Transcript of the chat with Steve Rixon - Former Australian
wicket-keeper and coach of the New Zealand cricket team held on
May 18th, 2000 in Sydney, Australia.
John Polack, CricInfo: Well, a very warm welcome to this CricInfo
interview. With us on this occasion we have an extremely respected
figure in the world of cricket - former New South Wales and Australian
wicketkeeper, former New Zealand coach and now returning New South
Wales coach Steve Rixon. Steve, first of all: thanks very much for
Steve Rixon: My pleasure.
CricInfo: What we're actually going to do today, Steve, is put to you
a selection of questions that have come to us from people in all
corners of the cricketing world and beyond. In fact, we should begin
by saying that the response has been absolutely overwhelming since we
advertised this last week and a huge number of people have written in
in particular to congratulate you on your tremendous success with New
Zealand, particularly to commend you on account of the fact that you
not only took the team toward a lot of fairly significant on-field
triumphs like a World Cup semi-final, and big Test series wins in
recent times against England but also the notion that you transformed
the side into a very competitive and spirited one.
Two such emailers in fact were Tim and Craig Speakman, and they
essentially wanted to know: What your general philosophy was when you
started work with the team, what steps in essence you took to set
about implementing that philosophy and what you feel were the most
important areas in which you made a mark while developing the side?
Rixon: Yes, and good questions they are. I guess having a little bit
of knowledge of New Zealand cricket was probably good, but the major
one was that I knew that the way that they played the game was a
little different to the way that I've played it with sides that I've
coached in the past and played with that's with New South Wales
and Australian sides. I've always felt that the Kiwis have been a
little reserved in their approach to the game. Hence, one of the
things that I was looking at doing was bringing a game of cricket to
the world through the Kiwis which was a more attacking brand. In the
past, they've probably played a style where they looked at how they
could draw a game before they looked at how they could win it so I had
to get a mentality change there.
To introduce a sense of self-belief was one of the key issues and
something on which I needed to work really hard. Whereas in most
sides you have to change a couple of things (attitude is certainly
one, a new direction is certainly another), the one thing I didn't
cater for as well was the culture. They do have a different culture
the Kiwis; as I mentioned, the way they played the game is part of
that culture. So that was something that I had to get my mind around
and, once I compromised with that (I certainly didn't ever accept it)
and they understood me a little bit better, we both ended up going in
the right direction.
CricInfo: The next question comes to us from Pat Bindon and he asks if
it's been possible in that entire period to identify a particular
facet of your coaching which maybe represented the most difficult and
challenging part of your work there? You obviously just talked about
changing mentality and culture; would that be it?
Rixon: Yes, I guess so; that to me really was a starting point - to
understand the culture. I had a manager in John Graham who certainly
gave me some clues there. He's an ex-All Black captain himself so he
certainly had a fair idea of the way New Zealanders thought about the
way they played their sport and, certainly as an All Black, there was
a high benchmark set for the rest of the sporting world over there.
He certainly gave me an idea of how best to approach it and he was a
big help to me. But really, once the culture was in place, the rest
was as it has been in the past. When I took over with New South
Wales, when they hadn't been in a Final for four or five years (in
both one-dayers and also the longer version), we were able to take
them to five consecutive Finals (in which we won three of each). At a
grade club I had in Sutherland - who also had the same thing: it was
an attitudinal change again. We went from eighteenth on the table to
win a very first premiership. It was nice to go into New Zealand to
have this sort of feel behind me and to know that it does work. So I
was pleased with that.
CricInfo: Clearly, we've talked about - and touched on this - already,
a lot of inroads were made in developing the players' collective sense
of belief. Both Scott Pender and Tim Glover ask if: during the months
in which you've been away from the job, you've felt any pangs of
regret at all about leaving the position,or conversely if you feel
that you achieved close to everything that you could in that time and
that you're therefore pretty comfortable about having departed when
Rixon: Very simply, I set myself (and I mark) my own books. So I set
myself a target and the target was three years. I thought that, in
three years: I am going to set up a culture, a new environment, a
self-belief that is going to be something completely different than
they've ever had before, a group of individuals that are
self-sufficient. Hence if I couldn't do it in three years, I wasn't
going to do it in four or five. That was point one. Point two was:
if I couldn't do it in three years, I wasn't the right man for the
job. So it was quite an easy decision and I feel very comfortable
with what I've done there. There's a sense of belief in what has been
set up and the way the guys have gone about their jobs. I know it was
a lot easier for someone like David Trist to come in and get involved
with a group of guys who have become very professional.
