The rise and rise of Australian cricket's mastermind
Across three decades in various top coaching jobs, Greg Shipperd has quietly impacted the men's game in this country as much as just about anyone in the modern era. And he's not done yet
31 March 2021, 07:43 PM AEST
Greg Shipperd takes a moment to turn away from his desk and look out beyond the window of his study. All is as it should be. The trees are green and the Melbourne sky is grey. Directly across the road lies the famous Caulfield Racecourse, an imposing and permanent feature in the city's south-east.
Before long, he is lost once again in the minutiae of the coaching world in front of him. The details and the data and the discoveries, that's the good stuff, he knows. It's from there that the seeds of satisfaction for his life's work are sown.
There are reminders of it scattered about a room that has served as Shipperd's headquarters since 2002-03. It was love at first sighting of the old Edwardian-style home when he came to Victoria from Tasmania that summer, as assistant to David Hookes.
The content has crept through the study ever since, like moss on a wet rock. On walls and in drawers, stacked in piles on his desk or tucked away in orderly files. Information and lessons stretching back through his 11 years with the Tigers from 1991-92. Framed pictures of his teams and coaching colleagues, one listing every Victoria player he coached who went on to play for Australia.
And an answer for every coaching scenario, should one know where to look.
"I'm surrounded by lots of cricket memorabilia and files full of cricket information, which is a bit like the game at the moment; distilling the masses of information, and sometimes taking information away from the players," Shipperd explains to cricket.com.au.
"What I say to the players is, 'I'm providing you with clarity from the chaos, I'm trying to make the complex simple, and I want to present to you the essentials, maximise what you've got, and concentrate on the positives'."
Within the room sits a tall, skinny whiteboard. With a red marker, he has neatly inscribed phrases, buzzwords and ideas for every coaching moment. It is a means of breaking down and understanding a game that has stirred his imagination since he was a nine-year-old. They are the inner secrets of his innovative mind, only Shipperd doesn't view them as secrets.
"Intellectual property?" he asks rhetorically. "You've still got to execute it. I'm not worried about hiding information. That doesn't do anyone any good. I think have information, share information, and then whoever executes it best is going to be the winner at the end of the day."
It is a modus operandi that has served him remarkably well through three decades in the coaching game. Eleven titles in three formats speaks to only a fraction of Shipperd's impact on Australian cricket. If Allan Border is the godfather of the modern game in this country, one could make a solid argument that Shipperd is the mastermind.
To wholly understand his influence, one is better off looking at the players, both past and present, who continue to shape the Australian game. National coach Justin Langer? Shipperd was his first captain in first grade at Scarborough in Perth during the late 1980s. They still talk coaching today. Australia's latest T20I batting debutant, Josh Philippe? A Shipperd protégé at the Sydney Sixers, where the two spend hours honing the young gun's technique and talking about the challenges he must overcome if he is to best utilise the batting gifts that make him, in Shipperd's words, "the closest I've seen in recent years to the David Warner batting DNA". The 64-year-old doesn't want to see Philippe's talents wasted, and feels he should be playing regular first-class cricket with Western Australia. Perhaps we will see that come to fruition in the near future – after all, Shipperd had a lengthy coaching conversation with Scorchers and WA mentor Adam Voges during this summer's KFC Big Bash. Warner, too, is another example; as head coach of Delhi Daredevils in 2009, Shipperd handed him an IPL debut as a raw 22-year-old. No Australian player has had as significant an impact on that competition since, with the possible exception of two-time player of the tournament Shane Watson. And who poached Watson as a teenager from Queensland 20 years ago and put him straight into first-class cricket with Tasmania before becoming a touchpoint for the allrounder through his decorated career? Shipperd.
And on it goes, Australian cricket's equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, those involved with the coach emerging enhanced and enthused, then spreading the Shipperd gospel like wildfire.
"Look at the coaches in different sports who have had long and successful coaching careers – Kevin Sheedy (AFL), Wayne Bennett (NRL) – and Greg Shipperd is certainly in that same conversation," says Michael Di Venuto, who played under Shipperd at Tasmania and nowadays is a well-credentialled coach in his own right.
"He's had a huge impact on cricket in Australia, both player-wise and coach-wise. A huge impact.
