I talked about the importance of the baggy green, told Stephen that he thoroughly deserved his cap and talked about his wonderful journey to get there. Once you finish talking, the debutant places the baggy green on his head for the first time. I will never forget Stephen’s smile and the hugs and handshakes that followed.
Once you have presented each debutant with their baggy green, you strike an affinity with each player. I always look at their performances, hoping they go on to be successful Australian cricketers.
When I presented each player with their baggy green, they were also given a beautiful embroidered pouch for the cap to go into for protection while on the road. I asked Australian team manager Gavin Dovey if he could arrange one for my own baggy green. He said he would ask.
I do not like to leave my baggy green in the cupboard. I love taking it to cricket camps and appearances for children and adults to get a closer look at what the famous cap looked like. I believed the pouch would give the baggy green a bit more bling appeal when youngsters looked at it. The pouch is green with gold piping and proudly displays the Australian coat of arms, your name and your Test cap number on it.
So last Sunday at the WACA Ground, Dovey told me to pop into the Australian dressing room to pick up my pouch. It didn’t start off too well. When I approached the dressing rooms there were five security guards looking to move me on. They asked me why I was out the front and who I was. When I was about to leave, Dovey raced out of the rooms to invite me in.
Once I entered the dressing rooms, a beer was quickly placed in my hand and the Australian team and staff said hello. Then Australian coach Darren “Boof” Lehmann asked the boys to come in for a meeting. Then I started to realise that I was about to receive a proper baggy green presentation. I was starting to feel a little embarrassed as I looked at my feet. Boof requested my old teammate Craig “Billy” McDermott to say a few words about my career and present me with my own baggy green pouch, number 324.
Billy was nervous, as I was, and yet he spoke with great affection and fondness of our time together that was so much appreciated. Cap presentations were not around in my day. In 1984, my postman Peter Brown delivered my baggy green to my house with my Australian blazer, jumpers and whites for a tour of the West Indies. When I opened the box, Peter saw the baggy green was on top of the clothes. He quickly picked the baggy green up, looked at it and proudly placed it on my head. He then wished me well for the Windies tour, hopped on his bicycle, rang his bell and headed off to finish his round.
Once Billy started talking about my career, I started to feel quite awkward and overcome with the ceremony. I gazed around the dressing room, the players were listening intently to Billy’s every word. I then noticed all the cap pouches displayed proudly in each player’s cubicle. It looked really cool.
When it was my time to respond, I talked about what the cap meant to me. I mentioned to the players not to get too comfortable within these surroundings of the Australian team. Experience tells me your time will go in a flash. So just enjoy the moment. Enjoy your mates and their friendship. Play as long as you can, as you are a long time retired. Then I noticed Mitchell Johnson, who nodded in agreement. Mitch knew his time was done and announced his retirement to the players straight after my presentation.
I must thank Lehmann, Dovey, Steve Smith and the team for this wonderful initiative for past players who were never given a proper cap presentation. I believe I am the first “old-timer” to receive such an honour from the Australian team. This team constantly gets criticised wrongly for not clapping, shaking players’ hands or showing enough sportsmanship. The public doesn’t know how much amazing stuff they do with charities, with their fans and past players. They don’t seek out the publicity. They do it quietly within their own inner sanctum.
The whole ceremony was such a humbling experience. As I slowly walked back from the WACA Ground to my hotel, I became quite emotional and reflective on what just happened. There have been 443 players privileged to wear the baggy green cap since 1877. I was thinking how lucky I was to be just one of them.
I really wished my family was there because they deserved to be part of the ceremony. You don’t make it to the top unless you are surrounded by quality people helping you chase your dreams. I wished Keith Stackpole, my coach and mentor when I was young, was there as well. By gee, Stacky showed so much patience in developing my technique and was always there when I needed him throughout my career.
God, I love this game.