We share a few drinks with one of the most popular cricketers in Australia.
He looks like he's 44 going on 24. But don't let Brad Hogg's impish grin and larrikin ways fool you: he's actually 44 going on 45! And still definitely at the top of his game in T20, and still a wanted man in the various leagues around the world. The West Australian got a new lease on cricketing life with the introduction of the Big Bash in Australia in 2011, coming out of retirement to put in stellar performances for the Perth Scorchers that have seen them take the last two titles and seen him reselected for Australia in 2012 and 2014. That's a long time since his Test debut back in 1996! He was in Shane Warne's shadow for much of his career (phase one), but has proved himself one of the world's best ODI spinners all on his own, rolling over his left-arm leggies, and a very handy batsman coming in down the order. He's also one of the most popular players in the country. And a country boy at heart. He spoke to Inside Sport editor Graem Sims.
So what have you been doing with yourself this winter since the Indian Premier League finished?
I’ve just been preparing for the new season to come around. And I’ve been doing a bit of public speaking. My wife Cheryl and I run our own entertainment business here in Perth.
I’ve been reading some rave reviews about your presentations. Does the speaking come naturally?
No. Far from it. It took a while. When I retired in 2008 I had an agent who arranged corporate engagements for me, and after about the fourth one I said no more – I just can’t do it. And then she rang me up three days later and asked if I could just do one more; she really needed a favour to help a friend out. And I said I don’t want to do it, but I did it. And that was how I met Cheryl ...
Cheryl now being your manager and business partner and, er, wife ... You must have done something right! She was in the audience?
Yeah, Cheryl was the client at that event! That was quite interesting. We didn’t date straight after that – it was about three months before we saw each other again accidentally. But yeah, I didn’t prepare anything. I just took my baggy green and coat and just went up there on the fly and it was one of the best I’ve ever done. But it’s not as easy as people think. There’s a bit of a skill to it. I've since done some training and now really enjoy performing in that arena.
Any pangs when you’re tuned into this Ashes series? Do you reckon you could still be giving those Poms a run for their money?
Oh look, I had a limited Test career. Looking back, I’m very happy with what I did. The only disappointment was retiring in 2008, because I basically had the Test spot then.
What was the story there, mate? You retired before you wanted to?
Yeah, well, I had some family issues. I tried to save a marriage. When you’re down the gurgler that far ... Cricket was a bit of a smokescreen with the relationship in a sense. Because you’re travelling all the time and everything feels hunky-dory ... But yeah, having to give up something that you really love for someone else, it doesn’t really work because you’re always going to have in the back of your mind what could have been. And you get frustrated. Especially when you’re doing something that’s as special as representing your country. So it’s just one of those things that I couldn’t cope with.
Then what happened? Because you came back.
I had nearly three years off. Then my country team from where I grew up rang and asked could I play Country Week with them – “We’re a little bit short”, because numbers in the country are dying. So I went down there and that was my first game back. There was a bit of a discussion about where I should bat, and I just said bat me down the list because everyone’s busted their backsides to get the opportunity to play up in Perth. So I went out there, and their keeper sledged me after a couple of overs.
And it all came flooding back ...
Yeah, I said, “There’s no point giving it to me because if things get out of hand here, I’ve got seven cousins who’ll have you in the car park.” (Laughs) But it was quite good. And that was the start of turning it around. I went back to grade cricket two weeks after that. Cheryl was the one forcing me to go back to cricket. She said, “If you love it, just go back and play.” We got to the finals that year and Mickey Arthur rang me up and said, “Are you interested in playing for the Perth Scorchers at the end of the year?” And that’s when they were revamping the T20 and bringing out the Big Bash. And I said, “Yeah, I’m interested. What about me coming back to play Shield cricket and one-day cricket?” And he said, “Ah, let’s not take it too far ... ”
Don Bradman had the water tank. Steve Waugh had a twin. How did you learn to play cricket growing up on a sheep station?
I was pretty lucky – I had a mum who was a schoolteacher. I was the only child until I was 13. Shearers would come out and I’d be the five-year-old just sitting there at smoko waiting for them to bowl to me while they were having their break. Dad built me a cricket net on the farm – then they bought me a ball machine. Mum would feed it every night as long as I’d done my homework. When I first went up for grade cricket I was pretty strong on the offside through point and cover; for the first year with the net we just had a rabbit-proof fence that only covered the off side. So wherever the ball pitched, I just tried to hit it into the net because I got sick of chasing the balls down the paddock on the leg side. It’s amazing how guys develop their game by just those little things that happen in the backyard. Then I had my Uncle Peter, who’s probably 12 years older than me; we used to play on Nanna’s back verandah; we were both left-handed batsmen and he’d always be trying to take my head off, and I probably broke the window six times before Nanna said that the next time we break it we’re not playing cricket out there anymore. So that again had me avoiding the pull shot, so the leg side deteriorated even more ...
