Almanac Cricket: Greg Shipperd and his “absolute love for the game”

“An absolute love for the game”

Greg Shipperd

Written by Gil Roseby

Derek Woodhead played first-class cricket for Western Australia in the late 1950’s but arguably, his greatest contribution was as a year four Maths teacher who encouraged a young Greg Shipperd to take up the game. This Maths teacher became Greg’s mentor, coach and advisor for the next twenty years.

Greg was always an enthusiastic sportsman. His first job was at the local tennis club 100 metres down the road from his house, and he loved Australian Football as well. He just tried his hardest at all three but cricket was his main sport and he dreamed of “playing at the highest possible level, which in those days, was for your state.”

He had three very good coaches and mentors at his club: Derick Chadwick, Ken Newlman and Peter Burke. He says he “was very fortunate to have them and some terrifically skilled teammates who made my journey through cricket a lot easier.”

Greg got into the Western Australian team with some consistent performances in junior cricket. One of his most memorable performances was taking 8 wickets for no runs as a leg-spinner in an under sixteen match. After that stunning bowling innings he was promoted to the first grade and started there as a leg spinner. He then decided that batting was his passion and he chose to focus on it; his leg-spinning disappeared.

When Greg first got into the Western Australian selectors’ eyes, it was through the under 19 Western Australian team. He had a great tournament in the under 19 championships and was then selected in the Australian under 19 team.

Greg was then playing in some futures league games and in the seconds team until a spot opened up in the Western Australian team due to a lot of players on test duty for Australia. There were lots of gaps when Australia was playing, and Greg took his opportunity and played well enough to continue to be selected for a number of years.

Playing in the Western Australian team, Shipperd was almost the only non-test player at the time and he counted himself as very lucky to be in such a position and tried to soak up all the information being fed to him through these warriors of the game. People like Lillee, Marsh, Kim Hughes and Terry Alderman were the ones who stood out to Greg, helping him no only with his playing but also on his journey as a coach.

At various stages in Greg’s career, plenty of overseas imports came to play in the Sheffield Shield. West Indian star pair Joel Garner and Michael Holding, and Sir Richard Hadlee and Sir Ian Botham were some of the players who graced Australian grounds wearing state colours.

They came to Australia most likely to get a feel for the game in different conditions and to learn more about the game here and their own personal games too. While Greg was part of the Western Australian team, they didn’t need any overseas players to boost their lineup. But while Greg was rising up through the Western Australian pathway, Vic Marks, former English off-spinning all-rounder who took 859 First-Class wickets, and Ken McEwan, a South-African middle order batsman, were two overseas coaches who were introduced into their teams for similar reasons as the players – to improve their coaching and also to pass on some international knowledge to the young players.

After a successful run with Western Australia, Greg was asked to participate in the 1985/86 and 1986/87 rebel tours of South Africa. These tours caused plenty of controversy, playing in the time of the Apartheid regime in South Africa when there was a ban on sporting and cultural contact with South Africa. South Africa won both ‘Test’ series 1-0, yet the on-field action couldn’t escape the shadow of apartheid. Australian Prime Minister at the time, Bob Hawke, called the Australian teams “traitors” and this has been looked back on as “one of the most painful and traumatic moments in Australian cricket history.”

After Greg came back from the two years away from Western Australia through a time that was “rather dimly viewed… the replacement players had played well” and he then had to fight his way back into the side. He managed to do this but at 30 years of age, the selectors told him that maybe someone else would be a better option to fill his spot.

In contrast, however, Tasmania did want Greg’s support and experience to be a part of their relatively inexperienced team. Tasmania had only recently joined the Shield and had been at the bottom of the ladder for a number of years. He was pleased to see Tasmania’s improvement while he was there for 2 years. He then stayed at the state to coach the Shield team for 11 years and set up his coaching journey.

Greg’s primary role at Tasmania, alongside former New South Welshman Dirk Wellham, was to coach and mentor the young Tasmanians. “As senior players we were brought in precisely for that role – to educate the younger Tasmania players to make them more of a competitive unit… I think we achieved that.”

