'If I'd stayed in Tasmania, I might have played another 18 months for Australia'

Colin Miller, the former Australia offspinner who also bowled pace, talks glory days and glorious hair

Interview by Crispin Andrews  |  

"It wasn't that England were that bad during the late 1990s and early 2000s, more that Australia were pretty good" © Getty Images

When I took my baggy green off to bowl [in Sydney, 2000-01], Courtney Walsh, who was batting, saw my blue hair for the first time and pulled away laughing. I'd dyed it the night before, but no one knew until that moment, because I'd had my hat on the whole time.

Within five years we'll see bowlers switching arms when they run up to bowl. If the batsman's allowed to switch from right-handed to left and hit it for six, why shouldn't you be able to change up when you're bowling?

I would have loved to have played one-dayers for Australia. I got picked for a one-day tournament in Kenya but tore a calf muscle four weeks before and couldn't go. Missed my opportunity.

I got 12 wickets in one game, against South Australia in 1998, which was a Tasmanian record. That season I took 67 wickets, breaking Chuck Fleetwood-Smith's 1934-35 record for a Sheffield Shield season.

I think T20 would have suited my game. Bowl medium-pacers, bit of spin, and then have a slog.

Saleem Malik was my first wicket in Test cricket. There had been run-ins with previous Australian teams, before my time, so he was a handy one to get. It was a wide, swinging one and he had to reach over to nick it to slip. It was the fifth ball of my first over in Test cricket. There might have been good odds on that, maybe?

The blue rinse wasn't planned. I asked a hairdresser to come to the hotel room and bring some hair colours. Blue is what she had. Over the next few years, I dyed my hair red, orange, yellow, pink and green.

It wasn't that England were that bad during the late 1990s and early 2000s, more that Australia were pretty good. We beat England 3-1 in 1999-2000, but it was an easy 3-1. We won easily in Adelaide and Sydney.

Miller bowls in a maidan in Mumbai, 2001

Miller bowls in a maidan in Mumbai, 2001 Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

I've not seen many good hairdos on the cricket field recently. There's a lot of these ugly beards around these days. I'm not a big fan of beards.

Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara carried a certain air with them. You see it with superstars. When they walk into a room, people turn around and go, 'There he is, there he is.' They had that on the field. Not many players have that. Warney had it, Glenn McGrath had it to a degree.

I lived in Tasmania for eight years. For five of them, I worked in a Hobart sports bar on the seafront. You earned $35,000-$40,000 dollars a year as a Shield cricketer back then, so you had to supplement your earnings. I worked until midnight most nights. In the winter I went over to England and Holland to play club cricket.

T20 is bringing characters back into the game. The game had become so professional with so much money involved for the players. But with T20, there's more freedom to express themselves.

I first bowled spin in a club game for Hobart Cricket Club in 1996-97. I'd injured my ankle and was unable to come in off my long run. It went okay.

I'd always practised spin in the nets. I'm from a baseball background and my offspinner slower ball was a similar grip to my curve ball. Just off 15 paces rather than five.

I was christened Funky Colin Miller by Darren Berry, the South Australian wicketkeeper. The song "Funky Cold Medina" by Tone Loc was playing and if you've had ten or 12 scotch and cokes, "Funky Cold Medina" sounds like "Funky Colin Miller".

Blue is the coolest colour: a dyed Miller talks to umpire Rudi Koertzen in Sydney, 2001

Blue is the coolest colour: a dyed Miller talks to umpire Rudi Koertzen in Sydney, 2001 © Getty Images

When I played, the Adelaide Oval and Sydney turned all the time. At the MCG it turned from day three, and at Brisbane it was nice and bouncy. Perth was the only place I didn't like bowling spin. Other spinners liked bowling at Perth. I hated it. Felt I got nothing out of the wicket.

I'm a desk jockey these days. I run maintenance for an 1100-room hotel resort in Las Vegas. I have 30 guys working for me, making sure the resort stays alive.

Lots of baseball pitchers are getting struck by return hits, and I think that's going to happen in cricket one day - someone's going to get really hurt. Some baseball pitchers are wearing helmets now, and we might need to look at that for bowlers - to protect them in their follow-through.

There's a photo somewhere in the world of me with pink hair, meeting the Queen. It wasn't planned. I forgot she was coming in that day.