I presume this was late ’70s early ’80s? Who were your heroes?
To be honest, my dad was my hero. And everyone around the Williams Cricket Association (south-east of Perth) ... Everyone says that the old man was a better cricketer than me, but he didn’t have that opportunity to go to the city – he always wanted to be on the farm. But I remember watching the West Indies play Australia, and the West Indies back then used to annihilate everyone. I always put myself in an Australian team to be the captain and the saviour. I looked up to the Kim Hughes and Greg Chappells and Dennis Lillees, but probably my biggest hero out of Australian cricket was Geoff Marsh, for the simple fact that he came from our cricket association and when I was 15 I was fortunate enough to spend a week with him on his farm and that really showed me what it took to play for Australia – he had a cricket net as well with a ball machine.
Well, you’ve since turned into the poster boy for the over-40s. Have you had to turn into a fitness freak to keep going? What’s your secret?
Well, my secret is staying fit. When I went to England as an 18-year-old – in my first year out of school I got an offer to play club cricket over there – I came back realising that I needed a chef because I didn’t have Mum with me. I had a pair of tennis shorts that wouldn’t fit over my knees – that’s how big I blew out in six months.
That can be a trap, eh? Pub life and stodgy food ...
Yeah, and it didn’t help having two fish and chip shops on either side of your house. I came back that year and looked at myself in the mirror and I thought I’m not going to let that happen to me again. It took me a fair while to get back to fighting fitness, but I became a fitness freak because I just love my food. It’s actually pretty hard to keep a diet. At the end of the day it’s not really what you eat, it’s how much you eat. That’s what I’ve worked out.
So are you a runner or a weights man?
I used to be a runner. After I went to Geoff Marsh’s, I realised how much running you needed to do. But a lot of players wouldn’t have done as much as I did. I took it up and I loved it.
I make it you’ve played 123 ODIs for Australia – and apparently none of us can remember the results of any of them! But I’ll bet YOU can. What’s your most memorable match for Australia? Feel free to pick a World Cup game.
Definitely 2003, against Pakistan. That’s when Warney had to leave the tour and Andrew Symonds made that hundred; during the lead-up to the match everyone was getting stuck into Andrew Symonds – he shouldn’t be there, he’s a waste of space and all this other type of jargon. And after he made a match-winning hundred, I just remember everyone sitting in the change-rooms celebrating and turning to the media and getting stuck into them a bit, because the media had slagged him ...
He was a popular guy in the team, wasn’t he?
Yeah, he was. And it gave me a great idea of what Australian cricket was all about, and what that team was all about. That gave me the confidence to be the number one spinner in the team, taking the reins from Warne. That sort of encouraged me to go out and feel confident when I was out in the middle.
That’s interesting you cite someone else’s good performance in your most memorable game. What did you do with the ball after that?
Well, the memorable ball for me out of that World Cup campaign was against Andy Flower in Zimbabwe. Before each game there were three blokes assigned to do the match preparation about the opposition, so for this game it was Ian Harvey, myself and Darren Lehmann. And I was only a new kid on the block back then so I was still fairly quiet. Anyway, we’re talking about Andy Flower and we were carrying on for about 40 minutes – or I should say Ian Harvey and Darren Lehmann were carrying on, because Andy Flower is a pretty decent batsman, one of the best in the world. And I just said, “Boys, don’t worry about this – just bring me on and I’ll get him out with a flipper.” And Boof’s turned around to me and said, “Hoggy, that’s enough from you.” And then we were out there and I bowled my first over against the two Flower boys – Grant was batting as well, and they were sweeping the ears off me; I think they played about five sweeps in the first over. And the next over I’m at the top of my mark wondering what I should bowl. I wanted to bowl the flipper but in the back of my mind I could hear John Buchanan saying, “Always bowl your stock ball first ball – don’t try and be clever with your first ball.” And I just thought, “Stuff it, I never really listened to Dad on the farm, I just went and did my own thing. So why don’t I do it now?” And I bowled a flipper and it hit the top of off stump. And I just remember yelling out, “Well boys, will you listen to me now?”