CricInfo: One of the things that's delighted a lot of people over
recent years (and coinciding with your period there) has been the
spectacularly good form, the spectacularly improved form, of Chris
Cairns. Previously, he'd always threatened to become a really great
player (and most people around the cricketing world in a lot of ways
wanted him to become that kind of player) and he frustrated people in
a sense because he just couldn't quite get to that next level. Richard
Williams and Sam Ward ask what you think it is that has taken him to
that next level and now made him arguably the best and most exciting
all-rounder in the world today?
Rixon: Firstly, can I say that I believe that he IS the best
all-rounder. That's come through a number of different reasons. Yes,
he has frustrated a lot of people - including one Steve Rixon as
coach! But there's one thing that either of us didn't do in the three
year term: we never gave up on each other. At certain stages during
that period, I'm sure that Chris, if he could have put his hand
through my chest and ripped my heart out, he would have thought very
closely about doing that. But we had a lot of respect for each other
and we've worked very hard. The reason that he has become the
greatest all-rounder is his own change of attitude towards the way he
thinks about the game and the way he approaches the game; his training
methods; the looking after of his body when injured and going through
the right process of getting himself right.
He's certainly a much more disciplined person than I started with;
there were some early problems we had there and we got those sorted
out very quickly. We went from being maybe a little undisciplined as
a unit to probably the most disciplined side in the world and that
certainly helped in performance. And he had a coach that never ever
gave him an inch and I think that is probably one of the reasons that
he's right now quite grateful towards the way I went about it because
I think that, in the past, a lot of guys would have said that Chris
has good potential and he'll get better well, the one thing that I am
absolutely delighted about is that he did get better and we now see
what Chris Cairns CAN do and not what he was going to do. To me, I'm
just rapt that I've had a little bit of a part in all that because we
are now seeing the true Chris Cairns: he is a great all-rounder and no
question he will get better.
CricInfo: And, when he took on Australia in the recent series for
example and played some absolutely tremendous innings and took plenty
of wickets, how did you personally feel sitting back in Australia and
seeing that happen?
Rixon: I was delighted. I do have a sense of loyalty to a lot of
those lads. I feel very strongly about the time I had in New Zealand.
I made a lot of good friends; you don't always go there to make
friends but with a little bit of success coming your way and a change
of attitude and the side starting to perform a little better, I think
everyone starts to feel happy about themselves. I saw it happening in
England; he went to India, did some fantastic things in India; played
very well against West Indies and, of course, it all culminated
against the best in the world. When he performed so well against the
best in the world, that made him a little bit special.
CricInfo: (We thank Stacey Crutch, Saad Pasha, Hayley Osterfield and
Brendan Egan for the following question): In your New Zealand coaching
career (and, in fact, in your cricket career as a whole), what are the
moments and achievements that stand out for you most of all do you
think? If you were to walk away from the sport tomorrow, what would
be the most significant highlights that would live on in your mind
about your whole experience in the game and conversely, would there be
things that might be the cause of significant regret or disappointment
Rixon: I could probably earmark quite a few because I've been around
the game for twenty-six years now at the first class level and
international level - which makes me sound quite old but I'm really
not that old!
CricInfo: I can vouch for that!
Rixon: I have to say a lot of these probably don't appear to other
people as being great highlights but when we actually played the
very first Sheffield Shield Final, back in 1981-82 I think it was,
(there hadn't been a Final played; it had always been 'first part the
post wins'), we had been to Western Australia many many times and
religiously were wiped off the map. And they were a very good cricket
side. They had an outstanding attitude against us whenever we turned
up and we had a very poor one against them. But this particular time,
we watched the 'Rocky' movie prior to the game, there was just a
different feel, and there were some big decisions made. Trevor
Chappell came in for the very in-form Len Pascoe for example and
everyone said, "whoa, that's unbelievable!". Trevor went on to be the
Man of the Match. With six wickets in hand on the last day (and Kim
Hughes and Rod Marsh still batting), only just over 100 to get, it
wasn't looking too good for us. And I always remember the remark made
by Kim Hughes as he walked off the ground; he said "boys, you've been
here before, you haven't been good enough to beat us in the past and
you're certainly not good enough to beat us again - you've blown the
first Shield Final".
