Known as ‘Big Bird’, Joel Garner, travelled to Australia for three consecutive summers during the late 1980s. Joel took charge of the ASC cricket coaching camps held around Australia. Back then, the Hilton Hotel was still opposite the MCG, and they were good enough to provide him with two months accommodation in December and January. Consequently, this enabled Joel to move around the country with the Australian Sports Camps team, to coach cricketers aged 6 to 16.
Joel was one of the tallest bowlers ever to play at 6 foot 8 inches. He used his height to generate great bounce and was a handful for any batsmen. He played 58 Tests between 1977 and 1987, taking 259 wickets at an average just above 20.98. Hence, making him one of the most effective bowlers of all time. His first-class average was an amazing 18.53, and he took 881 wickets at that level. Big Bird played for Barbados in the West Indies, for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield and alongside Wisden cricketers of the century Viv Richards and Ian Botham for Somerset in the English County Competition.
In one-day cricket, Joel was a lethal weapon, taking 146 wickets. He is one of the only two players with more than 100 ODI wickets to average under 20. The other being Australian opening bowler Mitchell Starc. What an economy rate! ‘Big Bird’ achieved just under three runs per over, demonstrating just how effective he was in limited overs cricket. How he would have gone today playing T20 cricket we will never know. Suffice to say, with T20 cricket being even more about economy rates than one day 50 over international cricket, Joel would have been a great asset to any T20 team. What price would he have gone for in any of the modern-day IPL auction’s? Like many cricketers from the past, the IPL T20 revolution came a little late to swell his bank balance.
His 5 for 38 in the 1979 world cup final against England remains the best performance by a bowler in a final; it included a spell of 5 wickets for 4 runs, and he was on a hat-trick twice.
Joel proved to be an influential coach working for Australian Sports Camps, who have conducted cricket coaching camps around Australia for over 35 years. His cricketing tips were passed on to many aspiring players.
Who would ever forget the sight of Joel working the turf nets at the exclusive Cranbrook School in Sydney? Together with the leading players such as Dean Jones, Michael Slater and the great Dennis Lillee. Cranbrook featured an upstairs-downstairs type cricket facility; the food was upstairs and the oval and nets were down the bottom of, what some of the older coaches claimed were, thousands of stairs. The count finally came back at around 180 steps. There was a theory going around, possibly false, that Cranbrook students had shorter legs due to the constant work they did climbing up and down stairs!
Joel also had the ability to gain admittance to any game anywhere. For him, the boxing day test in Melbourne just meant turning up. No gatekeeper in the world would refuse him entry. Accordingly, the MCC staff didn’t even ask for a ticket or worry about dress regulations. He was straight in the door. Also, whilst there, Big Bird strolled from bar to bar, towering above the other spectators. Moreover, he didn’t have to buy any drinks, as the others there almost fell over themselves to buy him one. So, they’d be able to have a discussion and say that they’d spoken to the great man. His batting coaching or beliefs were simple. As a fast bowler, he had no respect for spin bowlers and encouraged all playing spin to smash the first ball over the fence; to teach the slow bowlers a lesson. That worked for him on occasion playing test cricket but other times it didn’t. Joel continues to work for cricket in the West Indies as the West Indies team manager. Assisting them to climb back towards the dizzy heights of their cricketing domination in the 1970s and 1980s.
He followed in the footsteps of former ASC coaching directors Sir Garfield Sobers and Clive Lloyd and contributed to the very West Indian flavour of the ASC coaching teams of the 1980s and 1990s. Other guest coaches attending then, included Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Gus Logie and Courtney Walsh.
The great Sir Garfield Sobers was the first ever Australian Sports Camps coaching director. He worked in that role in 1982, 1983 and 1984 before handing over to a tremendous line up of West Indian talent. The aspiring cricketers, who attended the camps then, we’re fortunate indeed to learn from such a tremendous line up of West Indians. All brought their own unique perspective on cricket to the coaching table. Garry Sobers was fond of saying that batters should be encouraged to hit the ball in the air. As there is more room there than along the ground. His point being that no fieldsmen were ever up in the sky! Then again, he could play golf almost equally well left or right handed. So, things certainly came easily to this incredibly talented sportsman.
‘Big Bird’ was a great proponent of junior players getting the basics right. A good action and line and length bowling to start with and then the variations of swing and seam could be developed from there. Over the 35 years of sports camps, Australian Sports Camps have been privileged to have many great cricketers attend as coaches. Joel was a tremendous coach and remains one of the best blokes ever to play the game. Accordingly, he is respected around the world as a great cricketer as well as a great person.