How long did it take for you to get a presentable flipper into your repertoire?
It took a long time. I didn’t even start bowling leg spin until my second year of first-class cricket, after I got asked to bowl them in the nets to prepare us for a bloke named "Fred" Freedman. I played my first Shield game as a batsman but over that winter I realised that I wasn’t going to make it as a batsman to play for Australia. So I just worked my guts out – I tried to bowl as long as I possibly could. Every spare minute I had, you’d see me down the nets doing it. Even at work, if I had a spare five minutes, I’d just go to the nets with six balls and bowl them. So it took me a fair while. The first flipper I bowled in a match was against Mike Hussey playing for Fremantle against Wanneroo; I had a bloke at point who’s six foot eight, and I let the flipper go, and he’s caught it on the full, jumping. It could have gone for four wides over point’s head.
I remember Warney used to sometimes stick his tongue out and pull faces at a batsman on approach to put them off. What’s the origin of your tongue hijinks? Was that a bowling tactic?
No, no. I look at my youngest daughter, my seven-year-old, and she’s just got her tongue out exactly like mine. It’s always been like that. Mum always knew whether I was doing my homework properly because my tongue was out when I was concentrating.
Sorry, have to ask: have you ever chomped on it while you’re playing?
The funny thing is that while playing football my tongue would be out all the time, and I got hit a number of times but never bit it. But it gets in the way of my food – so every now and then I’ll bite it while eating. I’ve also actually bitten it while talking!
You’re known as a bit of a prankster. Can you give us an example of your best work?
The first Shield final I ever played was against Queensland at the WACA in 1996. We’re in the change rooms, and I remember big Jo Angel – he used to cut the big toe out of his shoes, so when the fast bowler lands the toe doesn’t hit the leather. I used to be the first one into the change rooms most times and when I rocked in on the second day there was this dead rat under my locker. So I’ve picked it up, shoved it in Joe’s shoe, and poked the head through the hole. So anyway Big Jo has grabbed his shoes and I’m trying to check out his shoes and I don’t see the head, and no one’s made any comment. So I’m sitting there thinking he must have pulled it out. Anyway, three days later, on the fifth day, there was this massive stink in the change room, and we couldn’t find where it was coming from. But we found out. Joey used to wear those orthotic inserts in his shoes, and there was a fossil embedded in his orthotic. He’d been playing the whole game bowling with this dead rat in his shoe and he’s flattened it. I could not believe he could not feel it. But the bastard, on the final day, we used to have these little carrier bags, and he put a fish in mine from lunch. I didn’t find that till next season ...
If you make the team for the T20 World Cup next March, apparently that’ll make you the third-oldest player ever selected for Australia. How good would that be?
Yeah, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to get a gig – aw, I dunno ...
You’re being modest. Your numbers are still stacking up from what I’m reading ...
It’d be great – it’d be fantastic. I guess that’s one thing I’ve probably learnt throughout my career: there’s been times where I’m sort of playing and I’ll forget why I’m there. I’ll start worrying about contracts and all that jargon. And I’ve learnt that if you’re worrying about the other stuff, your performances go right down the gurgler.
But you're going around again, aren't you? Have you got a BBL contract for next summer?
Not at present, no. But I’ll definitely be playing. It’s one of those things – how do you put it? I’ve got my goals of playing for Australia ... don’t get me wrong there. But if you’re not concentrating or enjoying where you’re at in the present moment, you’re never going to go to the next level. I think the best thing about the Perth Scorchers is that I’ve been playing for WA cricket – I haven’t been playing to go up the ladder in a sense. And it makes a huge difference when you know your purpose – why you’re actually playing.
You could call that the theme of your comeback years, couldn’t you? Playing for the joy of it ... It’s written all over your face when you’re on the paddock. And the fans really respond to it.
Yeah, I always had those values, when I was playing for Australia, too. I remember when I got back to play for Australia in the T20s, they were having a meeting, and the theme was that we’re paid to win, in a sense. And I sort of don’t agree with that. For me, we’re paid to entertain. I didn’t play cricket because Australia were winning, but I loved watching how they’d stack up against the West Indies and see their courage, because the West Indies were a tough team back then. Australians will always be supported as long as they are seen to be giving 100 percent. It’s not because they’re winning. It’s more about the effort they put out in the middle.