Almanac (Country) Cricket: Wazza and Slats



Warren ‘Wazza’ Smith OAM is a living legend in the southern NSW city of Wagga Wagga.


Wazza is nuggetty with ginger hair and a fair complexion.  He is a fit-looking 73 years old who has survived three heart attacks.  You could just imagine him in earlier days under a wide-brimmed Greg Chappell cricket hat, hands resting on his knees, squatting at first slip under the baking Riverina sun waiting for a nick to come his way.


Most kids who lived in southern NSW over the last 45 years would have, at some stage in their cricket journeys, been coached by the irrepressible Wazza. The most famous graduate from Wazza’s “school” was the swashbuckling NSW and Australian opening batsman Michael Jordan Slater.  Slater’s Test record reads pretty well: 74 Tests with a batting average of 42.8 and 14 centuries (famously he was dismissed in the “nervous nineties” nine times). Wazza even co-wrote a book titled How I taught Michael Slater to play cricket which was published in 2006 at the height of Slats’ illustrious career.  Wazza, ever the innovator, had once invested in a bowling machine because his arm was “rooted” from doing throwdowns to the tireless Slats.


I knew of Wazza when I  moved to Wagga for work in the early 2000s. He had developed a profile thanks to Slater’s emergence as an international cricketer.  The Slater kid had some flair not seen in many openers before him (Think Bill “The corpse with pads on” Lawry and Bobby Simpson – great players but not great entertainers).


Wazza said Michael’s older brother was already in one of his Monday afternoon coaching sessions when seven year-old Michael turned up with his dad, keen as mustard to have a go.  After seeing the youngster execute a copybook on-drive, like Greg Chappell’s in fact, Wazza realised that he had a rare talent on his hands. The kid, he thought, had the raw skill and determination to go a long way.


Wazza then became like a second father to the young Michael Slater, instrumental in his development as a cricket player and as a person. Wazza skippered a 14-year-old Slater in a Premiership-winning Wagga RSL team.  Slater opened the innings and made 120; a sign of what was to come for the talented youngster. About ten years later he would make a brilliant maiden Test hundred (152) at the home of cricket, Lords. In a remarkable coincidence, his opening partner and future Australian captain, Mark Taylor, had attended the same high school in Wagga Wagga a few years earlier. No wonder it’s called the City of Good Sports!


The Wagga City Council honoured its three former Test cricketers by naming ovals after them – Geoff ‘Henry’ Lawson, Mark Taylor (although not a  Wagga “purebred”  his father was posted as a teacher to Wagga where Mark started to play cricket, scoring his first ton for Lake Albert juniors as a 13 year old) and, of course,  Michael Slater. Also, in a popular decision it decreed that the practice nets, built in 2016 adjacent to the three ovals in Bolton Park, would be known as the Warren Smith Nets. Wazza would be justifiably proud of this well-deserved recognition and was equally as excited when Wagga’s incongruously lush Robertson Oval hosted a Sheffield Shield match between NSW and Victoria in 2016. (The same oval where the GWS Giants and Richmond Tigers recently played) You see, Wazza regularly catches the XPT the five-hour train journey to watch the Shield cricket so finally “big cricket” had come to him in inland Wagga Wagga!


I go to the same coffee shop in Wagga as Wazza every Friday morning and he is usually there wearing his uniform of tracky pants and a ‘Wazza’-embroidered cricket shirt.  Wazza is usually either pursuing the teams in the Wagga Daily Advertiser or enjoying some friendly banter with the barista Mushi, a proud Pakistani man. He seems to know a lot of people and engages in deep and boisterous discussion about something or other (usually cricket). He barracks for the Geelong Cats in the AFL and St George in the NRL (a necessary insurance policy in a region where both football codes have support!) but is basically thrilled to see any kid he has coached succeed in any endeavour. When local Collingullie lad Harry Perryman represented GWS in last year’s AFL Grand Final he rang his old cricket coach Wazza as he apparently does before most games. “Nice kid and a bloody good cricketer too,” said Wazza.


Wazza seems like he wouldn’t suffer fools gladly though and I assume his red hair comes with a fiery temper. Several times I have stopped during a walk around the nets to watch Wazza coaching a youngster – perhaps the next Slater or Blackwell – only for Wazza to give me his trademark “don’t distract the kid” glare.


Wazza might be in his seventies now but is embracing the massive changes in cricket, especially the rise of women’s cricket.  Alex Blackwell, from nearby Leeton, the former Australian Women’s team captain was a protégé of Wazza’s. Likewise,  Lisa Sthalekar speaks highly of Wazza’s training methods. For a few years he was even the batting coach for the NSW Blues but his home and heart has always been in the Riverina.


Warren Smith was born in West Wyalong, a town located an hour and forty minutes drive north of Wagga near Ungarie, the home of the footballing Daniher brothers. It’s harsh farming country where cricket is played on malthoid pitches on ovals fringed by gaunt gum trees. The Smiths moved to Wagga Wagga, when Wazza was just nine, where his dad managed a sawmill. Wazza left school when he was 14 to take a job in the sports department of the now-defunct David Jones in Wagga’s Main Street.  This may be where he developed an appreciation of taking good care of your gear. He preaches the importance of the “1 percenters” like always tucking your shirt in and oiling your bat.


After a brief stint in Sydney Grade cricket Wazza returned to the bush and by the tender age of 20 was appointed captain/coach of one of the local teams. His stellar coaching career had begun.


Slater and Lawson both penned forewords to Warren’s aforementioned book/coaching manual. They both emphasised the word “passion”.  This word characterises Wazza. You just get the feeling he loves the game of cricket as much as he does his wife and two kids…well, almost.


Wazza is always dreaming…dreaming of one day finding another Michael Slater.



Cricket NSW Chairman John Warn, Geoff Lawson, Warren Smith OAM, Mayor Rod Kendall, Cricket NSW Chief Executive Andrew Jones.


This photo, courtesy of the Wagga Daily Advertiser, shows Warren (middle) at the soil-turning ceremony for the nets named in his honour. Ex-Test fast bowler, Geoff Lawson is to his left. (It seems there was a hot special on shovels at Bunnings!)




Front cover of How I taught Michael Slater to play cricket published in 2006. The tall redhead, bottom right is ex- NSW batsman Dominic Thornley, who Wazza also coached. Incidentally, co-author Terry Smith is no relation to Warren.




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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab story Dan! I enjoy reading about the formative years of great players. That background into their success is always informative and enlightening I find.

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