Merv Hughes: An Incredible Cricketer & Character

5 February, 2024

The thing Merv Hughes misses most from his celebrated career is the first hour in the changerooms after a win.

It was something that became more regular as his career progressed, being part of an Australian outfit that laid the foundation for decades of success.

“I’m really proud of just playing in an ever-improving Australian team,” he says.

Hughes debuted in at Adelaide in December 1985 – a time of transition for the Australian side, during a time when the rebel tour to South Africa saw Australia lose eighteen of their more experienced players.

Hughes says the rebel tour opened opportunities for some of the younger players to play Test cricket that may not have been ready yet, readily admitting he was one of them. At the start of what he considers a “rebuild” for Australia, he gives plenty of credit to Allan Border who took over as captain, Bob Simpson who was appointed coach, and Laurie Sawle who was appointed chairman of selectors.

“Those three guys deserve a lot of credit for where cricket in Australia got to, and is now, with the foundation they laid in 1985,” he says.

“Allan Border is a bloke I look back on, and have the fondest memories of, just for being tenacious, courageous, determined, and a fantastic leader.”

“He took a lot of heat within those first four years I played, just because we weren't playing that well. He got the nickname ‘Captain Grumpy’ from the media, but within the team we just loved him, because he went there and virtually threw himself in front of a bus for us, so, he was absolutely fantastic”.

The transition the Australian team Hughes played in was perhaps best demonstrated in Australia’s win against the West Indies in Antigua in 1991.

“The West Indies had never been beaten in Antigua, it was Viv's last test on his home ground, and we knocked them over, and that, as a team we started to believe we could match it with them.”

Over the span of Hughes’ successful international and domestic career, there were plenty of champions of Australian cricket that he was lucky enough to walk into the heat of battle with. Hughes says he played with a lot of special players, including sharing a special opening bowling combination with Craig McDermott, and playing with one of the all-time greats in Shane Warne.

There were also plenty of opposition players who left a mark on Hughes, notably from one of the all-time great teams from the West Indies.

“Their top four of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson and Viv Richards – and throw in Carl Hooper at number five – it was a pretty extraordinary batting lineup. And then they had Gus Logie and Jeffrey Dujon, so, if you got four early wickets then the next three blokes would do the job”.

Hughes also had plenty of respect for England, particularly Graham Gooch, David Gower, Michael Gatting and Michael Atherton. And then there were his battles against India, bookended by two greats in Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

And then there is the more personal highlights, one being Hughes’ membership of the Test Hat Trick Club. However, Hughes’ membership has an element of exclusivity – three wickets in three balls, over three overs and two different innings.

“It’s a pretty rare one, isn't it?” Hughes recalls.

“A lot of people haven’t got a high opinion on the intelligence of fast bowlers, but when they asked me ‘were you nervous when you were on a hat trick?’, and you say you didn't know, ‘how could you not know? It’s three wickets in three balls’. But when its last ball of an over, first ball of the next over then a day-and-a-half later, and in between the wickets I got in the first innings, Tim May bowled an over and got a wicket as well. I had no idea.”

Staying connected with cricket

Hughes has maintained a connection to the game through his commentary with Triple M, and his involvement in Australian Sports Tours overseas. On top of that, Hughes still does a little bit of coaching at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar, and is also still involved with his beloved Footscray CC, on the coaching panel and committee.

Touching on life lessons learnt from cricket, Hughes says the simpler, the better.

“Control the controllables. No good worrying about the pitch, it’s out of your control. No good worrying about the weather, it’s out of your control. Keep things simple, keep it basic, and things seem to work a lot better”.

The ACA Masters Tours have been lucky enough to have included Hughes on several tours, experiences that Hughes describes as fantastic.

“I love that it gives members an opportunity to catch up with former teammates, and while they’re great fun, they’re also constructive, going into areas and coaching, all while staying in touch with the game.

Hughes recommends the Masters Program to any members who have the opportunity to take part.

“If you’ve got time, just do it. It's very rewarding, and very satisfying to be part of. Just to know that you’re helping local cricket associations, you’re helping people in the area, and young kids that come along to learn at the cricket clinics are all really enthusiastic, and they're there to learn, I just think if you can be part of it, and spend a bit of time with these kids and do a little bit of coaching, obviously they’re going to benefit from it”.

Staying on the ACA, Hughes speaks very highly of the health checks and welfare checks, as well as the financial benefits available to those who have fallen on tough times.

“They’re just there if players need them, and I think a lot of players don't think that they need them, but there's guys that go through a tough time, and when they're going through a tough time, it's great to know that you've got the support of an association of guys you used to play with and used to represent.”

For now, we’re lucky enough to be able to listen to Hughes commentating the cricket during the Australian summer and then onto the tour to New Zealand and a T20 World Cup in the West Indies and the USA in June.

“It’s just year by year for me”, says Hughes, reflecting on life as an incredible cricketer, and an even more incredible character.

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