"During the BBL when I was with the Strikers in Adelaide, we had a night when I caught up with Greg, and I was with (fellow Strikers coaches) Jason Gillespie and Joe Dawes.
"The three of us, all young head coaches, we had 'Shippy' relaxing over a beer and we were just peppering him with questions about coaching: different scenarios, different experiences, his learnings.
"He was really open, and it was just gold. He's a terrific resource for Australian cricket in terms of coaching, and the game in general.
"A lot of people have benefited greatly from his wisdom over the years."
* * *
It might have been fate that Greg Shipperd landed at the point of intersection between sport and education as early in life as grade four. The sport, of course, was cricket, and the link between that and his formative learnings was a man named Derek Woodhead, his schoolteacher that year and a top-order batsman with Western Australia.
It is difficult to imagine him now, the gnarled veteran of 112 first-class matches, two rebel tours to South Africa, and myriad coaching endeavours, as a primary schooler, wide-eyed and absorbing the wisdom of a much more senior figure.
"I'm a product of the people around me in a lot of ways," Shipperd says. "(Woodhead) was a batter, a great technician, a good thinker, and he was a cricket coach himself.
"So from grade four onwards I had this significant influence … right through to my debut in first-class cricket."
There were others, too, who were variations upon the same theme. Shipperd's club captain at Scarborough in Perth, Derek Chadwick, was another important figure not only on weekends but as a teacher at the high school he attended. Then with Western Australia, nine-time Sheffield Shield winning coach Daryl Foster was for Shipperd "an outstanding mentor" while also one of his lecturers at university and teachers college.
It was a regular combination that quite organically guided Shipperd in what would become his career direction.
"I had some nice touchpoints with the people who were involved in the game and me developing some skills that might one day take me to organising groups of people, and progressing skill, and mental and strategic development," he explains, before ticking off a checklist of great Western Australian cricketers who also played their part in his evolution as cricketer, and later coach.
"I played in winning teams, surrounded by Lillee, Marsh, Hughes, Alderman … some of the best. I was really fortunate to be rubbing shoulders with them, and listening and learning to how the game unfolded from such a variety of talent around our group."
Shipperd earned degrees in teaching and physical education and while he taught for seven years, he says his attempts to be the best educator he could be were hampered by his cricket ambitions. It wasn't until the years after he finished playing that he began to understand just how valuable his time in teaching had been.
"The skills I learnt there (were) about preparation, planning, understanding the improvement process and the steps it takes … how to both draw and give information," he says.
"They're all skills and tools of the trade that I've picked up along the journey and I guess over time am getting better at, so whilst the body at the moment runs out of petrol pretty quickly, the mind I feel is probably as sharp as it's been in terms of understanding the game, and strategy, and working with people."
Shipperd is unquestionably a man of mantras, to the point that his Sixers players roll their eyes when he reaches into the recesses of his mind and pictures those words on that whiteboard, then selects the appropriate phrase for the situation.
This summer, his latest innovation was what became known as The F-Words. He peels them off, reciting straight from the whiteboard: Fresh, focused, fundamentals, fearless, flexible, fun, forensic, feedback, family, friends, first impressions, failure and What the F just happened?
One or several words will be used in either a match review or preview – or other more general meetings – as a means of exploring different ways of looking at concepts or findings or important points. Sixers spinner Steve O'Keefe describes it as its own language.
"There's so much gold in what he offers," O'Keefe says. "Every meeting I go into there's something new, he's picked out a different point."
Without missing a beat, O'Keefe begins imitating: "'Forensic … fun …'
"We go into the meeting and it will be different (words) he will use to analyse the game.
"We don't have team chats where it's led by him. (He'll ask) every single player in the group, including staff, to chat and pick out one or two points they liked from a match and present to the group.
"When he needs to come in, he'll come in.
"I've been around 20 years and played under some good coaches, but Shippy is probably the best, (in) the way he can manage players, the way he can manage expectations, and getting a group together moving towards a common goal.
"And he's learning as well – I think he's a better coach now than he was four or five years ago when he started (with the Sixers)."
Experience has taught Shipperd that with such a seasoned group, player empowerment is the most effective approach, and so, as O'Keefe attests, he has recently been ceding more control to the Sixers' numerous senior figures, fading quietly into the shadows and only reappearing when he deems it truly necessary.
