One of, if not the greatest Victorian Premier cricketer of all time, Warren Ayres, is the all time leading run scorer with 15 277 runs @ 42.43. He also holds the record for most centuries with 41, has two double centuries, boasts two 1100+ run seasons including the all time best aggregate season of 1166 runs. He’s won two Ryder Medals, played in four premierships at Melbourne, lead Dandenong to their first ever premiership as captain-coach, and recently coached Carlton to a drought breaking Premier Firsts premiership as well as the inaugural National Premier T20 Championships title.
On top of this Warren also played 46 First Class games for Victoria, scoring 2611 runs @ 33.91 including 7 centuries and 11 half centuries. He also played 16 List A games. It’s easy to understand why he’s such a well respected and highly regarded figure.
Thanks for giving up your time today Warren, let’s get started.
Q. What year were you born?
Q. When did you start playing cricket and who for?
When I was about 8 or 10 for Cluden CC, then I moved to Springvale South CC for the Under 12’s.
Q. When did you realise you had the ability to go beyond local cricket?
Probably in the Under 14’s when I started scoring a few hundreds.
Q. At what age did you start playing Premier cricket?
When I was 15.
Q. When did you make your Premier Firsts debut and what was that like?
I made my First XI debut when I was 16 at Melbourne CC against Ringwood. It was daunting and I was very nervous, but looking back it’s a very good experience.
Q. When did you score your maiden Premier Firsts century and what was that like?
When I was 18 in a semi final against Collingwood. We lost unfortunately but it’s an innings I look back on with fond memories.
Q. You’ve spoken about being happy you worked your way through every grade of Premier cricket, why was it important to you to do it that way?
I think it just shows people that you can make it from the fourth XI. Lots of kids get told at local level that you shouldn’t go and play the lower grades and wait until you’re good enough to play second XI. I was happy because it showed people that I went through a process.
Q. You played four successive U19 National Championships for Victoria, how did you get into the U19 set up so early and how’d you perform?
The first year I did not really play. I was basically just there as an observer. I’d done well in the Under 16’s so they decided to give me a go in the Under 19’s, ultimately I was too small. The second year was similar as well. I batted down the order a bit and I was still young. The last two I did perform quite well and made the Australian team. I guess it was just Cricket Victoria trying to fast track my growth and development putting me in so young.
Q. You toured India with the Australia U19s, can you tell us a bit about the tour and the experience of touring overseas as such a young kid?
It was terrific, it was a nine week tour. We spent seven weeks in India two in Sri Lanka. It was an amazing tour for a group of players that were so young, we had a great group and we didn’t lose a game. It was challenging being away from home and in such foreign conditions. We were being guarded by soldiers with machine guns. It was very different from what we’re used to in Australia. Pretty much everyone got sick, I certainly had a week or two where I was sick. You form a lot of amazing bonds and make great friends on a tour like that, I’m still Facebook friends and keep in touch with a lot of those guys.
Q. You didn’t perform overly well on that tour, do you feel like that affected your chances of playing for Australia’s senior team?
No, not really. I got sick and missed a Test match and the guy that came in and replaced me made some runs so I couldn’t get back into the team. It’s difficult being on a tour for so long and not really playing much. Back then there’s plenty of very good cricketers playing First Class who never play for Australia so I don’t think it really had an impact.
Q. When did you make your First Class debut and what was that like?
I made my First Class debut when I was 20 against Tasmania. It was my first game and it was Dennis Lillee’s last, so I got to face him, that was an experience. I think it was the last game of the season from memory, I went ok, made a 40. It was just a real eye opener playing with guys you’ve spent watching on TV.
Q. When did you score your maiden First Class century and what was that like?
It was against New South Wales, I’m not sure how old I was probably around 22. We were in trouble on the last day and we had to bat it out to draw the match. Luckily we did save it and I think I finished on 140*, that’s another memory I look back on very fondly.
Warren Ayres batting for Victoria
Q. In the 1990/91 season you missed out on the Shield title after playing most of the season with Victoria, how difficult was that to deal with and how did you cope with it?
I didn’t deal with it very well to be honest. To this day it’s something that affects me, I played every game and did alright but for whatever reason they decided to drop me.
Q. Earlier on in that season you scored an unbeaten century against an attack with three bowlers that represented Australia, what went wrong for you after that?
You start thinking about the next level and getting ahead of yourself and you’re not focusing on what’s in front of you anymore. All of a sudden you lose some form and it’s very difficult to find your feet again in the system.
Q. Tell us a bit about the pressures of playing first class cricket and do you ever feel like your performances were affected by pressure?
Absolutely, there’s only 10 Shield games in a season and back then it’s not professional and you’re still working. You have the pressure of trying to juggle and manage your job and training and playing. Back then there were no contracts, you got paid only when you played a game. Today, the contract system allows you to focus solely on your cricket. I got a lot of pressure from my bosses at work about my cricketing commitments and that made things difficult.
