Cricket news - 'There was relief that I wouldn't let people down again'

"Get injured, rehab, get injured, rehab almost since I was 23 for nearly 10 years."

"Get injured, rehab, get injured, rehab almost since I was 23 for nearly 10 years."

When Damien Fleming wasn't in pain, there were few swing bowlers of his generation who could bowl a wicket-taking delivery as frequently as he did. Recurring shoulder injuries, restricted his international career, which started with a Test hat-trick, to 20 Tests and 88 ODIs. An average of 25 in both formats is a testament to what could have been if his body had kept up with his skills often enough.

Calling it quits at 32 might have seemed premature, but Fleming had foreseen his future in coaching. He spent the first few of years of his retirement training some of the biggest names of the next generation at the Cricket Academy before turning to commentary and becoming the Bowlologist.

You'd just moved to Adelaide to play for South Australia the season you eventually retired.

I was in South Australia and I'd just had a third shoulder reconstruction. I was really passionate about get into coaching. But at this stage I still had another year of contract with SA, so I was going to rehab, which I'd got really good at. I just played in between injuries in those last 3 years. And then I saw that Troy Cooley had gone to England. I saw that they'd advertised for the fast bowling coach position at the Academy (which was in Adelaide then). At that stage, I didn't know if I'd have a chance. Certainly, I was thinking about continuing to play because the Academy was very busy in the winter but not so much over the summer. I rang someone over at Cricket Australia and he was a bit funny over the phone because they'd just had a meeting and had thrown some names around and mine was one. He's thinking 'gee that leak was pretty quick' (laughs). But it wasn't a leak. I went through the process and accepted the role, but I was still adamant that I wanted to play. And they said no you can't have both and for me I thought the future is coaching.

So did you end up giving up your cricket a tad reluctantly?

The biggest thing I found in retiring was as a competitive sportsman you are trained not to give up. You just keep trying. But when you retire, you actually are giving up, aren't you? I was excited about the role but to make the phone-call to retire was really tough because mentally you are giving up. I was a bit different to other people who are sacked without anything to fall back on. In my case, it wasn't a really sad time because I just saw my future. The biggest thing was if I'd gone into another industry, I would have found it harder. Being involved in cricket helped me divorce myself from the game. It helped me wean off the playing side of cricket.

You weren't 33 yet. You'd said back then that you'd been agonizing over it for 18 months.

Now, people debut at 32. Even back then in 2003, it was certainly looked at as being old. And I only played a couple of games for SA. My shoulder never got right. I don't know why. I don't think we did the right operation. But there was one spell against WA; Boony (David Boon) was an Australian selector at the time and he just went 'I've got some good news for the other selectors. The swing's back'. Even then I felt I'm not that far away really (from a recall to the national team).

"Boony was an Australian selector at the time and he just went 'I've got some good news for the other selectors. The swing's back'."

But at SA, we had a good year for young players. This is the year that Shaun Tait, Mark Cosgrove, Callum Ferguson came through. We had a young bloke called Mark Cleary. I was actually even considering going to the SACA with a radical offer to captain the second XI in four-day cricket and play the one-dayers for the senior team. I thought with (Jason) Gillespie, (Paul) Rofe, Tait, (Mark) Harrity, I didn't want to take up a spot of a younger player. But I thought I could still play a leadership role.

Did the fact that your last first-class game was at the MCG like a perfect ending, a sort of bitter-sweet homecoming?

People ask me if I ever got down with all my injuries. But I was always very practical about it. Get injured, rehab, get injured, rehab almost since I was 23 for nearly 10 years. I would do 13 hours of gym, rehab and fitness just to get ready to train, forget playing. But it was what I had to do. Where I did mess up is at times when I tried to come back too early.

I remember talking to Brett Lee about this when he came up to the Academy in Brisbane, mainly working on no-balls. He'd just had a Test against India where he went for over 200 runs and John Buchanan sent him up. We were working on his run-up mainly, but I told him just because you rehab well, you don't deserve anything. But at times I remember thinking during my time, I've had bad luck. I've been training really hard, and I deserve rewards straight away. But cricket doesn't work that way.