"Over time, and I guess on reflection, I've learnt the stages of coaching," he says. "The idea is as a teacher you're in control, (but) I'm almost these days taking myself out of the picture and more teasing the players into being involved in their own process … (so) these things are embedding themselves with more power and gravitas.
"As a general principle now, that's how I'm tackling things. I sold it to (the Sixers players) on the basis that I wanted the dressing room to be like a laboratory of T20 cricket; we want to really throw ideas around and shoot for the stars, and we want players to coach and lead internally."
The trick, Shipperd explains, is to tailor one's approach to the needs of both the playing group and the organisation. In Tasmania through the 1990s, a young squad (and a relatively new addition to the competition) learning to consistently compete demanded a focus on fundamentals and selection. Later, Victoria, Melbourne Stars (with whom, Shipperd muses, things might have been different had he been given "just one more year") and the Sixers all set their focus on regularly claiming silverware.
"All the while," Shipperd adds, "you have to make sure all the individuals are improving."
In today's cricket climate, that is more challenging than ever. Shipperd gets his hands on his Sixers squad for roughly two months out of 12. In order to hit the ground running, preparation is key. Shipperd knows the majority of his players will have been bombarded with an array of messages from an array of voices between their departure from and their arrival back at the Sixers each summer. He talks about "resetting the communication pathway" when they return to his system which, more simply, is about sitting and talking. He cites the example of Philippe, a player whose schedule is becoming increasingly jammed.
"He's one of those ones who, I only get him for a snapshot of the season, so it's about having that first conversation, that open-the-door talk: 'Who's training with you? What are their messages to you? How are you feeling about your game in the various formats? What have you learnt? What do you want to get better at?'
"So there is a sheet of communication points that are important to re-establish with the guys who are in that three-format program."
Such a system perhaps explains Shipperd's ongoing ability to find sure footing amid the constantly shifting sands of professional cricket, while through that turbulence, his adaptability has been another key pillar of his success.
It was sometime in the mid-2000s – he can't recall exactly when – that Shipperd found himself catching a train out to London at the behest of one of his former charges, Jamie Cox. Shipperd, in the UK on a month-long tour with Victoria, was curious about a new format of cricket that was being played called Twenty20, and Cox, the Somerset captain at the time, told him to come and witness it for himself.
"There were five or six thousand people there, balls were getting hit for six, the crowd was going nuts – what a festival it was," he recalls.
Shipperd was of course watching a revolution, but more than that, he was also seeing for the first time the blueprint from which he would build a significant portion of his career.
"I said to (Cricket Victoria colleague) Shaun (Graf), 'We've got to do this when we get back to Australia," he says, "and the idea was born. So we, the Vics, were fully invested in this process from ball one, and others weren't."
To say Shipperd was not mucking around is an understatement. Victoria won four of the first five state T20 titles. To say the other states, and even the national men's team initially, were mucking around is not far off the mark either. In those early days rugby league great Andrew Johns played a game for NSW – an actual, for points, senior domestic T20 match – while Australia's first international encounter with the format in 2005 in New Zealand was undertaken in a similar spirit.
David Hussey and Brad Hodge, on the other hand, already had five seasons between them of English county T20 cricket under their belts by the time Victoria played their first match in 2005. Shipperd has made a name, a career even, of drilling the importance of the forward defence into every player he has coached, yet his ability in those days to harness not only the accumulated wisdom of the likes of Hodge and Hussey, but also those types of players' aggressive instincts, immediately set him apart.
"We did take it really serious," says Hussey. "We thought it was another opportunity to win another trophy compared to other states that saw it as a hit and giggle, and invited players like Andrew Johns down to play.
"But we also had the answers to the test before it had even arrived."
For that, they had Shipperd to thank. His success did not go unnoticed, and when the Indian Premier League was launched in 2008, he was the man the Dehli Daredevils wanted. The first edition of the T20 Champions League saw both Shipperd's sides (Victoria and Delhi) qualify. Since, he's been involved in every edition of the rebranded Big Bash League, leading the Melbourne Stars for four summers and the Sydney Sixers for the ensuing six, helping the latter to the two most recent titles. Only twice during that decade has a Shipperd-coach BBL team missed the finals.
