‘I couldn’t turn down biggest club in world’

Jason Gillespie.
Jason Gillespie.
Have your say

THE identity of the Cricket Australia employee who sent the missive is long forgotten by Jason Gillespie... but not the words.

“‘We can’t be associated with such a person’,” he says with a wistful shake of the head when discussing an e-mail he received at the height of the controversy surrounding the rebel Indian Cricket League.

“That was the exact wording and I can’t tell you how much that hurt after 10 years representing my country and 12 to 13 years of being contracted to Cricket Australia.”

Gillespie, who took 259 Test wickets in 71 appearances, had joined the unsanctioned ICL in 2007 but it was only when he accepted an invitation the following year from the Australia coaching staff to provide a coaching course for the country’s budding quick bowlers that it became clear he had become persona non grata in certain eyes back home.

“I was really upset and, I’ll admit, it did get me really down,” says Yorkshire’s 39-year-old head coach. “After all those years, here I was, being referred to as ‘such a person’. Those words hurt a lot.”

Gillespie was chatting to The Yorkshire Post in the Arundel sunshine during the final morning of this week’s LV=County Championship draw with Sussex and the upset is clearly evident, even if the former pace bowler is on very good terms with the current Cricket Australia hierarchy and, in particular, a good friend of Darren Lehmann.

For all that, however, Gillespie is also in no doubt that the path that eventually brought him back to Headingley and a job he loves began with that e-mail.

“My career was more or less over and I had no idea what I wanted to do next,” he says. “I’d tried my hand at a few things, spoken at lunches/dinners and so on, commentated on the radio and done a bit of coaching with kids. But I’d still not really found my thing.

“Looking back now, I’d say that e-mail from Cricket Australia – and I can’t recall who it was from, other than it was someone on the admin side – is when it really hit home to me that I had to do something else with my life.

“If Cricket Australia wanted nothing to do with me, as this e-mail suggested, then I needed to sort myself out and move on. I had to try a few things and I was fortunate enough to get into the coaching.”

Gillespie’s good fortune, as he puts it, was also Yorkshire’s. After opting for a future in coaching, he headed to Zimbabwe and enjoyed a couple of happy years before Martyn Moxon got in touch during the autumn of 2011 to set the ball rolling on an eventual return to the county where he had spent a couple of years towards the end of his playing career.

Newly-relegated from Division One, Yorkshire were badly in need of a lift.

It came via the restructuring of the coaching staff that included Gillespie, whose infectious personality and positive aura can be detected throughout the first-team squad.

Two and a half years on, Yorkshire can look back on a promotion, an appearance at Twenty20 finals day and an ongoing second consecutive title challenge that sees the White Rose county head to Warwickshire tomorrow sitting joint top of the table.

“Even towards the end of my career, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” admits Gillespie. “I honestly didn’t know.

“That was probably why I signed with the Indian Cricket League, as I saw it as a really good opportunity to play a bit of cricket and try my hand at a few things.

“I could be the senior pro to some of the youngsters in India, do some commentary work and things like that. Tony Greig was heavily involved and he said it would be a great opportunity for me to try my hand at the commentating.

“I was with the Ahmedabad Rockets and John Emburey was coach. He gave me opportunities to run fielding sessions and help with the young bowlers, things like that. But, even then, there was no big plan.

“It took an e-mail out of the blue about a year after I’d left India from one of the team-mates in the ICL called Heath Streak to really get things going.

“He knew I’d been doing a little bit of coaching back home with a South Australian country side called the Outbacks. Basically, the players were farmers who had a two-week party around the games. We finished last, too, but it was a good experience to run a team for the first time and learn from your mistakes.

“Heath knew I’d got involved back home so he e-mailed to say Zimbabwe domestic cricket was back on and would I be interested in being head coach of one of the franchises.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’ And I quickly found I really enjoyed it. After one training day in Harare, my wife looked at me on the couch and saw this silly grin on my face.

“Anna said, ‘You are loving this, aren’t you?’ I was and that is when it hit home that coaching could be what I should pursue permanently.”

His post-retirement calling found, Gillespie threw himself into the role with gusto. He relished the chance to lead the Midwest Rhinos until another unsolicited e-mail, this time from Moxon in his guise as Yorkshire’s director of professional cricket, brought that unexpected return to England.

“Coaching in Zimbabwe was something I really enjoyed,” he said. “I was happy there but then, in my second season, I was contacted by Martyn via e-mail.

“I’d kept in touch, on and off, with the club (since leaving in 2007). The e-mail said the club had been relegated and was being restructured on the coaching side. He also sent the job descriptions and then asked would I be interested in coaching the first team.

“I was blown away. So, I forwarded my resume and was granted an interview, which I really appreciated. I did it from my office at home (in Zimbabwe), which was basically a backyard shed.

“It was a conference call and they were all sitting round in a meeting room over here. The big thing about the interview was that I was myself. I’d promised my wife that I would be brutally honest with whatever questions I got asked.

“I’d applied for a couple of jobs previously, one an assistant’s job at Western Australia and another assistant’s job at South Australia.

“Because I had never been interviewed for a job before, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. It was a totally foreign environment to me. So, in the end, I just told them what I thought they wanted to hear.

“It was totally the wrong thing to do and I knew, as I walked out of both interviews, that I wasn’t going to get either job and I kicked myself for that. I should have been myself and been honest.

“I said to my wife afterwards, ‘Next time, I will be honest about how I want things to work’. Thankfully, that approach struck a chord with Martyn and the others at Yorkshire.

“It was a great feeling when Martyn rang me back later and offered me the position. I’d been so keen on the job that, at the stage when I was offered it, we hadn’t even discussed salary or anything like that. It had all been about the job.

“I saw it as a great opportunity and hadn’t felt I needed to discuss anything else outside the remit of the job until later. The job was just too good to turn down. The coach of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the biggest club in the world. How could anyone turn that down?”

The enjoyment Gillespie continued to get from coaching means he can now be philosophical about that e-mail from Cricket Australia all those years ago when still unsure about where his future lay.

“I love being at Yorkshire and love working with this group of players,” said Gillespie, who has remained on good terms with the powers-that-be at Cricket Australia, where his good friend and Yorkshire batting legend Lehmann leads the national team.

“So, I don’t look back negatively on anything. I understand that person on the admin side who sent the e-mail might have been only there a year or something like that. So, he wouldn’t have known anything of my past.

“But I am in a great job now. I love coming to work – if you can call it that – every day and I love the challenge of trying to win things for Yorkshire and developing players capable of operating at the very top level.”