Everyone just sat in the rooms; Rick McCosker, being the captain, was
a guy that never said a real lot but I said (to myself) if he doesn't
say anything, I'm going to say something as we walk out. Rick,
fortunately, did say something and he said it very logically - as
against the passionate approach that I might have taken - and we went
out and took 6/30 and we won that game of cricket. It was something
very special and, if you ask anyone that was part of that game, you'll
find there was something special about that match which set up the
very first Sheffield Shield 'win'.
'Keeping to Jeff Thomson in Barbados was very special in as much as I
don't think anyone can bowl much faster than that. Even though we've
got a young lad now that's testing that, in Brett Lee
CricInfo: and Shoaib Akhtar too, obviously?
Rixon: Shoaib Akhtar is certainly up in the big league as well. But
they still talk about Jeff Thomson's spell there, where he took three
very tall poppies in Haynes, Greenidge and Richards out that evening.
We got bowled out for 170-odd and we had them three for not many
it was just express and that, to me, was a highlight.
The win at the SCG against West Indies (in 1984-85) when they were at
the great heights of their 'career'. Allan Border was the captain, we
won the game and we won it comprehensively. It was on a spinning deck
and both Bennett and Holland being the major contributors.
CricInfo: And would I be right in saying there that (because it was a
game out of which a few things came about your 'conversation' with Viv
Richards) it was a game like the Shield Final of a few years before
which you remember for those reasons as well maybe?
Yes, I certainly do. It's something of which I commonly get reminded.
When you look at the great boxers of the world (you know Ali
versus whomever), I saw a bout when Viv invited me out the back of the
SCG which read "Smokin' Joe versus Stumper". Now if anyone looks at
that and tries to say it might have been a one-sided fight, I thought
it might have been too. So I didn't take up the offer! But it was
certainly an offer given to me.
And also just the coaching in 1993-94 (with NSW) when we won the
double. With a group of kids; no big names and they did the job and
they did it convincingly, only through a very good unit.
And the win for the Kiwis in England I thought that was just very
very special. Being down 1-0, to go on and win that I thought was
CricInfo: We might turn more generally to the business of coaching
now. Youssef Mourra suggests that the whole concept of coaching is
something that even fifteen years ago not all that many followers of
cricket would have even imagined was really needed, particularly for
players talented enough to participate at international level. But of
course today it has become absolutely integral for virtually every
team which takes itself even remotely seriously … as someone who
has been close to the very top of the tree, what do you think are the
two or three major responsibilities that it's most important for a
coach to fulfil these days?
Rixon: To me, it's a 75-25 split. 'Mind' versus 'other' if you like.
In the 'other', there's a lot of the modern technology, which helps
everyone to understand their game and learn a lot quicker. With the
computer age and access to the video machines that are available now,
that's very important to the modern game.
But in the other side (the 75 per cent), there's a man management
factor that I think probably overrides everything as a coach. If you
don't actually understand your players, if you don't have a method of
being able to relate to your players, the twenty-five per cent just
pales into insignificance and you'll never get the best out of your
individual cricketers. I look at someone like Chris Cairns as an
example of that; once you got through to the mind, the rest was all
new fun to him sitting there and watching himself with the new
machinery that was available. It all got back to looking at his own
game; self-analysing his own game. To me, man management is probably
the biggest factor. And the understanding and the planning ahead
(with a variety of different methods) is really the difference between
the average coaches and the good coaches.
CricInfo: To what extent to do you tailor your drills and techniques
specifically to individuals as opposed to enforcing them collectively?
Are there things (something that a lot of people touch on is weight
training for example) that you fashion very much to the individual
because of their own physical characteristics and functions within the
team or do things tend to be enforced more collectively?
Rixon: With weight training and that sort of thing, it's horses for
courses. If you have a batsman versus a bowler, for example, there
are different areas you have got to cater for. With batsmen, it's
more sprint work and so forth that will help that side of their game.
With the bowlers, it's more explosive power work that's required and
endurance to make sure that they can actually go out there and bowl
twenty-five overs every day. That's what the ask is; if you're a
top-line bowler, you've got to be looking at it like that. There are
individual programs allocated to every player probably in first class
cricket around Australia. You've got to identify I guess - and with
all of the people that can be involved in the game now - what's
required (whether your flexibility needs work or whether you need more
in the endurance area); once that's in place and you have your own
program, then it's a case of being self-reliant and self-sufficient.
