John Inverarity, first-class cricketer, coach and educator, was considering his future after six years as Warden of St George’s College when invited to apply to become Cricket Australia’s National Selector.
You’d have to say that UWA graduate John Inverarity has accepted one of the nation’s most challenging roles in sport: National Selector of Cricket Australia. His every decision will be analysed by cricket aficionados from former prime ministers to punters in the local pub, his judgement will regularly be called into question and he’ll be blamed for future losses. Why did he do it?
The obvious answer is his love of the game that remains undimmed.
“I’ve always looked for challenges,” he adds. “I knew it would be difficult but my predecessor was a close friend and he and others encouraged me. I like the sense of community and belonging that comes with sport and I’ve always liked trying to make an enterprise better.”
When John Inverarity became national selector late last year, there was widespread agreement that the former Test cricketer (also considered one of Western Australia’s best Sheffield Shield captains) was the right man for the job on several counts.
The UWA graduate is acknowledged for his acuity in all things cricket – from getting the best out of players to having a photographic memory of the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents.
He is also recognised as a great communicator, whether captaining WA in Sheffield Shield matches, coaching an English county team to victory in the English County championships or mentoring students at St George’s College. And long after his playing days were over his advice was sought by those at the top of international, national and State cricket.
John’s father Mervyn Inverarity was a first-class cricketer for Western Australia during the 1920s and 30s and later a senior administrator with the WA Cricket Association. The graduate’s earliest memories are of playing backyard cricket with neighbourhood kids using “dad’s big bats”.
When he became a student at Scotch College he was immediately struck by the school’s sense of community and by the friendships forged by sport.
“Even before I left school I wanted to be a teacher,” he recalls. “Cricket was reasonably well to the fore of my life at high school, so my plan was to go to uni, get a degree in mathematics, teach, and play cricket during the long summer breaks. At the time, a number of Sheffield Shield players were teachers, so I could see it worked well.”
He first played for WA as an 18-year-old and went on to play six Test matches for Australia between 1968 and 1972. One of his most remembered cricketing moments was when, as an opening batsman he was last man out during the 1968 Ashes Test at The Oval when Derek Underwood claimed victory for England in the final Test. “People still ask me to autograph pictures of the occasion,” he says.
As a State player he captained WA to Sheffield Shield glory four times in five years and when his teaching took him to South Australia, his new team went on to win in 1981-82. After retiring from State cricket in 1985 at the age of 41, he went on to coach both Kent and Warwickshire.
Cricket has undergone radical change during John Inverarity’s playing and coaching career and he’s concerned for young players who get selected, get a salary and feel no need to work or study.
“Cricket is all they do, and I feel that’s too narrowing,” he observes. “My life experience has made me very supportive of young sports people pursuing their studies because I believe no matter how good you are, you need a hinterland away from your sport.
“I look for good temperament, among other things, in young players. When you’re playing at the highest level in extremely pressured situations, you need to be able to rise to the occasion.
“We want players who have concern for others, take team work seriously, act with composure and dignity under pressure and enhance the others in the team with their presence.
“I think in this professional era where a great deal of money is involved, the game can become performance-dominated. Performance and winning is always important but it can dominate in a way it shouldn’t.
“You can learn a lot from sport: how to relate in groups, how to cop it sweet, deal with success, jubilation, dismay, rejection. You get a very healthy buffeting if exposed to all that, but we need to make sure that particular aspect of sport doesn’t get left behind.”
John Inverarity has always cautioned against the hype that makes a team feel it commands the high ground. His scholarly background makes him more than aware of the rise and fall of empires and he has warned that “when a team feels invincible, when you think that because you are Australians or because you are the Romans that you are inherently better, then the whole thing can soon come crashing down…”
The graduate says that his teaching – at Guildford Grammar, Applecross Senior High, Scotch College, Pembroke School in Adelaide (with stints in the United Kingdom at Tonbridge School and King’s College School, Wimbledon) – taught him a lot about communicating effectively. “I was always a teacher who played cricket,” he says.
After six years as Warden of UWA’s oldest residential college, St George’s, John Inverarity is pleased that the residential experience will be more widely available at UWA in future. He strongly recommends it to students, but says that choosing a college involves far more than finding a place to stay.
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