With the JLT Cup culminating in a WA win, and the states in overdrive to prepare for the start of the Sheffield Shield, we at Mind the Windows have decided to hark back to the glory days of Australian domestic 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 Graeme Vimpani, who played 49 games for Victoria between 1995 and 2000, who was a capable foil for Matthew Elliott, saved his best for games against the Blue Baggers north of the border, and summed up all that was great about early-2000s Australian cricket. Dan McGrath had a quick chat with Vimpani about his years as a professional cricketer.
Q1 —Domestic one-day cricket has always held great memories for fans and young cricketers. Going back to your childhood, what’s your favourite memory of the competition?
What I recall as a kid was always watching the season opener, which traditionally was Victoria vs New South Wales. Having domestic cricket on TV, when I was a kid (and even when I was playing) was a novelty. It was such a treat to be able to see domestic cricket and be able to see some of your Australian heroes playing in their domestic teams.
You fast-forward to today, and you’ve got the Big Bash in prime-time, high definition, in your lounge room at 7:30 every night during the summer – which is just a fantastic opportunity and exposure for the game and players playing these days. Back when we were playing it was vastly different and the exposure just wasn’t there.
So to answer your question, seeing the Steve Waughs and the guys I grew up watching, playing domestic cricket was a real highlight and something I loved doing […] It was fascinating to see how good the international players were and how they competed at the domestic level.
I remember being in awe of these players, really; it was quite daunting realizing that you’d be out there playing against these guys – guys you’d watched from afar and admired. So to play against Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill – all these guys in the NSW line-up – it really was like taking on the Australian team. The NSW team was so well represented at Australian level that the season opener we played against them was just surreal.
In our side we had all the household names – Fleming, Warne, Reiffel, Darren Berry, Dean Jones, Brad Hodge – and I still remember Brett Lee at the top of his mark at North Sydney Oval for the first ball, and I was shaking like a leaf because it was just so foreign to the environment I had been useful. Thank heavens the first ball didn’t go anywhere near the stumps because I would have been cooked!
Looking around the crowd and all of a sudden seeing cameras at long on and long off, pointed straight at you…the opening game of the year, the New South Wales-Victoria rivalry, having Shane Warne as your captain really trying to pump us up as a younger side. It was magical, it’s a magical experience to walk out there and compete amongst those guys – and have a beer at the end of the day to get to know them as well.
Q2 — In the 1998/99 summer, you were a part of a Victorian side that won the Mercantile Mutual Cup. You made 36 in the semi-final against South Australia, and improved on that with 48 in the final. How good was that run, especially considering you were up against a fairly strong New South Wales side in the final?
‘Childhood dreams come true’ material. I think I came into the side because a few players, either through form or higher honours, were off elsewhere. I think Matthew Elliott might have been playing with the Australian team at that time, so I got an opportunity against South Australia in the semi. I got, well, a start, the 30-odd or whatever.
To come into that side and have the opportunity to play in a televised game again, which was a rare treat, and have a decent crowd at the MCG…walking out wearing state colours was a thrill for me but to play in a big game and to perform okay in them and, more importantly, come away with a win was [almost a culmination of] my memories as a kid of playing in our driveway or out in the street or whatever. You dream of playing a game for Victoria.
But you look back now and laugh at the parameters, the goals, the measurables that we had in place at the time compared to the game today and how much faster the run scoring is. John Scholes, the coach from Victoria, was like a second father to me – and he said “just make sure we’re 0/35 off 10”. You look at that now and just laugh – if you had 0/35 off 10 these days you’d be banished forever!
I think Brad Wigney was bowling and at the 9.5 over mark – you might need to check the records here, because I could be wrong – I think we were 0/29 or 0/30 and he bowled one on my legs, I managed to get hold of it and it went for six. I still remember going ‘oh, phew, hit our target of 0/35’.
Q3 — Your maiden first class ton came against some pretty high-class opposition: the West Indies. It was December 1996, you were in your tenth first class game – what was it like to, first of all, reach that milestone for the first time and, secondly, do it against a side that was still recognised as having one of the best pace attacks in the world?
They were a powerhouse, there’s no doubt about that. It was their last hit-out ahead of the Boxing Day Test and I think there were a few bowlers competing for spots, so the weren’t holding back.
I was really nervous in the build to the game and the warm-up to the game. On the day, being a four-day game the wicket had a bit of life in it at the start, but Deano won the toss and we batted. About 10 to 15 minutes in I was batting with Warren Ayres, who was the other opener, and I felt comfortable then. Once I’d seen them off and realized ‘yeah they’re bowling quick, yeah they’re bowling at my head’ and all that sort of stuff, the wicket was playing okay, my feet were moving, I was seeing them okay – I don’t think I was grotesquely out of form or anything like that – I just had a good day and I really enjoyed it.
I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but remember facing up, taking guard, getting centre, having a look at the field…and then I looked over my shoulder to see how far back the ‘keeper was and he was miles back. I thought ‘oh shit, I’m in a bit of trouble here!’ When they hit the bat you don’t just feel it in your hands – the reverberation goes through your arms and shoulders; they really do hit the bat hard.
Once I got through the initial period of getting settled and getting my eye in, I was fine. I really felt quite comfortable and enjoyed the day. They bowled short at me quite a bit, and I tend to play the pull shot, the hook shot, and the cut shot so I wasn’t ducking and weaving, which suited my game.