It is likely no coincidence that three players in Victoria's inaugural state title-winning team have gone on to become head coaches in the BBL (Hussey, Andrew McDonald and Michael Klinger). Good judges believe White, now an assistant with Adelaide Strikers, will become a fourth.
His influence has become something of a secret handshake around the league. A few months ago in Hobart, Hussey, now the coach of the Stars, was throwing balls in the nets to Nick Larkin before a game at Blundstone Arena. Di Venuto, now an assistant with the Hobart Hurricanes, was in an adjoining net. Larkin played a forward defence – a rarity for strike-rate conscious T20 batters – and Hussey called out, 'Shot, Larko!'
Di Venuto looked across to Hussey and with a knowing grin said: "That's the Greg Shipperd coming out in you."
* * *
Shipperd used to jog around the perimeter of Caulfield Racecourse in his younger years, but while the summers have flown by, his exercise has gradually slowed to a walk. Much else has changed in that time, too. He remembers arriving in Victoria almost two decades ago and being swiftly invigorated by Hookes, despite their dramatically contrasting traits.
Shaun Graf, who is in his 26th year as Victoria's general manager of cricket, remembers sitting with Hookes shortly after he had appointed the ex-Test star as coach. Graf had lined up four candidates to interview for the role of Hookes' coaching assistant.
"I remember telling him that one of them was going to be 'Shippy'," Graf recalls, "and he said, 'Bloody Shipperd – boy oh boy, he's the stodgiest player who ever played'."
Shipperd had in fact applied for the head coach position, and for the assistant role, he was the final person interviewed. By the time their conversation was over, he had blown them away.
"He'd done a full presentation on every player in the competition, where their strengths and weaknesses were," Graf says. "It was very good.
"When Shippy had gone, Hookesy turned to me and said, 'Why the hell did you appoint me as coach?'"
Shipperd got the job. In the unlikely pair, Graf saw the yin and yang he had come to believe was necessary to turn Victorian cricket around, after the leanest period of the state's decorated history had stretched to one Shield title in 22 largely barren summers.
At face value, the opposing personalities had the potential to go down in flames. Hookes held the record for the fastest first-class hundred by an Australian; Shipperd owned the slowest. Hookes was a prominent television commentator and had hosted a sports radio show; Shipperd was private, and distrustful of the media. Hookes had no formal coaching experience; Shipperd had been with Tasmania for more than a decade.
Ultimately, none of it mattered, as that threat of combustibility made way for a unique collaboration that Vics legend Cameron White labels "the ultimate coaching duo I came across in my time as a player".
"We didn't really like each other much as opponents on the field," Shipperd grins, "but very quickly, once we were in the same boat and rowing the same way together, it was a house on fire."
Across the ensuing 16 months, Shipperd came to embody many of Hookes' traits, the pair opening each other's eyes to different means of tackling age-old coaching questions.
"The fact that you can come from a range of different angles to get the same job done – I just saw a different side of looking at things, from left field," he adds.
"I learned (from Hookes) about the coach being a storyteller ... his storytelling was absolutely first-class."
As Graf remembers it, Hookes' influence on Shipperd also revealed itself attitudinally. Shipperd's playing days in the west, where his ongoing selection in the team was contingent upon him fulfilling his designated role of batting time, had left an indelible mark on him. Later, as head coach of regular underdogs Tasmania, who collected a sixth wooden spoon in eight years in his maiden season at the helm, his strategies inherently began with defence.
"Hookesy showed Shippy there were ways to winning a Shield game other than playing for a draw first and then going for the win," Graf says. "He created a lot more positive and aggressive thoughts on how Shippy approached the game than he did previously, and I think that's the reason Shippy loved him.
"He showed him a different side to how you can attack and still in some ways protect the draw, although Hookesy was all-out attack. Having the combination of both helped Shippy see the other side."
Victoria's surprising funk through the 1990s had arrived in spite of a considerably skilled playing group, as the tribalism that had elevated the state's football code into a national competition had the opposite effect on the state's cricket, despite the professionalisation of domestic male players.