Q. You’ve spoken about playing during a really strong era of Australian cricket, has there ever been a time when the national team was weaker and you believed in your prime you would’ve been good enough to play a role?
I have no doubt at my best I could’ve played for Australia. I was picked for Victoria so young and I was not for the level. I would’ve been much better off being picked when I was 25 and playing until I was 35, I got a lot better in my 30’s and that’s when I scored most of my runs and most of my hundreds.
Q. You did play 46 first class games for Victoria, but with all the runs you were making at Premier level, why do you believe you didn’t spend more time playing First Class cricket?
I don’t know the answer to that.
Q. Looking back do you feel like you should’ve moved states, and if so, why?
Looking back now I should’ve moved, I had the opportunity to go to New Zealand and an opportunity to go to Tasmania. I decided to stay and be loyal. My belief was if I was good enough I was going to get picked. Even though I was scoring more runs than anyone I didn’t get picked for whatever reason. Looking back and not moving states is something I think about and something I regret.
Q. You were a four time premiership player at Melbourne, were any of those premierships particularly special or were they all just as good?
All premierships are special. I scored an unbeaten century when we got over the line in one, which makes it even more special. It was a very satisfying year and probably my best ever. I scored 1166 runs that year which is the season record that still stands. It’s the kind of season you dream of.
Q. Did you have any standout performances in those grand finals?
I scored 3 or 4 hundreds in finals, all runs in finals are important. When I was playing finals when I was younger, I probably didn’t score as many runs as I would’ve liked. Later on when I was older, I scored a lot of runs in finals and really found a successful recipe.
Q. You hold all kinds of Premier Cricket records, most runs, most centuries, best aggregate season, you’ve also won two Ryder medals, you’re a five time premiership player and you’ve made 46 First Class appearances for Victoria, looking back on your career can you say you feel accomplished?
No, the goal was to play for Australia and I never achieved that. They’re good achievements to look back on and I could be satisfied but I’m not. I feel like at times I underachieved.
Q. Would you trade in all of those achievements for an opportunity to represent Australia?
Q. You returned to where it all began 2010/11, how important was it to help bring success to Springvale South and where would you rank the DDCA Turf 1 premiership in your career achievements?
I always said to Springvale South I would come back and play the last season or a couple of seasons with them. I had a few good friends there and they were playing Turf 1 for a number of years and I kept telling them I’d come back and play. Most people don’t appreciate just how challenging local cricket is either. It is very different, different people, different wickets, different conditions. It doesn’t really get any easier.
Q. How did you find the experiences of playing touring nations in warm up games?
Well I scored a century against England, that was good, it’s all good fun. It’s funny actually looking back at the teams you played, some are really strong sides, and some aren’t really that strong.
Q. Which season or seasons stand out to you as your best on a personal note?
I don’t have the stats in front of me so I’m not really sure. The season where I scored 1166 runs in Premier Cricket definitely stands out, that was an amazing season. There are times in Sheffield Shield cricket where I’ve scored consecutive hundreds. I came 2nd in the Shield batting averages one year, that was another big standout.
Q. Did you ever have to deal with any setbacks in your cricketing journey and if so, what were they?
We all have setbacks, every sportsman does. Whether it be selection issues, injuries, confidence, there’s always going to be setbacks and everyone encounters them. Especially in cricket, it’s a sport where you fail more than you succeed.
Q. Who were some of the most intimidating bowlers you faced and why?
Back then every state had at least one fast intimidating bowler. There’s Craig McDermott at QLD, Wayne Holdsworth at New South Wales, Bruce Reid in WA. In the international warm up games, you have the likes of Wasim Akram, Allan Donald, Devon Malcolm, they certainly created challenges. There’s generally one real intimidating bowler everywhere you play.
Q. Who were some of the most skillful bowlers you faced and why?
Skillful bowlers to me are bowlers that challenge you constantly and never give anything away. Two that stand out to me are David Saker and Adam Dale. They really challenged you ball after ball, just bowling a nagging line and length, not giving you any width.
Q. What was the best team you came up against?
Probably New South Wales and Queensland, they were both basically just Test sides. Back then there weren’t really national duties interfering with the Shield season so those two teams were full of Test players.
Q. Which innings of yours stand out to you as your finest?
One that really stands out to me is a game in Geelong, I scored 70 not out on a really challenging wicket. I played a really technically correct innings. I was just focused on being technically correct and staying in, let alone making 70.
Q. Who did you enjoy batting with most?
Brad Hodge was one, we played a fair bit together when he was coming through the ranks and I really liked batting with him. There were a few guys at Dandy, Matt Chasemore, Brett Forsyth and Tom Donnell. For Victoria as well I enjoyed batting with Matthew Elliott.
Warren Ayres batting for Dandenong
Q. What was the key to your prolonged success?
I was probably lucky in the fact that I never really dealt with any major injuries. The biggest period I missed was probably six weeks. I was often injured when I was playing for Victoria, it seemed like I just always had little niggles that made things difficult. I did have one ankle injury I battled for almost a whole Shield season and that slowed me down a bit. Injuries are part of it, and I’d say the other part is my drive. I always wanted to play at the next level for as long as I could and I had a real desire to keep improving and progressing and that’s why I played at Premier level for so long.
