Ginn’s tonic, Oliver’s twist to shape Aussie cricket
Get to know Ben Oliver and Drew Ginn, the two new High Performance Executives who will oversee elite cricket in Australia
If Ben Oliver was the sort of personality to be daunted by big names and hefty egos, he would have disappeared from cricket as quickly and inconspicuously as he arrived.
The man who will assume responsibility for Australia's elite men's and women's team programs later this month is remembered as a quiet, considered country boy when he joined Victoria's state squad in 1999.
The tall allrounder was an alumnus of the then Australian Institute of Sport cricket academy, in the 1998 intake that included future national representatives Marcus North and James Hopes.
And he had played at that year's Under-19 World Cup in South Africa where West Indies pair Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan starred.
But those experiences could not have adequately prepared a 20-year-old from Castlemaine in Victoria's goldfields region for integration into a Bushrangers squad that counted Shane Warne, David Saker, Mick Lewis, Darren Berry, Ian Harvey and Matthew Elliott among its influencers.
Under the stewardship of coach John Scholes, Victoria was entering what would become a golden era of on-field success but with a dressing room that contained so many larger-than-life characters, it was an outfit that could be as fractious as it was formidable.
As Matthew Mott – also a new addition to that group having relocated from Queensland, and now coach of the Australia women's squad that Oliver will oversee as Cricket Australia's Executive General Manager National Teams – recalls, the youngster held his own.
"What stood out from those early days was that he was quiet, but quite strong in his opinions as well," Mott told cricket.com.au prior to the women's team's departure to contest the Ashes in the UK.
"If he believed in something, he'd carry through his thoughts really well.
"He was always measured and considerate, and a good team man and I just remember him being able to call a spade a spade, but do it in a fairly non-confrontational sort of way.
"That was what stood out to me – given an opportunity to give an opinion, he wasn't shy but at the same time he didn't force that view on others.
"He had a lot of respect, particularly in that group of Bushrangers, and for a young player to do that in a pretty strong environment is no small achievement."
Those who have worked closely with Oliver since injuries and opportunities combined to curtail his playing career in 2003 note that he's likely to maintain a low public profile when he begins at Brisbane's Bupa National Cricket Centre in late July.
A hallmark of his career journey since finishing his playing days at Tasmania has been the quietly diligent progress that's taken him from administrative positions with Cricket Victoria, the ICC and CA, to WA Cricket Association's General Manager of High Performance in 2012.
He arrived at the WACA when the men's team there was undergoing a similar period of introspection and reinvention as the national equivalent has seen in the past year or more.
And crucial to the successful culture he helped to establish in Perth was his relationship with then WA men's team coach Justin Langer, with whom he will now work closely in the national interest.
Adam Voges was WA captain when that rebuild began and has gleaned first-hand experience working with Oliver as both a player and a coach (having taken over from Langer when his former teammate ascended to the national job).
"The best piece of advice that 'JL' (Langer) gave me was to make sure I stuck close to Ben because he was such a great operator, and I know how highly Justin regards him," Voges told cricket.com.au.
"It was no surprise to me that 'JL' was always very keen to continue working with him.
"They'll work incredibly well together, and bring the best out of each other as well."
Voges admits he has rarely noticed Oliver as a visible presence at training sessions, and concedes he wasn't aware of the qualities brought to the High Performance job until he moved into his off-field role last year.
"As a player, you probably don't fully understand and appreciate the role that the administrators play and I certainly didn't until I stepped into the coaching job," Voges said.
"He's very well organised, he goes about his business in a quiet manner but works extremely hard.
"There will be more scrutiny in this job, but I don't think Ben will be one to hold a high public profile.
"He'll do the work in the background and make sure that JL and Motty have everything they need to run successful programs and make sure Australian cricket is strong.
"He brings a sense of calmness to everything he does and I think that's also a sign of a good administrator, that he's able see things objectively and make decisions accordingly.
"But I think his great strength is that he's played the game, he understands the game and so for all the great assets he has as an administrator, he has that really deep understanding of cricket as well."
While Oliver's cricket pedigree, even if it does not include international playing experience, is viewed as an advantage for EGM National Teams, the credentials that Drew Ginn brings to the complementary EGM High Performance position are also uniquely impressive.
Having represented Australia at four Olympic Games for a haul of three gold and a silver medal in rowing (in addition to five world titles), Ginn's expertise is founded upon striving for, reaching and maintaining peak performance.
After serving as Head Coach Integration and then Performance Advisor at Rowing Australia, the 44-year-old has spent the past two years as General Manager High Performance with Cricket Tasmania.
Despite his lifelong commitment to rowing, Ginn knows that skills learned in one discipline can be readily applied to another given he was a teenager who pursued a variety of team sports at Melbourne's Scotch College before he was convinced to try out on the water.
With the breadth of his new position – which covers responsibility for domestic competitions and junior pathways programs, as well as liaison with state and territory high performance systems, coach and umpiring ranks, and sports science and medicine – it would be near impossible to find a candidate with first-hand experience in all those areas.
Nick Cummins, Cricket Tasmania's CEO who appointed Ginn to the High Performance job in 2017, said persistent rumblings about the wisdom of installing someone from outside the relevant sport are rendered redundant by the complexities of such roles.
"There's been a bit of comment about that … but no-one ever says if you put someone in charge of a high-performance program 'oh they're from outside physiotherapy' or 'they're from outside umpiring'," Cummins said.