"In Victoria it was a far bigger deal to win the Ryder Medal (awarded to the season's leading Premier Cricket player) than to be the best cricketer in state cricket, and it was far bigger to win district cricket than it was to win the state title," Graf remembers.
"We thought our district cricket was Test cricket, basically."
Hookes and Shipperd had been given the task of transforming that mentality. Theirs was a specific brief about the state's expectations, after two final defeats in the previous three Shield summers.
"They'd been nearly winning, nearly winning, so the thrust was, 'We want to win stuff'," Shipperd recalls. "So our planning was all around how to win and stay consistent around that winning process, and then produce Australian players along the way."
The curious regard in which Victorian state cricket was held at the time was evident to Shipperd the first time he walked into the home dressing room at the MCG. During his tenure with Tasmania, he had taken to capturing a triumphant team photo after every Shield win. Each image would be stuck on the dressing room wall, a visual reminder of their success and jubilance, and the product of much more.
"So with every photo, the players were starting to understand, 'Oh, more of those pictures are going up, we're heading in the right direction here'," Shipperd explains.
"And it showed the fun and the results of hard work.
"But when I got to Victoria, there was just nothing."
The beige walls of the cavernous home of his new team told nothing of the 25 Shield or one-day titles won across more than a century of cricket. For Shipperd, that was a telling absence for a group aiming to make the significant shift from also-rans to champions.
"So we designed some posters and some key words … and they dressed out the dressing rooms magnificently," he says.
"We had all this history up; (images of) Dean Jones, Reiffel, Warne, Berry – all these winning teams, and it just grew and grew.
"I've noticed over the journey that all the other state teams have since done that, and the Aussie team do it now."
Some 16 months after Shipperd joined Victoria, Hookes was infamously killed, with the legal pursuit of justice thereafter considered by Shipperd to be "a weird and challenging thing ... and it's been a frustration ever since".
Their union, though brief, had quickly made an impact on the playing group, who played their final five matches of that 2003-04 Shield season through a fog of grief, triumphing over Queensland in the decider less than two months after their coach's death.
When they huddled to sing their team song after that final in the MCG changerooms, now decorated with tributes to those that had come before them, a space was left vacant for Hookes.
Shipperd remembers both the friendship and the wisdom gained from his colleague and mate.
"We certainly enjoyed each other's company," he says. "I would go to his place for dinner, he would come to ours.
"(His time with Hookes) also consolidated light and shade around coaching for me; having the ability to be very firm and direct, and other times (putting an) arm around – soft, gentle, caring, and all that lies between.
"He was pretty good at that, in the brief time he had in that role. He was one to remember."
That last lesson is one Shipperd has taken with him, ensuring his dealings with players are very much bespoke and based on the foundation of a genuine relationship.
Ricky Ponting, who professes uninhibited adoration for his first state coach, enjoyed Shipperd's directness, his technical knowhow, his willingness to challenge, and his refusal to pander. Over his legendary career, Ponting says no coach connected with him more strongly.
It is nearly 30 years ago now but the one-time Tassie batting prodigy has a vivid recollection of the aftermath of one innings, which had come to an end when Ponting had edged behind attempting a "Viv Richards back-foot cover drive". As the young batsman left the field, Shipperd followed him down the race, vehemently voicing his disapproval.
"Little kicks in the backside like that were great for me," Ponting tells cricket.com.au. "I still do the same thing now as a coach when I think it's needed. The way you do it now is probably changed … there's different ways and means of doing things, but he obviously felt that's what I needed at the time, and I probably did because I didn't play too many more of those shots.
"He understood me well, he understood my game well, and if things weren't going well throughout my international career, he'd be the first one I'd talk to.
"I'd get a message saying, 'Your head's a little bit over, start seeing the ball out of your right eye, maybe open your stance a little', or, 'You're going a bit hard early – give yourself a bit of time to get in'.
"I still think now, talking batting with him is probably the most I've ever got out of talking to a coach about batting."
Where the shade worked for Ponting, the light has illuminated others. Sixers batsman Jordan Silk, who has spoken previously about a near-crippling self-doubt that has at times plagued his game, believes the chief benefit he has received from Shipperd has come in the form of an unerring faith and a constant building of self-esteem.