You must go out there and fulfil that.
If you don't stay with your program, you're telling me you're really
not interested in playing at this level of cricket. There is no
excuse for guys going out there and not playing to their best; it's
one step away from being part of the greatest cricket side in the
world - and that's the Australian cricket side right at this point in
time. From the point of view of being involved with New South Wales
we've often said that we believe NSW, at its strength, that it is the
greatest county/province/state side in the world and that is something
special and something of which to be proud. I'd like to think that
everyone has that in the back of their minds and, when they go through
their programs, that's a very core part of it.
CricInfo: Raghu Kurnool wants to know if you have any firm opinions
yourself as to why it is that the best coaches these days tend to not
always necessarily be the men who were among the elite players of
their era? We've seen cricketing icons like Kapil Dev and Viv
Richards struggle in the job in recent times for example whereas
figures such as Dav Whatmore and Bob Woolmer (who played international
cricket obviously but not necessarily to the same standard) have been
Rixon: I do have quite an opinion on that; especially in New Zealand
where I've seen two of the greatest players that have ever graced the
turf in Crowe and Hadlee. I don't think either of those two would
make particularly good team coaches. Certainly individual coaches, no
problems at all. But when you've reached such a high a level such as
a Viv Richards or Kapil Dev plus many more - like 'Both' (Ian Botham,
who is obviously quite a freak in his own right) - they're all very
much an individual and they've never had to go to the working class
man's level. And when I say that, I mean the guy that has to work
every step of the way to make it to the next level and do well at the
next level. Now I'm a working class man; I always have been and the
other two that you mention have both been in the same league.
If you have to work hard for it, you then understand how to get to
that stage and you can obviously explain it to the next person who is
asking that question. The guys that are naturally gifted, there is
very little alteration to their game that has to be made. Therefore
they never go to that level of having to understand why this bloke
can't do this and how you get that problem solved. Now a lot of
people can identify problems but a lot of people can't solve them
because they have never been there to get to that solving method. I
believe that those naturally gifted players often have a disadvantage
in actually coaching team sport; because they never had to do the
working class man's hard yards of understanding why.
CricInfo: Do you think necessarily that that means that a player of
that ilk is naturally precluded though from being a great coach?
Rixon: No, not at all. No, don't get me wrong there. I just say, as
a general rule, for the greats of the world (and there are not a lot
of greats out there), they find it hard to understand how an average
person can't make that adjustment. But it's also in the way you sell
it to that individual that makes him understand it.
CricInfo: We've touched on this as well already but you're now in the
process of moving back to another very challenging position in New
South Wales at the helm of a State team which maybe doesn't enjoy the
depth that it once did and which has been cast in the unfamiliar
position over recent years of being a wooden spooner - something that
has been very rare in its history. How keenly are you looking forward
to the job and, as Sean Smith, Megan Lucas and Terry Walsh all ask,
what are the areas that are going to assume the most immediate
priority for you?
Rixon: I've had a full year off coaching since New Zealand and I
didn't go and watch any grade cricket, I didn't go and watch any state
cricket and I certainly didn't watch any international cricket outside
of a bit on TV. The reason being that I needed to know whether I
wanted to be involved in the future and, if so, where I was going to
go. In that time, I was offered a couple of county jobs (which would
have been quite lucrative) but they certainly didn't have the demand
and the challenge that I required. As the season went on, I got
involved with watching New Zealand play against Australia and I also
watched the demise of New South Wales, which was very disheartening
and saddening so I thought "well, that is a challenge that I would
like to take on". Having said that and got myself into a frame of
mind of saying I would like to, I'm now very frenzied about it; I'm
looking forward to everything I do as something new which is going to
lead our youngsters into a new direction and is going to make them
feel like they are wanting desperately to be part of a winning
I have never ever seen a New South Wales guy that is used to getting
beaten on a regular basis and I suggest that the kids that we've got
at the moment are a very good cricket side and I feel that, given that
we sort out a new direction for these guys and a new work ethic for
the way they go about analysing their own games, introduce some new
methods that I've found very beneficial to me over in New Zealand, and
I do draw some analogies between the New Zealand side and this current
New South Wales side. Put those into place and I think you just might
see a change in the attutude toward our senior players and their
responsibility to the state and the enthusiasm of our younger players
learning off those senior players and their ambitions - and the bar -
may be raised a little bit higher than in the past. To me, it's a
very very exciting challenge, I thoroughly look forward to it and
thoroughly expect success. If I made one statement about this
(coming) season, I would rather go in and understate and overachieve.
