THE highlight of the Bendigo Bank Big Bash for many cricket spectators was the opportunity to meet former Test cricketer Greg Matthews.
In between helping to run the junior clinic last Friday, Matthews spoke to the BDN about a range of topics, including Bega, his career, being in the Australian dressing room and the emergence of Twenty20.
Matthews played 33 Test matches and 59 One-Day Internationals during the ‘80s and ‘90s for Australia.
He was also a regular for NSW, playing 190 first-class matches.
Since retiring in 1998, Matthews, 53, has travelled to rural and remote areas around Australia as part of the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) Masters program.
“I love visiting rural and country areas,” Matthews said.
“They are generous people and there is plenty of talent.”
Matthews is no stranger to the Bega Valley, having previously visited during a Toohey’s Country Cup tour.
Matthews takes a break from the interview to assist a young emerging fast bowler, commenting that “a couple of young boys here must be eating their parents out of home – they’ve got good pace”.
Matthews reflects on the previous tour with pride, but some conjecture remains on when it was held.
“I thought it was about 15 years ago the last time I visited Bega,” he said.
“But I’ve been informed that Mark Taylor broke his toe first ball, so it must be a few years more then.
“I have good memories of Bega – it’s a nice drive down from Sydney and there is beautiful countryside.”
Matthews took 61 wickets with his off-breaks and scored more than 1800 runs during a Test career spanning one decade.
Matthews has mixed feelings when he reflects on his time in the baggy green – there’s pride, but also frustration.
He said it is an amazing feeling to represent your country.
“It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to play for Australia – it’s intangible,” Matthews said.
“It’s like explaining love, isn’t it?
“It’s one of great pride, a tremendous honour in what is probably the one chosen national sport.
“It’s a lot of fun, something I would have liked to do a lot more.”
Matthews said highlights included some successful tours of India and Sri Lanka, but he believed his batting talent was often overlooked.
“I consider myself an all-rounder, I would like to have batted at six a bit more.”
Although considered by many as being a “larrikin”, Matthews believes he was a “working class cricketer”.
“It’s very hard [in cricket] – what you see is what you get on the field,” he said.
“I was a working class guy with energy for the game.
“I had the likes of Lillee, Chappell and Marsh at the start of my career, then Taylor, Waugh and Warne at the end.
“It was a great honour to be in that dressing room – they were true superstars of the game.”
However, Matthews said his proudest achievement occurred off the field, as an executive of Australian Cricket Association in its formative year.
It is believed the executive’s hard work saw cricket become more “professional”, a word that Matthews dislikes.
“I helped to lay a foundation for my brothers and sisters to make a living and to have a voice,” he said.
“I’m anti the word ‘professional’ because I’m concerned about the administration side, particularly what is filtering down to our junior ranks – is it allowing them to do bigger and better things?”
On modern day cricket, Matthews is excited by the emergence of Twenty20.
Matthews said he played in the first Twenty20 game in NSW at Hurstville Oval.
“It was a composite NSW side versus others and I was amazed to see 30 queues of people coming into the ground,” he said.
“There were mums and girls, and it was great to see families back. I thought to myself this is a whole new generation of cricket fans.”
Matthews said Twenty20 had become a new entity.
“It’s great for the business and game,” he said.
“It allows players to specialise in specific areas of the game.
“Some players are suited to Test match cricket, others to the shorter versions.”
However, Matthews believes Tests are still essential on the cricketing calendar.
He said he was surprised by some negative comments in the media, because he believed the recent series between Australia and South Africa as “tremendous”.
“The greatest [aspect] of Test match cricket is it’s a true test of character – there is no place to hide in the field,” he said.