Even my last game at the G, I knew I shouldn't have played. My shoulder was cooked. It was just the usual. Have an operation, rehab and come back. I had my first shoulder reconstruction in 1995 after the Windies tour. It took me about 18 months to feel half-normal again. Because it had tightened up so much. And here I thought I'll be 34 before it feels right.

What went through your head when it hit the pillow that night? Relief?

There's no doubt these injuries were having an effect on me mentally. I felt like I rehabbed well but the shoulder didn't get right. There was an incident two years before where I slipped a disc in my neck while sleeping. Rocked up the game but I can't play. Went to Warwickshire, flew over, and similar thing, I've felt this before, bowled 18 balls and had to fly home. So I just felt like I was continually letting people down really. Not like it was anyone's fault. I was just getting these bizarre injuries. So, there had to be a certain amount of relief (that night) that I am not going to get injured again and let people down again.

""So, there had to be a certain amount of relief (that night) that I am not going to get injured again and let people down again."

What was the gap like between retiring and starting at the academy?

The guy whose role I was half taking over at the academy was Wayne Phillips (former Australian opener from the 1980s). He'd just accepted the South Australian coaching job. There must have been a bit of overlap. We are good mates and went out for lunch, and I was catching up with him to find out about his job, and it was mainly dealing with the Border-Gavaskar Indian scholarship.

But he didn't want me to retire. He wanted me to play under him. And we had this bizarre lunch, where I'm asking him, 'Mate, what do you do when you're picking them up?' and he's going, 'Mate, have you thought about it, when I'm holding up the Sheffield Shield Trophy and you're not part of it'. Also, around that time, I might have got a run with a state team to do an assistant coach's job. But I thought, this is not going to get me where I want to. Eventually, I want to be a head coach. I wouldn't have retired for an assistant coach's role.

A coach needs to look decently fit. Did you think "oh I can indulge a little"?

I used to ride nearly 13 km to Henley Beach (where the Academy was located then) every day. It isn't the toughest ride in Adelaide, as it's really straight. But I also had very bad knee tendonitis. I couldn't bend down. So, I couldn't run, which was another injury that was doing my head in. The last 10 years, I've loved running again. I'd always been a runner. When you have that taken away from you, even when you're doing your leg weights, I was really restricted. All I could do was single-leg calf-raises as opposed to big squats or dynamic activities.

I wasn't meticulous with my diet. If I wanted to have beers, I backed myself to work them off. I moved pretty quickly into being a former player. There was a buzz. You are with 25 of Australia's best cricketers. Painey, Taity, Fergy, and even know commentating over the last 15 years, it's only now that I'm commentating on players who I've not had some coaching involvement with.

I moved pretty quickly into being a former player. There was a buzz. You are with 25 of Australia's best cricketers.

Did you find more time for yourself or family or to do something you always wanted to?

Around this time too, we'd just had a son in the move from Melbourne to Adelaide. Being a father for the first time, you're around a lot. Bennett King wanted it to be a 9-5, five-day-a-week job at the academy with the odd weekend. I slipped into 9-5 pretty easily, to be honest. I'd actually worked at Cricket Australia when I was young, around 20-21.We loved it in Adelaide because it's so social. The Lehmanns were always fantastic. It can be Sunday morning and a text goes around and you have 20 for lunch whereas in Melbourne, you'd be lucky to do that twice a year.

Were you still the man on the road or did you get some time to tend to household chores?

I was so busy through the winter. I might have to go during the summer for a week or two for the Under-17s or Under-19s. But basically, you're just around more. In my mid-20s, when I hadn't played for Australia for a year, and there was no players' association back then, I went and got myself into Deakin Uni Business. It was a tough process. I always wanted to study.

