted to pat them on the back.

In terms of the balance of the season, for me it was a huge learning experience. As silly as it sounds, cricket was on TV then but probably didn’t seem as prevalent as it is now with all the pay TV options, but you’d have family and friends saying ‘hey I saw you on TV’. Or you’d warm up before the game and – if it was a telecast match – you’d be measuring your run up or having a look at the pitch and Tony Greig or Richie Benaud might be out there getting ready for the broadcast. So it was just being thrust into that arena that springs to mind for most – playing at the Test venues in each state, grounds you’d only ever really seen on TV (or if you’d been lucky enough to attend the games).

It was a surprise, that Best New Talent award – I don’t even think I knew about it at the start of the year; I managed to pick up a few wickets, not that it was any world-breaking season, but I remember before one of the games — it might have been the final, actually – that I was told I had to duck off from one of the warm-ups to receive the trophy.

 


Q3 — In white ball cricket, you carved out a niche – providing cameos with the bat from number seven, and reliably bowling out your spell in each game, even as the WA Shield XI was proving a tough side to crack. Was there a difference in the way you saw yourself as a cricketer, compared to the role you ended up playing for WA in one-day cricket?

I think the opportunity came first in one-day cricket, and I think – like it often did – a lot of guys were trialled in the one-day game just because it was a one-day game. We had a number of them through the year and it was a bigger punt putting someone in the side for a four-day game. Tom Moody had some back problems [at the time], so that all-rounder spot, of somebody who can bat and bowl a bit, was a little open. So that probably helped me get propelled into that role.

It is interesting when you look back that I played so much more one-day cricket than I did four-day cricket, but I probably always considered myself to be more of a four-day cricketer.

I was a classical swing bowler, to which there’d been a fairly long line of into the wind swing bowlers at Western Australia. It was quite a unique craft that’s always tended to be more of a four-day role, where you’d push up into the Fremantle Doctor breeze at the WACA and swing the ball away from the right handers and bowl bulk overs. Even beyond that, in junior cricket I was more a batsman who bowled a bit.

Probably a couple of things happened: I grew a fair bit in my last few years of school so that helped the bowling – a bit of extra height – and then when I came to play club cricket there might have been a bit of a shortage of bowlers. I’d always bowled a lot anyway, but I always saw myself as a bat who bowled a bit rather than a bowler; ironically I played my cricket for WA as a bowler who batted a bit.

The other thing with four-day cricket is that, injury-wise, it takes a huge toll on bowlers. I had a number of setbacks with back injuries, as well as side injuries, and associated hamstring problems that come from your back. So that probably put a dampener on things for me a little bit at a couple of different stages of my career. They came at a couple of pivotal moments; I did my first side strain the evening before the first game of the 2000/01 season…

Had I been [playing] five years later I might have ironed out some of the muscle imbalances and weaknesses that now everyone knows causes some of the injuries that I had. So I certainly found the step up to four-day cricket, as compared to one-day cricket or just grade cricket – one day a week – quite taxing. We played a lot of Second XI or Colts cricket where you go on tours, and that was a good chance for the young guys to realise how hard four-day cricket is.

 


Q4 — In 2003/04 you played the ING Cup final against Queensland. While the game is probably best remembered for Kade Harvey’s all-round heroics, you made a quickfire 29 to see the chase through – completing a dramatic comeback from a pretty dire situation. What was going through your mind during that game?

To give you a bit of background, we’d been to Brisbane two or three weeks before, and we got absolutely thumped in a one-day game. It was actually quite embarrassing; this was before the days where teams made scores in the high 300s, but we actually got hit for 400. It was certainly the hottest day I can ever remember playing cricket in, I think it was well into the 40s, and humid. We lost the toss and had to field – it was a day/nighter and we had to field in that afternoon session – and almost from the word go we got belted all over the park. I forget how many he made but Jimmy Maher made 180 or something. So we’d been trounced. We came back to that ground for the final with that in mind – there was a bit of trepidation about what happened last time.