First time I saw Vegas was on TV, and like everyone else, I thought it was all casinos and Elvis impersonators.

We [Australia] always thought we were going to win. That's the same with any team that's having a long run of success. You just get the feeling within the team - let's see who wins the toss, and it doesn't matter whether we bat or bowl first, we're going to do well, we're either going to make runs or bowl 'em out.

When I broke the record for first-class wickets in Australia, I just knew that every time I bowled, I was going to get a wicket. Those times are rare, both as an individual and a team, but when you have them, you've got to make the most of them.

People don't just come to Vegas to gamble these days. They also come for the food and the shows.

"During the mid-'90s to the mid-2000s, Australia had so much depth that there was competition all the time to keep your spot in the team" © Getty Images

I played in a couple of Shield finals for Tasmania, but unfortunately we didn't win, which is my biggest regret in cricket.

At the moment, in Australia, there are only two or three spinners who are getting any wickets in first-class cricket. Spinners don't get bowled very often, so batters aren't facing much spin. This makes it difficult when Australia go to Asia to play on turning wickets.

It's not an individual game, but there are some individual moments that you can cherish. I got my only ten-wicket haul for Australia against West Indies in 2000. When your team has won and you know you've played a massive part - that's what does it for me.

I got 26 wickets in four Tests and then I moved states from Tasmania to Victoria, which, in hindsight, was a bad decision. Victoria was starting a rebuilding phase, looking to bring in some younger players. Cameron White, who at the time was the best young leggie-batsman in the country, took my spot in the team. Once I couldn't get a game for Victoria, that ended my international career.

From the day Ricky Ponting walked into the Tasmanian dressing room as a 16-year-old, you could see his leadership qualities. He knew he was good and his confidence and enthusiasm rubbed off on others. He was a great motivator. The older guys respected him. He wasn't slow saying a word, but he was usually on the mark.

I got Brian Lara in both innings [in Adelaide, 2000-01]. He did have 182 in the first innings when I got him, though.

There are times where the Test team is just the 12 best players in the country and there's no one else pushing them. During the mid-'90s to the mid-2000s, Australia had so much depth that there was competition all the time to keep your spot in the team. If someone got injured, the next guy would come in and do his job - whether it was batsman or a bowler.

Miller and his team-mates celebrate a Test win in Adelaide

Miller and his team-mates celebrate a Test win in Adelaide © Getty Images

With these drop-in wickets, they are so well made that the wickets don't fall apart. So spinners have a difficult time.

I'd start as an opening bowler, bowling fast-medium stuff and then come on to bowl spin later in the day, in my second spell.

If I'd stayed in Tasmania, I might have played another 18 months for Australia.

We have to be careful about the size of the bats. Athletes are getting bigger and stronger in all sports, because of the training routines they do. Bats are so big and so light that mis-hits are going 70 or 80 yards.

Stuart Law should have played a lot of Test cricket. He was just a phenomenal batsman for ten or 15 years in first-class cricket. Jamie Siddons was a phenomenal batsman but just never got the right opportunity. Dene Hills and Jamie Cox, from my team, Tasmania, were opening batsmen who made thousands of runs every year. But in the Australian team, you had Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer doing pretty well. That's why so many guys from that era missed out on playing for Australia.

I knew I played well for Australia: 69 wickets in 18 Tests at 26. I'm happy with that.

America is the third-biggest market in the world when it comes to TV audience. There's an opportunity in the US for cricket to develop. This market could take off really quickly.

In one game against New South Wales, I bowled for an entire day from one end. Opened up with seamers for ten overs, then bowled some spin, and finally took the second new ball with some more quickish stuff. I sent down 50 overs that day and then went to work in a bar till midnight. Luckily we'd bowled them out, so I didn't have to bowl again the following day.

I remember one game against Western Australia in 1992-93. Ponting was 17 and WA had a good pace attack, including Test stars Brendon Julian and Jo Angel. They let us have some stick, and guys who'd played 15 years were intimidated. But Ricky just kept pulling and hooking them to the fence. The faster and shorter they bowled, the further he hit it.

I reckon Glenn McGrath would make a really good Elvis impersonator. Put him in a bit of a wig, get that lip curl up a little bit. Probably not a lot of rhythm with the dancing side of it, but I think he could probably get away with it.