Q. You also played some List A cricket for Victoria, what format did you enjoy most and which do you think suited your batting best?
My favourite was definitely four day cricket. One Day cricket was just taking off and we were all learning how to play it. Nowadays all the young kids grow up watching a lot of One Day cricket so they understand it a lot better than I did.
Q. You’ve been involved in Premier cricket for 30 years, how has the competition changed and evolved over that time?
The competition has improved in terms of grounds, facilities, conditions for players. It hasn’t changed a lot in terms of standard although first class players do not play much anymore. A few extra teams have diluted the talent pool a bit, but it’s still a very good standard.
Q. How did you compare the standard of First Class cricket to Premier Cricket?
Every standard of cricket you go up is a big jump. Every jump you take becomes harder. Premier cricket to First Class is a very big jump, and it’s a challenging one. Obviously I don’t know what the jump is like from First Class to International cricket but I assume it would be an even harder one to make.
Q. What advice would you give to a young cricketer that has aspirations of playing high level cricket?
My advice is that if you want to make it to a high level of cricket you have to make the move early and get to Premier cricket as quickly as you can. My experience tells me that all the best players didn’t wait until they were mature to go to Premier cricket, they got into the system early and worked their way through the grades and developed in that environment.
Q. You’re spoken about as a really wise person and when you speak everyone listens, has that come with experience, or is it something you’ve always had about you?
It’s definitely something that comes with my experiences, if you haven’t lived it you can’t explain it. I’ve experienced every emotion there is to experience on a cricket field and I can relate to almost any situation.
Q. When you were player coaching at Dandenong you allegedly told your players to “watch what I do and copy it,” can you tell us a bit about that?
The best way to become the best is to watch what the best do and copy it. That’s why it’s important for juniors to get to Premier clubs early. They can watch the best, how they go about things, how they prepare and emulate that.
Q. You lead Dandenong to their first ever premiership in 2006/07, how special was that?
It was a great time, we had a good young team that had kind of progressed through the grades together. We had about 6 young talented kids all arrive at the same time, guys like Peter Siddle, Darren Pattinson, James Pattinson. It was a really special time with a really good team that had a great culture.
Q. You coached Carlton to the 2018/19 premiership in an epic grand final, can you tell us a bit about that and what it meant to you?
When I arrived at Carlton they hadn’t won a premiership in any grade in 35 years. The premiership was a real build up over the four years. We made the finals a few times but fell out and I always said we just had to learn from our mistakes and keep building. Keep going back to the well. That season, the team could chase down any total and win. It was their time and they met every obstacle and jumped over it. It just so happened to be 410 that we needed, it wasn’t ideal but I knew the team could do it. It was very satisfying to get that win. We also won the Australian T20 championships and were probably the best Premier team in the country that year.
Carlton celebrating their 2018/19 Premier Firsts premiership
Q. What was the reason for leaving Carlton?
Mainly just the travel was taking its toll. It took me up to an hour and a half to get there from work and I just couldn’t keep doing it.
Q. You were recently unveiled as Dandenong’s new head coach, how do you see the team and their chances of winning a premiership?
I think they had a fairly disappointing season this year finishing ninth. They’re definitely better than that. They probably just need one or two players and they’ve got a competitive team. On the batting side they’re as good as anyone, it’s just the bowling stocks we need to work on. I would be disappointed if the team wasn’t finals bound.
Q. What do you enjoy most about coaching?
I’m still a very competitive person and I enjoy the man management aspect of coaching. Looking after young people and their aspirations. If I can play a small part in developing their game then that’s rewarding.
Q. What are some of the challenges of coaching?
The main challenge is the time aspect, coaching a Premier club is a 24/7 job these days. The team management aspect and getting to know every individual and finding what makes everyone tick is a good challenge.
Q. Is coaching something you want to pursue in higher levels of cricket?
Not now, it’s something I would’ve done if an opportunity came about, but the time has passed for that.
Q. You’ve played with a lot of great cricketers over your career, can you pick an XI of the best players you’ve played with?
Yes, the best team I played with would have to be:
Q. Can you also pick an XI of the best players you’ve coached?
The best I’ve coached would have to be:
Q. Across your career who were your biggest influencers or mentors?
It would have to be Bob Lloyd and Michael Sholly during my Melbourne days. Brendan McArdle and Michael Findlay at Dandenong.
Q. Looking back on your career is there anything you’d do differently?
I probably shouldn’t have tried to juggle work as much as what I did and focused on my cricket. Moving states was another one, when I had the opportunity I should’ve definitely made a move to pursue more chance at First Class cricket.
Q. What is your proudest moment as a cricketer?
Every time I make a hundred it’s a pretty proud moment. It’s what you set out to achieve every time you bat. My premierships are also very proud memories. Ryder Medals and personal achievements like that.