For me personally I didn’t get off to a great start, it was the same thing: we bowled first and I didn’t have the greatest game with the ball. But in terms of the run chase we actually got off to a fairly good start – Scott Meuleman and Chris Rogers got off to a good opening partnership and then we lost crucial wickets in the middle; experienced players – Mike Hussey, Murray Goodwin, Ryan Campbell.

The thing that sticks out most in my mind about going out to bat, as Kade was in just as I put my gloves on and was about to walk out onto the field, Wayne Clark – our coach at the time – said to me “just be there with five overs to go with Kade, stick in there with five overs to go and you never know what might happen.” So that was literally ringing in my ears as I took strike for my first ball – ‘just hit the ball around, Kade’s hitting them ok, and let’s just be there towards the end’. There’d been a few other games in world cricket around that time (and even in local cricket), where there’d been some amazing last over wins. So that was in our minds – I think Kade had played in our local comp one-day final not long before and lost a game where the other team put on a bit of a comeback in the last over. So there was that mindset – just hang in there, is probably the best way to explain it.

A few remarkable things happened for us to get there. The Queensland bowling attack, some of the guys suffered some pretty bad cramping. Andy Bichel, and James Hopes in particular suffered some bad cramping. Jimmy Maher was injured; he’d taken a hamstring injury into the game. So they actually had three guys who were limping around [in the field] and two of them were probably two of their most important bowlers. We were fortunate – Kade and I had a plan to attack a couple of areas of the ground. Nathan Hauritz was bowling, so I was tempted to loft him to some of the deeper boundaries and run as hard as we could. And then from the other end, with the guys –unfortunately for Queensland – struggling with the injuries, we were presented with a couple of full tosses or a ball to easily put away, and that kept us in the game.

The other thing I can recall is that there were a few misfields from Queensland as well, that cost them. And you could feel that the tension turned and the pressure came back on them – there was a bit of bickering amongst themselves over a few misfields and the bowlers not happy with some of the fielding that was happening. And this was all happening in a four or five over period that was slightly shambolic. Andy Bichel was running in to bowl two or three times because his calf or his hamstring had cramped up. And then we were able to have a couple of big overs – Kade in particular put on a couple of boundaries – maybe even a six over the fence. We managed to run hard off Nathan Hauritz and, again, put on a couple of boundaries, and suddenly we were staring down the last over needing 9 to win.

When you look back at those scores and compare them with modern day cricket it doesn’t sound like a massive run chase, but it was quite unique to go at those run rates back in that time. A par score might even have been 230-250, whereas now the guys are pretty unhappy if they don’t get closer to 350.

[Editor’s Note: Wates and Harvey put on 75 in 9.4 overs, securing the win (and the trophy) with two balls to spare; they took 22 off Clinton Perren’s 9 deliveries]


 

Q5 — You retired from domestic cricket at the end of 2007/08, to fully re-dedicate yourself to a legal career. Early on, how hard was the balancing act and, later, how tough a decision was it to move on from representing the Warriors?

The initial years, as far as a balancing act…the more I look back on it I [realise it was] really, really difficult. I almost can’t believe I did what I did back then – a legal career is pretty demanding at the best of times, in terms of the hours you’re required to put in. Similarly, cricket’s a pretty time consuming sport in itself, in terms of how long it takes but also the training commitments.

Cricket players were becoming more and more professional each year of that period – I can remember my first season, the contract was almost petrol money to get you to and from training, whereas by the end it wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was enough to pay your bills, so you could give cricket a full crack and you didn’t need to have other work. Our trainings had changed over the years from 6am sessions so people could go to work, to being more full time. There were more full time staff so you could train during the day.

