Ric, Ric, hooray: How a hockey icon mixed it up with cricket

Charlesworth talks cricket with mid-day at a coffee shop in Subiaco, Perth

Perth: Ric Charlesworth is known the world over as a hockey legend, and there is not even an iota of a doubt that he is one considering he's won almost everything in the game – Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy either as a player and coach. However, the former Kookaburra also played state cricket for Western Australia (WA) in the 1970s.

Ric Charlesworth at a cafe in Subiaco at Perth yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
Ric Charlesworth at a cafe in Subiaco at Perth yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro 

Charlesworth began his professional sporting career as an opening batsman for WA. He played 47 first-class matches, scoring 16 half centuries and one century at an average of 30.22 at a time when most of his WA teammates played for the national team. He also played against the touring Indian team at the WACA in 1977-78 and scored an impressive 95.

mid-day caught up with the multi-faceted sporting stalwart – besides cricket and hockey - the 63-year-old has also been an Aussie Rules football coach, politician, doctor, author, golfer and motivational speaker. He has given it all up now and simply wants to be a doting father.

Excerpts from an interview

My early years in cricket
My father (Lester) played cricket for WA as an opening batsman so I guess I got it from there. He then became a selector for WA. He was a dentist. When I was eight, I played cricket in the backyard of his clinic with Wes Hall and Garry Sobers. They were here for the 1960-61 Test series in which the tied Test took place at Brisbane. Rohan Kanhai came back and played club cricket here so I was introduced to cricket as a child.

Cricket and hockey clashed
I played in the 1970s for WA. Top national players like Wally Edwards, Graham Watson, Bruce Wood, Graeme Wood and Geoff Marsh were my opening partners then. In school (Christ Church Grammar School in Perth), I used to play cricket in the summer and hockey in the winter and was pretty decent in both. It was a time when you could do both. But as time went on, the sports began clashing. In 1974, Pakistan and Holland toured Australia. Then in 1975, I took a chunk of the cricket season away for the hockey World Cup in Malaysia (which India went on to win). In 1979, I was captain of the WA cricket team but the national hockey team was preparing for the Olympics and we had to tour Pakistan in the beginning of 1980, so I had to relinquish my WA cricket captaincy because of hockey. Of course, eventually we didn't go to Moscow because of the boycott and so it turned out to be a bad decision for me. So, I ended up not putting enough time into cricket, which maybe I should have or could have, and when I stopped playing (1979) to prepare for the Moscow Olympics, I was just 27.

Western Australia's 1976-77 Sheffield Shield-winning squad: Standing (L to R): Ian Brayshaw, Thomas Mullooly, Rob Langer, Mick Malone, Dennis Lillee, Craig Sergeant, Bruce Yardley, Darryl Foster (manager) Seated: Bob Paulsen, Ric Charlesworth (encircled), Rod Marsh (captain), Bruce Laird and Kim Hughes Pic courtesy: australian cricket yearbook 1977
Western Australia's 1976-77 Sheffield Shield-winning squad: Standing (L to R): Ian Brayshaw, Thomas Mullooly, Rob Langer, Mick Malone, Dennis Lillee, Craig Sergeant, Bruce Yardley, Darryl Foster (manager) Seated: Bob Paulsen, Ric Charlesworth (encircled), Rod Marsh (captain), Bruce Laird and Kim Hughes Pic courtesy: australian cricket yearbook 1977 

Batting at the WACA was difficult
It was a difficult time. There were a lot of fast bowlers at that time. I remember playing against India, Pakistan, England, West Indies – we beat them all at the WACA. In 1972 we had five to six WA players in the Test team – Dennis Lillee, Bob Massie, Rodney Marsh, Graeme Watson, John Inverarity and Ross Edwards.

Dennis Lillee was a tearaway
Thomson used to open the bowling for Queensland at the Gabba but fortunately for me, the Gabba back then was flat. I don't know why they did that because Thommo would always steam in. I first played against Lillee in A Grade cricket when I was still a schoolboy. He was a bit older. I remember it was a semi-final. At the time the WACA used to have two wickets as it was a much bigger ground – there was an east and west wicket. We played at the west wicket which was much more lively as it was closer to the lake. Rod Marsh was our club captain and he said to me 'good luck out there, son.' Dennis was a tearaway then, you didn't know where it was going. So I faced up to the big guys from an early age. I don't remember what I scored in that game but I know we won it. There were a lot of good fast bowlers in club cricket then. There was this guy called Stan Wilson, and he was probably quicker than Lillee. He played for WA later too. Then there was Ian King and Graham McKenzie who played for other teams and they were all fast. I faced Dennis later on in the nets and he was always super quick. He was my roommate on my first tour.

On batting at WACA...
We learnt in due course that you could leave the ball which you thought was going on to hit the stumps and it would go over. It was all about judging the length and knowing what you have to play and what you don't. The bounce was reliable and predictable and you were much better off leaving the ball.

I made a skull cap
If you go to the WACA museum, you'll see that there is a skull cap that I had made which I used to wear back. It was like Mike Brearley's skull cap. There were no helmets back then so I made one for myself. At the time I was a medical student and one day we were doing angiography on this guy on the table. I asked what had happened to him and I was told that he was hit by a cricket ball on the head. The guy was Bob Bosword, who used to open the batting for South Perth. I knew him and I was an opening batsman too so that's how went about making the skull cap in 1974. Four to five years later, I was at a coaching seminar and Barry Richards (South African batting stalwart) was there too. World Series Cricket had started and someone asked Barry what he thought of the helmets that people wore. And he said, "I think I'm a pretty good batsman. I can play short bowling. I can hook and cut, but sometimes I can make an error in judgment and mistime one, so why wouldn't I wear a helmet? I wear a seatbelt when I drive a car." So, it was the start of it. Initially, you were seen as a bit of a sissy if you wore it, now everybody does.

Oh those great India spinners...
That Indian team had (Bishan Singh) Bedi, (Erapalli) Prasanna, (Bhagwat) Chandrasekhar and (Srinivas) Venkataraghavan – all four top spinners. Opening the batting wasn't that difficult because there were no speed devils in that team. I got out to Prasanna while sweeping and top-edged one to the boundary. Chandrasekhar had a quick action and used the bounce well at the WACA. Bedi was a fine left-armer, Venkat was flatter and Prasanna had good loop. Sunny was a superb technician – almost like a machine. He was perfectly balanced and thorough. You didn't think of getting him out too often because you couldn't.

Life after cricket and hockey
After my cricket and hockey career, I worked with an Aussie Rules Football club. I was a Member of Parliament here for 10 years from 1983 to 1993. Then, I went to Italy for a year, wrote three books on coaching – (i) The Coach, (ii) Shakespeare the Coach, (iii) Staying at the Top. Then in 2005, I got a call from Martin Snedden to be high performance manager of New Zealand Cricket under coach John Bracewell. I enjoyed that. Now, I'm writing a book at the moment about my time with the Australian men's hockey team. My (third and youngest) son Hugo is just 12 and he plays cricket. He just scored a decent 41 in a club game on Sunday. I was offered a commentary assignment for the Hockey India League but turned it down because I don't want a 24x7 job now. The Australian hockey team has also been calling me but I'm not going. I just want to sit back and spend some time with my family. I've been too busy throughout my life.

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