CricInfo: These changes that you're talking about … can we ask how
radical they might be? David Bebb, for example, asks if you see
yourself as the principal agent of radical change if that's what is
needed in NSW cricket? How far-reaching might those changes be
without wanting obviously to get too many secrets out of you?
Rixon: I don't believe that the side that has been given to me this
year is anywhere near a bad side; I think they've played poor cricket
but they're not a bad side. I started to jot down some names and
batting positions and so forth and I saw a real core to the team. If
you look at #1, #3, #5 and #7 as part of that, for example, I found it
was a very good backbone and I draw the analogy to that current
Australian side. If you remove Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath and Shane
Warne, then you remove a backbone and that makes it very hard because
everyone else is now striving to do that little bit extra. Often that
creates a lot of nervousness and a lot of excess energy that doesn't
lead to the best results. Now I see that we have a backbone in our
side and the youngsters that are to fit the respective holes are very
good cricketers; they now need to be led by the senior players. We've
got a bowling attack that can get twenty wickets; that excites me. If
you can get twenty wickets, you can win a game of cricket. Probably
four or five years ago, we were regularly seeing the opposition of
4/450 or 3/580 or the most ridiculous things and that scared me. But
not now. I see a side that can get wickets and I have no doubt that
this is a balanced side.
CricInfo: Having followed the Blues a lot as you say last season when
you were here, you'd probably be well aware that there were a lot of
rumours doing the rounds that the whole issue of the appointment of
the captain was a big issue or it was reported that way. From your
point of view, is that a big issue; are people making too much of it;
and where do you go from here on the subject?
Rixon: It's obviously an issue when you have four captains in one
season. We're always going to be in a situation where we are
disrupted by guys coming back from the Test side or one-day sides but
we can't budget for those guys being involved for the season. We've
got to budget for them not being around. If they are there, it's a
bonus. But having said that, we do need to set our mind on a guy that
is going to be a captain for a good percentage of the year. In
talking to Steve Waugh, for example, he was the first to say that he
did not know whether he would be about at all (and that he may play
only one game or two games) and that in the best interests of the
side, it would be best if he didn't take on the captaincy. He's quite
happy with the idea; he thinks that we should have a captain in place.
It is a priority at the moment to get the captain in place over the
next week or two; a squad announced; and then we get on with life.
It's an issue but it's not a major one.
CricInfo: We might make this one the last question (but unfortunately
we can't really let you go without asking what your opinion in these
fairly difficult times for cricket is about the whole match-fixing and
betting drama that's engulfed the sport over the last month). Do you
sense that the problem is as widespread as the recent revelations and
innuendo have made it out to be and how confident are you generally in
the game's ability to survive without having its reputation tarnished
Rixon: I'm actually appalled at the amount that I'm hearing and that
the more it gets bandied around, the more that people are coming out
of hiding and saying "well actually yes, I was approached" at
different stages. I think it has been around for a quite a while; it
certainly wasn't evident from a playing perspective. Certainly from
the years involved in coaching, I haven't noted anything of
significance there. But maybe being a coach or a player, I might have
been last to know unless I was one of the ones they were chasing.
That hasn't happened. The game has been placed in a very awkward
situation; it's in a position now where it needs to be sorted out. I
think the ICC is going about it the best possible way by trying to get
it solved. But with these undermining factors and the people that are
involved in this sort of thing, they are very shrewd, I can only
assume, and it is going to be very hard to get to the grass root level
of the problem. The sooner they do, the better because people (quite
rightfully so) are now looking at the game and saying "well, I wonder
whether" and that's a terrible thing. In close games, people are
starting to ask the question; the game is in disrepute if that's the
CricInfo: Steve: thank you again. We wish you every success with the
Blues although I should temper that by saying that those of us who
come from states other than New South Wales are a bit wary of offering
you too much given how successful your last stint was! In any case,
it's been a great privilege to talk to you and thanks for joining us.
Rixon: Thanks very much; it's been a very good opportunity to say
hello to the public out there and I'd like to think we can maybe get