"It's not necessarily the technical advice I get off Greg, for me it's more that confidence he gives me to go out there and do the job," Silk says. "I can probably get a bit flat on myself, and he's always talked up my game a lot, told me I can do these things, sees me as a player who can finish games.
"He's constantly someone who pumps my tires, and I know I wouldn't be alone in that sense that I really like and appreciate that stuff; if he thinks I can do that job then I'm going to walk to the middle in a much better mindset and with the belief that I can get it done."
The passing of time has brought with it more than just a change in Shipperd's exercise habits. Through the summers, as he has moved with the changing patterns in the game, and ridden the upheavals with a rare flexibility, those who know him well have observed something else as well: Shipperd has mellowed.
There was a time when such a possibility seemed unfathomable. This was a man who, in his initial coaching years with Tasmania, was banned from the viewing room. At the fall of a Tigers wicket, or in the wake of what he viewed to be a poor decision from one of his players, one could almost set their watch to a Shipperd outburst.
"His pen would go, his folder, cricket balls, whatever he could get his hands on," laughs Di Venuto. "And then if we had a partnership, he'd bounce back in all happy and smiley, but he'd soon be shown the door again."
The theme continued in Victoria. Cameron White was a teenager with frosted blond tips when he first laid eyes on Shipperd. Little did White, still learning the rhythms of first-class cricket as the youngest member of a grizzled Victorian outfit, know the diminutive Tasmanian coach would come to play a major role in his career.
"There'd be a controversial decision and Shipperd would come flying down out of the MCG coaches' box and he'd be throwing his phone, he'd be straight into the third umpire's room and I was like, 'Who is this bloke?" White laughs. "'This little fella is going nuts!'"
White estimates Shipperd smashed half-a-dozen phones in a single season at Victoria, and Graf jokes that the famous incident of Hawthorn's AFL coach Alastair Clarkson punching through the plaster wall of the MCG coaches' box was de rigueur for his ill-tempered colleague.
The fervour with which he rode every turn candidly reflected the emotional energy he had invested in each contest, for which White also discovered his coach had prepared more diligently than the young captain had previously considered possible.
"Going to selection meetings with Shippy, you couldn't just show up," he explains. "You had to do your homework, have your reasons, have your arguments down-pat.
"It was like going into a courtroom with the best lawyer in the country."
While Hussey does recall Shipperd occasionally playing the good cop to Hookes' bad cop, offering a soothing word after a volley of criticism from his straight-shooting colleague, he can also single out flashes of fury.
After he was one day dismissed at the WACA Ground attempting an expansive drive early in his innings, Hussey foresaw what was coming as he made the long walk back to the changeroom.
"I knew Greg was going to be there waiting for me," he recounts. "I got in there and he threw his keys down on the ground, and it was just a verbal barrage.
"I'd like to be able to recall all the words he said to me but all I can remember is spit flying everywhere and the keys on the ground."
When he was caught pulling in the second innings by one of four Western Australia fielders stationed on the leg-side boundary for exactly that shot, Hussey wisely elected to this time walk to the curator's shed instead.
Nowadays, while not completely immune to a mid-match blow-up, Shipperd is on the whole a more even-tempered character. Those close to him say he has become more convivial with the media, while with the Sixers, Silk even describes him as "calm and measured".
"(He's mellowed) hugely," Di Venuto adds. "He wouldn't be able to stand Twenty20 cricket if he was like what he was in the early days."
What has remained a constant over the same period has been Shipperd's unmatched dedication to ensuring his players are as well-equipped as possible for success. At Victoria, it paved the way for four Shield titles, four T20 titles and a one-day success in 12 seasons. Hussey and White recall their coach's habit of preparing three whiteboards before a match, each teeming with accumulated knowledge. The first would have the 11 opposition players listed, with their strengths and weaknesses condensed into a single line next to their name. The second would have Victoria's 11 players listed, together with their batting and bowling strategies. And a third whiteboard would have the team's goals for the match, details on how the pitch was playing, the quality of the outfield, a session-by-session breakdown from the match as it unfolded, and so on.
"He just had so much information," White says. "When you walked into the MCG change rooms, you were like, 'Jesus Christ, we're not just batting and bowling here'."