"And Drew's new role covers all those areas, not just the men's or women's program.
"It's a true general manager's role which means you can't really be a subject matter expert, you need to be a generalist and you need to be a great leader.
"They're his strengths, and it's what makes him so good in the role.
"I wasn't expecting him to coach the team when he came to Cricket Tasmania – we were just expecting him to build relationships with his coaches and his senior managers, and he was very effective at doing that.
"He's very good at galvanising a wide variety of skills sets, whether that's coaching, strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, umpiring or Premier Cricket, and then unifying them to a common purpose.
"It can be very tempting in those kind of roles to want to get your hands into the machinery, but that's the job of the people that work for you.
"Drew has dedicated a lot of his career to thinking about and honing his leadership skills, so his ability to engage and motivate is second to none.
"In a role like this, which is primarily engagement and motivation, he is the perfect candidate to lead the high-performance program so that it delivers when it really counts."
Ginn's gilded achievements across almost two decades of elite-level competition might suggest he enjoyed blessed fortune, but he has known hardship among the heroics.
With the 2000 Sydney Olympics in his sights and the prospect of gold in front of his home nation in the coxless pairs event with partner James Tomkins, Ginn suffered the recurrence of a back injury during pre-competition warm-ups at a regatta on Switzerland's Lake Lucerne.
It was less than two months before the opening ceremony in Homebush, and Ginn knew instantly that the dream that had motivated him through every race and training session of the preceding four years was over.
"Things were going extremely well with Drew, so it was terrible before the racing when he had to get out of the boat," Tomkins said at the time.
"It was awful, we were crying in the boat …"
Ginn went on to win gold in coxless pair competition at the 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing) Olympics before finishing with silver in a return to coxless four racing at London in 2012, having undergone two bouts of back surgery along the way.
But even though his name is a byword for enduring success among Australia's Baby Boomer and Gen-X sports fans, Ginn knows it is contemporary outcomes rather than past glories that will earn him kudos among the current wave of cricket hopefuls.
"For the people in Australian cricket aged 30 or 40-plus, he certainly commands a lot of respect because of what he's done before," Cummins said.
"While he may not have done it on the cricket field, he's done it against the best in the world and that carries a lot of cachet.
"But for young people, and particularly those in the current playing groups, they don't know who he is and they don't know who the Oarsome Foursome were.
"As 19-year-old or 22-year-old players who weren't even born when Drew won his first Olympic gold medal, they judge him for what they see standing in front of them.
"So he can't afford to rely on what he achieved in the boat, he's got to deliver based on performance rather than reputation alone."
One of the most tangible outcomes Ginn's delivered in his two-year tenure at Cricket Tasmania is the covered nets facility that has revolutionised the Tigers' out-of-season training regimen.
Cummins said a set-up that allowed for match-simulated winter practice in Hobart had been eyed by Tasmania administrators for a decade, but was repeatedly stymied by restrictions on resources until Ginn devised a solution.
By having players agree to forego their annual winter training camp to warmer climes in northern Australia, the project was completed in time (and budget) to provide an indoor training option with enough surplus funds to allow a warm-up game in Brisbane ahead of last year's JLT One Day Cup.
"That was just really good lateral thinking – Drew engaged the playing group to get them to clarify their priorities, and then came to me and was able to sell a vision that has ultimately proved a better outcome," Cummins said.
"He's been in the organisation for two years, and it feels a lot longer than that given the amount of impact he's had.
"Adam Griffith (Cricket Tasmania men's coach) worked for Ben (Oliver at WA) and now works for Drew and he speaks really highly of both of them.
Assembly of our new winter training marquee. It will allow our male and female players to train on turf in June for the first time ever in Tasmania. pic.twitter.com/K1N3oEMRjS— Nick Cummins (@CricketTasCEO) May 31, 2018
"When we were looking for our High Performance Manager, 'Griff' (Griffith) was saying 'I really want someone like Ben Oliver, that kind of leader'.
"So it's a great win for Cricket Australia, and it also demonstrates just how complex (previous EGM Team Performance) Pat Howard's job was, that it's now the domain of two people and two very talented people."
While Ginn settles into his new role at CA's Melbourne headquarters on July 29, Oliver will relocate to the Bupa NCC in Brisbane from which most of his high performance staff will be absent due to the ongoing men's and women's Ashes campaigns in the UK.
But he has already held discussions with men's coach Langer, with whom he forged such an effective partnership in Perth, and women's supremo Mott who is thrilled to see his former junior teammate become his boss.
That's not because of their shared history, but rather the breadth of knowledge that Mott sees Oliver will bring via his stints in global (ICC), national (CA) and state (Victoria, Tasmania and WA) systems.
"He knows what's worked and what hasn't worked, and he's also a very articulate bloke," Mott said of his fellow former Bushranger.
"I just think he'll bring a really measured approach to things, and having chatted to Justin (Langer), he spoke incredibly highly of Ben's ability to manage and to bring a really co-operative approach to solving issues.
"Between the two appointments, with Ben and Drew, I think we've got a great cross-section of experience and expertise.
"We've been really well served by (acting EGM Team Performance) Belinda Clark for the past seven months, but there was always that speculation around 'what's next?'.
"As I said to Ben when I spoke to him, I think it's a real relief for everyone – we now know who's in charge and we know that it's someone who's highly regarded in the states and will bring plenty of energy to the role.
"So I think it's a really good time."