Greg has had an extensive and successful coaching career. He has coached in Australia and also in the Indian Premier League T20 competition for four years. “In India each IPL game is a bit like an AFL grand-final, there’s a lot of crowd support, a lot of interest, a lot of tension, a lot of pressure and they’re wonderful matches to be involved in.”

In Delhi’s first four years of the competition, Greg coached the Daredevils with some star players like McGrath, de Villiers and Vettori and many others at the time.

Back home in Australia, Greg has had great coaching success. He coached Victoria to two Sheffield Shield titles and he led his team to the first four domestic T20 titles with Victoria. “The Melbourne Stars had been super competitive in my journey with them” and now he coaches the Sydney Sixers. Greg said that “they’re all great tournaments to be involved in” and that it is important to “form relationships with groups of people and giving them an identified target and everyone getting on board and chasing it.”

Greg Shipperd now also coaches the Victorian Development squad and says “that it’s all about giving them the fundamentals and basics of the game and getting them to understand… batting and bowling and how to perform as a team and how to carry yourselves in the field.” On coaching he says “There’s a lot of strategy behind cricket and it’s about giving the information to the players about how a team functions but also the player getting the best out of him [or] herself in the various disciplines that he [or] she is involved in in a game.”

Greg is driven by his passion for the game and gets involved with younger groups of people that are now chasing it not only as a weekend hobby but as a job. “it’s become very important to me to do a good job with them and for them on behalf of our state and our country and it’s just a terrific industry to be a part of.”

For many people, living their career in the public eye would be difficult. Greg’s advice is that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you just have to let most of it wash by.”

He also says that one problem could be that we jump too quickly from different formats of the game with different coloured balls. With the red and white and now the pink too, “it does lend itself to distract the players from their best performance because the coaches and the teams need the very best adaptable players to understand what each of the different games is asking for.” Upon being asked about whether Test cricket will stay in Australia, he responded by saying that “people can identify the crowds and the pizzazz and the entertainment of the shorter forms, especially the T20 cricket.” He continued on to say that “Test cricket still has its place, and it is a great contest between bat and ball over 5 days, and that is unique and I think that it’ll still be around be around for a long, long time.”

Greg has been there as a coach since the start of T20 cricket and has seen the rise of the format. He says that it’s action-packed and can fit into a period in between an AFL match and a soccer so it’s ideal for the viewers. “The players love playing in it and it’s a fantastic environment to be in.”

Greg said that he is “pleased that they’ll be playing more games going into the future and there’s been a lot of debate about more teams or more games for the teams that are here and I suggest more games for the teams that are here rather that broadening the talent pool too much would be my advice”

Greg also coaches the Melbourne Cricket Club women’s team and has seen the burst of activity, especially in the last 5 years and the real appetite from the girls to get better. They “love the game as much as the boys do and so now they’re getting the platforms to show their skills and quite rightly so I think the women’s Ashes, the WBBL are all exciting opportunities for sport in the country.”

After 112 Australian First-Class cricket matches which included Western Australia’s inaugural player of the year award, he has had an incredibly successful coaching career across two states and three T20 teams. Greg Shipperd can be considered one of Australia’s most significant cricketers. What keeps him going over a forty-year cricketing career? “It’s an absolute love for the game and it’s a love affair that’s still continuing.”

Thanks to Greg Shipperd for a great interview and providing plenty of terrific information and also to the Western Australian museum coordinator, Stephen Hall, for providing some awesome photos and articles.

Greg Shipperd’s statistics:
112 Australian First-Class matches with 6,806 runs @ 42.27 including 15 centuries with a high score of 200*, Including Western Australia’s inaugural player of the year award.
875 List A runs @ 41.66 in 29 matches
5 Sheffield Shield victories (one as a player, 4 as a coach), 1 national One-Day cup and 4 Big Bash titles.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says:

    Fantastic Gil, really enjoyed this piece.
    Been a big fan of Shipperd, his role in taking over the Bushrangers after the tragic passing of David Hookes cannot be understated. No doubt the influence of Hookes on Shipperd was profound, opening him up to a more attacking style of coaching. I’m sure the fact Shipperd has landed some great T20 coaching gigs is in no small part due to Hookes’ influence.

    Welcome to the almanac, look forward to reading more of your work.

  2. Kieran Dempsey says:

    Well researched and written Gil. Good to see your scholarship published online.

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