I loved playing in the country regions of Victoria, getting out to the regions was a lot of fun. My dad was there watching; he drove up from Melbourne to have a look – I remember waving at him when I got the hundred. It was a really special day, and I loved the challenge – at no stage did you feel 100% comfortable because you knew that they were out to try and intimidate you and hurt you and take your wicket – they wanted to see the back of you. It was a great experience, and to use that word again, it was surreal.
Q4 — Your highest first class score, meanwhile, came in a pretty remarkable match. Following a reasonable first innings lead, NSW declared, leaving Victoria needing 391 for victory – you made 161, allowing the rest of the side to guide it home. What was running through your mind during that knock, and was there a particular point that you thought ‘hey, we can actually chase this’?
The game prior to that, against Tasmania, was a very similar one – we chased down near-400 the week before; it was a ridiculous run-chase.
I remember it was a day-night Shield game, so they were using a pink ball – and they’re always fun anyway. If you start your innings at the start of the day – which is 2 or 3 o’clock in the arvo of whatever – the goal is to be batting under lights. I used to enjoy the day-night games, and it wasn’t that common back then, so I had the objective to at least be there when the lights are on. Mum and Dad used to come in after work so, [I figured] I’d better hang around because if dad’s coming in […] I’d better make sure he gets to see something.
It was an amazing runchase – I don’t know which was bigger [compared to Tasmania], I think the NSW chase was slightly bigger – but both fourth innings totals around the 390-400 mark that we had to chase down. And we managed to do it at the very last minute.
I was filthy that, against Tasmania, I got my ton but didn’t go on with it. I was really wanting to be there at the very, very end – I got given out caught off my sleeve, and I know in my heart of hearts that I didn’t get anywhere near it, but it clipped my sleeve. Back in those days it was fashionable to have the puffy shirt, the Jerry Seinfeld shirt almost, and it clipped that on the way through, made a noise, and Peter Parker, well, triggered me. I’ll never forgive him for that!
[Author’s Note: Vimpani was quick to clarify the tongue-in-cheek nature of his comments – “he’s a good fella, Peter Parker, I definitely don’t want to bag him out!”]
Q5 — You were involved in the Super 8s tournament, played in Queensland and spread across three weekends in the winter of 1996. What was it like adapting to an entirely new format, at an entirely different time of year?
That was simply the best three weeks of my life. I loved that tournament. I absolutely bust my chops to get in the team because my bowling is absolute, absolute rubbish at best – it hasn’t improved since under-12s.
We were training for that and I grabbed a new ball, ran in off about 15 yards and got Warnie twice – he was the captain of the team — I think I bowled him and he got caught behind so I thought ‘beautiful, he now thinks I can actually bowl’ when the truth is anything but, I’m a terrible bowler.
That was the most fun cricket tour I’ve ever had in my life – a week in Cairns, a week in Townsville, a week in Brissie. You had all the Shield players away together as one, you only played two or three games a week (and they only went for about an hour and a half anyway). The rest of your time was spent training – and I loved pre-season: the hard running, the weights, the training drills – and a huge component of it was getting to know your teammates, time spent socializing, interacting with guys from the other states as well.
It was an absolute shitload of fun. Lots of team nights out together and dinners and whatnot, but when we played we played hard and did our absolute best (and trained really hard too). Equally there was a lot of downtime which was great fun.
The money we got paid, I can’t remember what it was, but it was quite good – certainly more than what I was used to, as they tried to promote it. It was on FoxSports TV, so your mates back home would go around and watch it all together and they loved it because it was a made-for-TV product. And it was at the start of my career when I was still trying to make a name for myself.
Q6 — When you wound up your cricketing career, you transitioned into a media management-type role with Cricket Australia. Following that, you started up your own mortgage broking business. Firstly, can you talk us through that adjustment from professional cricketer to the 9-5, and secondly, how big a step was it to start your own business?
My training and background was in media and corporate affairs, so I got a job with Cricket Australia in their corporate affairs department. Part of that was the media manager role – we used to rotate that, I didn’t do the media management full time but I did do a fair chunk of it throughout the summer – but over time I realised that media and corporate affairs wasn’t what I wanted to do full time. I’d always been working in that area, for about ten years or so while I was playing cricket, but cricket was always my priority. Once I’d finished cricket, I was thinking ‘oh well, I’ll be at Cricket Australia for the next hundred years given its combining my professional background with my passion [for cricket], but realised soon that it wasn’t my go.
My passion is property and real estate, but I didn’t want to be a real estate agent – certainly didn’t want to do anything like that – so looked around and ended up getting into mortgage broking, which I’ve been doing now for the last 11 years. I’m running my own business now as a mortgage broker and I thoroughly enjoy it.
[Going self-employed] was a massive step. I remember waking up on day one after leaving Cricket Australia, [no longer] having a regular paycheck, and going ‘right, I’m now back on zero’. You shit yourself to start off with, but if you work hard, have a bit of luck…you have a few friends to help you out by giving you referrals or introductions or leads or do their own loans. That was really good and got me a little bit of a start. You progress and go from there – it takes ten years to become an overnight success. Things are going well work-wise now, but it certainly wasn’t always the case and we had to work very, very hard over a long period of time to get to where we are today.