In the early few years I can remember doing ridiculous hours in the office just to do right by my employers and clients to get work done before I went away on a tour, for example. I made a pretty big decision at the end of the 2003/04 season – and I was really grateful that I had some excellent employers – but I was basically able to completely tone down my work during the cricket season. So I almost worked the six winter months as a lawyer, and had the six months of the summer as a cricketer. That was certainly a big help. But I don’t think the guys could do that nowadays, it’s such a year-long commitment for cricketers.

In terms of me getting towards the end [of my cricket career], I was very fortunate that I had a legal career I could step back into when I was ready, and I think also having that at the various stages of my career when cricket wasn’t going so well or I was injured, it was always good to know I had something else to fall back on and it was good to occupy the time. The decision to [came down to] a couple of reasons. One is I was at a stage where some of the injuries had really caught up with me – a I was at a point where I was taking anti-inflammatory medication just to get through a grade game of a weekend. It was diminishing my enjoyment for the game, and also made me wonder what long-term damage I was doing to myself; [it made me ask] realistically whether I’d be able to keep going for a few more years to play four-day cricket for WA.

The other thing was, I had put career and family on hold quite a lot, due to the life I had where I was doing this mix of working in the winter and cricket in the summer. I hadn’t really travelled or done much in the way of holidays. I’d got married during [that season], in the Christmas break we had, and it just felt like it was the right time, weighing everything up, to devote more time to my legal profession and preparing to start a family. [Retiring] would let me do a few things that – my wife would agree – we could never do because of the lifestyle I’d chosen (happily chosen, I don’t regret any of it). But I missed friends’ weddings because I had cricket, I couldn’t go to a lot of things or commit to taking an overseas trip during the winter season because I owed the employer so much of my time back at the firm. So it was just the right time.

The one thing I often wonder – and it’s not a regret – is that T20 cricket was just emerging. We’d had a few instalments of it at that time, but very much as a muck-around tournament – we used to have nicknames on our backs and guys wearing wigs and all that sort of stuff, [it was] very promotional. With my all-round abilities and the concept of keeping your body together for four overs, I wonder if I would have enjoyed hanging around a little bit longer to see what T20 cricket might have been like. Now with guys having the ability to be T20 specialists, it’s something I look back and wonder about – but who knows, T20 cricket is pretty intense cricket from what I’ve heard from all the guys who play it.


 

Q6 — You made an immediate impact on your First Class debut – trapping Martin Love LBW with your first legal delivery. How hard did you go up for that one, and is it true that it was going down leg?

I don’t even recall where it struck him. It was quite humorous though, my first ball was a no ball and it was a massive no ball. I’d measured out the run-up and I think I was in a bit of a daze, making my debut. I was an outswing bowler, so my general ball would leave the right hander, but for whatever reason this one nipped back in a bit.

I’d never heard that it was going down leg, but I don’t know, maybe Martin has that view! All of the teammates were up and I was up – if you hit someone on the pads, that’s what you did.

It was an amazing day; I remember we batted first and Queensland had this amazing team of very experienced cricketers. Stuart Law was the captain, Jimmy Maher was at second slip, Matt Hayden was out of the Australian team at that time so he was standing in the gully. I think Martin Love was in the slips too. Andrew Symonds was at point. And they were all physically enormous men – imposing.

If you look at their bowlers, and they’re all amazing bowlers too – Bichel, Kasprowicz, Scott Muller running in. The thing I really enjoyed in my years playing against Queensland was that they were hard, fierce competitors – but as soon as the game finished they were the first guys to have a laugh and talk to you about the game. They might have tested you during the game verbally and got you thinking about your own ability, did you belong out there playing the same game as them – but after the game they were more than happy to have a drink with you and congratulate you on anything you did well – even chat to you about their own careers and how they’d improved on deficiencies or trained hard.

I always remember Jimmy Maher – I’d managed to take a catch when I was fielding in the gully that first innings, and I took a reasonable catch to get rid of him. After the game he was happy to compliment me on that, but also jokingly say ‘never do it again’. It’s certainly a fond memory, albeit we got absolutely belted in that match!


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