50 Shades of Krej

28 May 2015

I (215)

The realisation that something I'd done basically my whole life was coming to an end was tough. While I've had some low points in my career, perhaps the lowest was at the end (with Tasmania) when I wasn't offered a contract. After all the hard work I'd done to overcome injury and get back in the team it was a proper kick in the teeth. Two games before, I'd made my first Shield hundred and I wasn't bowling all that bad.

My body had started to let me down. I was having constant issues with knees and hips, as I'd had throughout my career, but they were getting harder to overcome. I'm lined up to have my eighth hip operation at the end of this season. When I was working through these injuries it was very hard to bowl well. I couldn't get any power through the crease; my knee would click or give way or my hip would pop. After my last clean up surgery the letter from the surgeon to the physio was something like, "Jason can start his rehab but this is his last chance" - so I'm thinking "hey, maybe my body is telling me something!"

In the beginning I tried to push through when I was injured and find a way to perform when my body wasn't working. You keep saying that you're OK, but if you're struggling to bowl as you should then the risk is that people will put it (your performance) down to form. I had to accept that I had a banged up body but it was hard, especially during pre-seasons when everyone else was following a certain program and mine was different. I'd often be coming off surgery and have a lot of bone-on-bone issues so I couldn't do a lot of the longer running. You couldn't help but feel like some people thought you were bludging a bit. It was a challenge to block that out.

Being delisted was certainly daunting but in some ways a blessing in disguise. I felt free. I had no pressure on me. I could sleep! I hadn't been able to sleep properly for the last three years of my career. I couldn't stop thinking and put a lot of pressure on myself. Sometimes my body was sore and that affected my sleep as well. I felt relief, despite the fact that I wanted to
go again.

One of the things my wife said to me was, "I can't believe how many times you get knocked down and get up." And she's right. There have been a lot of times where I've been knocked down, or I've knocked myself down. Sometimes selections don't go your way, or you bowl well without taking wickets. I've just tried to remain strong throughout those times. I know I'm not the only one who's gone through it. Us spinners need to be resilient!

Getting to know Ricky Ponting opened my eyes as to how to be a better human being. He was captain of Australia and had achieved everything and yet he spent an extraordinary amount of time with anyone in our squad. One example I remember was in the first year of the (Hobart) Hurricanes. We had a player come over from WA, Matt Johnston. Ricky wouldn't have known him from a bar of soap but at training one day, it was 40 degrees, and we trained for about three hours. Ricky spent the next hour and a  half giving throw downs to this young player he'd just met. It was completely selfless. He helped teach me the value of giving back.

When I came off contract I coped much better than I would have a few years earlier. That said, I was a bit confused about what I wanted to do.

Emma Harris (Cricket Tasmania Player Development Manager) played a huge role in convincing me to take up study in my final year on contract. That took a lot of work over a few years because I was reluctant to take that step. I was a little scared in that I hadn't done any study since high school. We all have a fear of failure I guess, and I had no clue how uni worked. While I'm not currently studying the Nursing degree I started, I think making that step helped give me the belief to move forward.

Another turning point was when I was doing the Level Two coaching course up in Launceston. Along with myself, there were some other first-class cricketers like Luke Butterworth and Ben Hilfenhaus. At the end of the course we had a certificate which qualified us to coach at junior representative level. I thought that the overall calibre of coaches was a little disappointing and felt there was an opportunity to get greater expertise into coaching the next generation of first-class players.

From that concept of helping people I started having a crack at coaching and realised I was good at it. That helped my transition. I wanted to challenge myself rather than opt for something easy. So the opportunity to really get into coaching presented itself but it also meant we'd need to return to Sydney. I'd started doing my own coaching but then got a call from (former Tasmanian 'keeper) Mark Atkinson, who said he was selling his coaching business, Elite Cricket. This was perfect timing. There's a lot of scope with the business, it has a huge database and there are opportunities to use my contacts with current and former players. There's innovative programs for batsmen, bowlers, 'keepers and spinners. I want to take this business and make it my own.

The passion for me comes from the belief I can make a difference with kids. Sometimes it's hard for them to access players who've played a lot of first-class cricket or for Australia, so they're just usually working with whoever the local coach is. A lot of them do a great job but adding an extra level of expertise is something that can have a real impact.