Before whiteboards, it was notebooks full of information that he would share with his Tasmania players, and these days the same diligent preparation continues via links to spreadsheets posted on the Sixers WhatsApp group. And so the messaging arrives via different mediums, each time reflecting the unique challenges of that match, but always delivered with the same intent: to provide the best preparation for his team.
🗣️ 'Be the hero of your moment tonight... good luck.' *goosebumps* 🎥 A spine-tingling behind the scenes look at our epic @BBL|10 Final victory 👌#smashemsixers #BBL10 pic.twitter.com/az54skqW4g— Sydney Sixers (@SixersBBL) February 10, 2021
"Then before every game, we'll be out there for the warm-up, and he'll reiterate the key messages," Silk explains.
"He's always got such a great speech, really captivating for us as an audience, and by the time he's finished talking we really believe we can go out, replicate what his messages are and be inspired by that."
It is a telling point. More than 17 years after they parted ways, it is the strategy of Shipperd and the storytelling of Hookes still operating in tandem, cricket's best one-two punch living on.
* * *
On a cool, cloudy Thursday morning in late March, Shipperd makes his way to a Melbourne café. He is there to catch up with Ponting. The two remain close friends, a pair of genuine cricket tragics boasting perhaps more intellectual property on the game than any other duo out there.
As ever, the topic for discussion is cricket. Will Pucovski. Cameron Green. Josh Philippe. Those bright talents who, through their on-field deeds, are offering a glimpse of how the next era of cricket in this country might begin to take shape.
"He loves talking about young players," Ponting says. "He just wants to sit down and talk about up-and-coming, emerging players."
Like White and Hussey, Ponting loves his former coach for the love he has shown him across their years together, not only as a player, but as a friend and now also as a coach.
"There's genuine care for everybody he's ever worked with," Ponting says. "I knew that (as a player) – he kicked me in the arse once but I knew that he loved me, and he would now know that everyone feels the same about him.
"Deep down, he probably had something to do with me getting the Delhi (head coach) job because he coached there in the inaugural few seasons (of the IPL).
"He hasn't said anything about that, but he might be part of the reason I am in the position I'm in there."
At Victoria, Graf saw plainly why such mutual admiration existed between players and coach.
"The reason everyone loved him was because he was empathetic," he says. "Some coaches treat their players as commodities; he treated them as humans."
Shipperd's nurturing of players continues at the Sixers, perhaps a product of the fatherly and school-teaching instincts he has developed at different stages of his life. Ponting saw a shining example of it through this summer's Big Bash.
"There was a game in Hobart when Philippe got runs against the Hurricanes," he recalls. "There'd been a few games in a row where he hadn't got any runs and it got to the 10-over time-out, Philippe was still in and 'Shippy' ran out, put his arms around him and gave him a big hug – halfway through the innings!"
The Sixers have in recent years also been at the forefront of identifying and coping with mental health concerns among players and staff. Shipperd hands the credit on this front to captain Moises Henriques, but overlooks the positive impact of his own attitude, which can be summed up by this: "You're in a position where you're there to help – treat them like they're special as often as you can … (and) if you approach them like you would your family, it's a really good starting point."
For Shipperd, each team he has worked with has been precisely that: family. Of course, more broadly in his life there is the small matter of his actual family (wife Sylvia, kids Ben, Amy, Dylan, and three grandkids), and for a man who lives his job, striking a work-life balance to suit everyone can be a highwire act.
It was one he tiptoed just recently. Shipperd was alone in his study, trying to keep pace with international broadcasts and domestic streams of various matches. He wanted to see the young Victorian men bat against a strong NSW attack in the Shield, but he was also intent on watching Philippe play his second T20I for Australia in Dunedin. On the subcontinent, he was thoroughly absorbed by the challenge facing England on a spinning pitch in Ahmedabad. A coach's coach, there in his laboratory.
Sylvia, understandably, was less enthused by the entertainment options available.
"She wasn't thrilled," Shipperd smiles, "but she's been a trooper from that point of view, in understanding. She's just happy that I'm working, and our family is growing with grandchildren, so she's pretty occupied.
"My mantra from a coaching point of view is, 'You're a performer, learner, leader', and I just keep deferring to, 'I'm learning dear – I've got to keep up with this match'."