So, when I got to Adelaide (to play for SA), I started a business TAFE course to get me credits to get myself into Uni. And I continued with it after I retired. You leave school at 18, you give your HSC (""Higher School Certificate" in New South Wales). You're not sure what you're doing and two weeks later you're rooming with Merv Hughes. And 32 years later, you're still involved with the game that you love.

So was it tough to move to Brisbane soon after?

It did throw us out a bit to do that within a year. We'd had so many networks in Adelaide. My wife is a net-baller and was playing a bit there. Baby-sitters weren't a problem. The Lehmanns and the McIntyres were just starting a family. We were walking distance from them. The kids were all around the same age. To go to Queensland, my best mate there was Michael Kasprowicz and his wife Lindsay. And he gets recalled to the Australian team out of the blue and plays for another two years.

Wendy's brother was the assistant coach of the Brisbane Lions (AFL Club). They lived south so we had some family up there. It was an ugly move. It was done too quickly. Things hadn't been thought out. Leading up to when I left, it was sort of in a disarray. I joked then, they renamed it the Centre of Excellence, but I had to move on because there was no centre and there was no excellence. We probably needed two more years in Adelaide to settle it. That was more daunting, quitting two years later. I was doing what I would tell no one else to do. You always have a job to go to. But I didn't at that point. I paid to get my family back to Melbourne with no guarantees besides a little bit of media. That was scarier.

Did the heavy metal start to phase out once you stopped playing, leading to a change in your taste in music?

No, not really. Just a little bit of softening. I've been cleaning up all my CDs, and my playlist is Hair Metal of the 1980s. I got thrash metal, got grunge and even Brit Pop, which I wasn't a massive fan of in the mid-90s but it's still guitar-based. Eric Clapton had a best-of and I only downloaded half of it years ago. The ones I hadn't downloaded were the softer reggae ones. But now I don't mind listening to I Shot the SheriffandLay Down Sally;I'm enjoying them. When I was younger it had to be LaylaandSunshine of My Love.So, a slight refinement. But even my instrumentals are headed by Orionby Metallica, Fractured Mirrorby Ace Frehley and Mr Scaryby Dokken.

I got my old guitar out a couple of days ago and I'm going through some chords. It's been a big part of my life. It's where I grew up. My closest teammates Dizzy and Kasper were heavy metal freaks as well.

And when do you start missing being inside an ice-bath?

Oh, when they first came in, it was literally 98 per cent ice and 2 per cent water. Freezing your nuts off. Then there was research which said it's supposed to be cold water not 98 per cent ice. We were frozen guinea pigs I tell ya. In the media box, there are no ice-baths, just cold beers.

You'd said when you retired that you'd always been planning for that 'perfect' game and it never happened. Does that kind of rankle still?

I really believe it. Must be a deep-down regret or is that the real game of life itself. You are playing for that perfect game and it never happens. Like with my commentary, I make a lot of notes and you get butterflies before you get on and you come off and some are good and somewhere you're going that was crap, but I've never come off going that was great commentary.

"You are playing for that perfect game and it never happens. I've never come off going that was great commentary."

I think it's my personality. Sometimes I go overboard and stress too much about my preparation with my commentary. Sometimes, maybe you just have to let it happen. But there really isn't that one perfect game that stands out for me. I was man-of-the-match in an Ashes Test in Perth. I got 5 in the first innings but I had the first 4 very quickly. That was probably the best spell I'd bowled but the story of my career, I did my quad 20 minutes later and went off, couldn't bowl. I've just been trying to put a lot of VHSs into digital and it's less about the games I played but the little interviews of me with my teammates. I see those clips and I can see I am struggling at times.

At times I go, 'the momentum in my run-up isn't good enough there'. In this isolation I've gone, bloody hell, I've got to attack the stumps more. And then I see my short-run and go yeah that looks powerful and maybe I should have reverted to it earlier. You talk about 32 being young to retire, but coming off a short-run back then was frowned upon. I was hearing things externally about fitness and effort. But it felt so good. There are so many things in hindsight.

For now, I will be preparing for that perfect commentary stint this year, perhaps Day 1 of the Test in Adelaide.