The specific spin coaching at any level of cricket isn't great. I kept asking for expertise when I was playing for Australia and how I could access spin coaching. The spin coach at the time was Steve Rixon - who was a wicketkeeper - and Troy Cooley was the bowling coach, and he was a fast bowler who'd never bowled spin in his life. With my business I've started a spin program so that kids can access this coaching. I've run a pilot program already, which featured guys like Stuart MacGill and I'm trying to line up a whole pile of quality coaches. I'm also trying to make sure that I can get information to other coaches so they have the resources to be able to give a better level of coaching to spin bowlers.

There's no doubt my personality has changed over my career. When I was younger I was a bit of a scallywag and didn't deal very well with authority. I was impulsive and aggressive. In my last few years Ricky Ponting and also my wife, Leah, had a massive impact. For a long time I never felt like a senior player and I think that was a lot to do with how I perceived myself and my experiences growing up. My father is from Czechoslovakia and my mother from Poland, so they had a pretty strict eastern European approach.

I had a strained relationship with my Dad and we didn't speak for about ten years, a lot of which was during my cricket career. I carried a lot of anger because of it. For a long time I didn't tell anyone about it because I was embarrassed, but then some of his issues started affecting my cricket. At one stage I was going to lose my contract and I had to tell Cricket NSW what was happening at home. These days I think there would be more understanding but at the time it was pretty tough. Things with my Dad now are great and  have been for the past five years.

I copped a bit of racism at school. A lot of it came from my mates, but in some ways it gave me a complex. I had a different name and sometimes felt different. I wish I'd worked it out sooner. I had my demons and they sometimes resulted in behavioural issues. Often I didn't feel like I was good enough to be at the level so I'd cover for that with a laugh. I would always make a joke about stuff. Someone like Brad Haddin, who knew me from when I was a rookie, would notice how much I've changed. He was one who was often telling me off for doing little things wrong. He was right to do so because I did do things wrong at that time.

My outlook on life has certainly changed. Travelling to India also had a big impact; seeing how the other half live. My first trip to India was with the Academy and it  as quite confronting but I put myself right into it. I went into the back streets of Bangalore and walked around by myself, taking in the contrast between there and Sydney. It made me appreciate what I had and meant that I whinged less. Those over there have everything to whinge about, yet they don't. This helped me deal better with things and be less affected by stuff that had previously caused me frustration. Cricketers do have it pretty good but can whinge about the pettiest things. I know I did at times.

Leah also kind of brought me into line and it was only a year after I'd met her that I played for Australia. My Test debut was also in India but was such a blur. I wasn't expecting to play and only got told just before the toss. My first wicket was Rahul Dravid, caught in close by Simon Katich. I felt lucky to be there in that I got my opportunities at Test and One Day level due to injuries, which is ironic given my injury battles over my career.

While I've retired from first-class cricket, I'm actually really keen on playing Big Bash next season. When I first returned to Sydney I was on the Sixers' supplementary list and was going to play but I needed to have hip surgery and in this latest season I needed to dedicate my time to the Elite Cricket business I bought. So I'm hoping to get on a list for one of the Sydney teams; it looks like a helluva lot of fun with an atmosphere that seems almost addictive.

I think experience shows. Most spinners don't mature until their late twenties or early 30s - Nathan Lyon is probably a recent exception - so I think many spinners are picked too young and without enough bowling under their belts. With experience you develop the ability to perform under pressure and in a variety of conditions and match situations. That's what I'd like to bring to a Big Bash team.

I'm getting joy from bowling more than I ever have. They're coming out really, really well and I'm getting a buzz out of it. I guess I'm more relaxed and there isn't as much pressure - and I'm not putting as much pressure on myself. I'm keen to have another crack at the Big Bash to prove to others, and to myself, that I can still do it.

People call me Krazy. It's largely due to my name although at times I probably was a bit crazy. I always felt like if I got dropped I wanted to prove to everyone and myself that I could do it and I was good. I want to make a difference and work with players who are in similar positions to what I was. Rather than just have a passing conversation I want to say, "Give me your number, give me your email address, let's help you get to your potential."

To find out more about Elite Cricket visit www.elitecricket.com.au or call Jason Krejza on 0422 787 727.