'It won't last,'' the influential Cricket Australia administrator scoffed when long-term underachievers Victoria appointed cricketing dissident David Hookes as their coach. He was right - not for the butting-of-heads reason he envisaged but because of something so tragic it still distresses.
Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Hookes, whose place in cricketing folklore far exceeds his middling international playing record. The 48-year-old's death, as a result of an altercation outside a St Kilda hotel, came only 21 months into a coaching career many expected would never begin, let alone be so productive.
That Victoria are last on the Sheffield Shield table is a blow for a team accustomed to success, but in the decade before Hookes was appointed in mid-2002, such a result was closer to the rule than to the exception. In that period, Victoria won fewer than a third of their shield matches, finishing in the bottom two in six of those 10 years.
Former Victorian wicketkeeper Darren Berry was 21 in his first season when Victoria won the shield in 1990-91. He describes much of the decade after that as ''the lost years … with a group of players who should have achieved more''. ''It was an unbelievably talented side and we had good fun but I don't reckon we were a good team unit,'' he says.
Long-serving Victorian cricketing boss Shaun Graf characterises it as a period where ''we weren't quite all singing out of the same hymn book''.
There are 114 Australian players to have exceeded Hookes' tally of 23 Tests. Hookes was, and still is, better known than most of them; hitting five fours in an over on debut is a key plank of that, as is scoring a record 34-ball century in the shield.
Even before Hookes was retired by South Australia as a 36-year-old, he was prominent in the media. His already healthy public profile surged when he moved from Adelaide to Melbourne in 1995 for a plum role
co-hosting a sports radio show. This was complemented by TV cricket commentary roles. He even owned a restaurant in Adelaide.
The prospect of Hookes leading the Bushrangers emerged in about 2000, following a discussion between Graf and Shane Warne. ''We both looked at each other and thought he'd be a good coach - if you could get him,'' Graf recalls.
The courting of Hookes was protracted because he was being tugged in so many directions. Graf did so covertly from late 2001, meeting with the reluctant but intrigued Hookes fortnightly until they overcame the many hurdles to him taking over the Bushrangers.
Those involved cite the appointment of Victorian Premier Cricket stalwart John Scholes in mid-1996 as the start of the Bushrangers' revival, which included twice reaching the Sheffield Shield final.
One time international pace bowler Mick Lewis lauds the steps taken by the man affectionately known as ''Barrel'' to improve discipline within the squad, but laments that they waned in 2001-02 when Scholes abruptly resigned on the eve of the season and was replaced by Mick O'Sullivan.
Lewis says O'Sullivan was far better suited to being chairman of selectors, and was happy he reclaimed that position when Hookes took over.
In addition to the CA heavyweight telling Graf the relationship was doomed to fail, because of the supposedly inevitable clashes between Graf and Hookes, then Cricket Victoria chief executive Ken Jacobs says there was even scepticism from among its directors, because Hookes was a regularly controversial broadcaster.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann, who by 17 was playing alongside Hookes and grew particularly close to him, says he was not surprised when Hookes suddenly accepted the role at the Bushrangers.
''I always thought he'd be a good coach because he was a very good captain and was a very good mentor to a lot of people,'' Lehmann says. ''He did things a bit differently, but he did that as a captain as well, trying to get the best result and outcome for his team.''
Because Hookes insisted on maintaining his media roles, the Bushrangers made a decision many players hail a ''masterstoke'': appointing the famously dour Greg Shipperd, just axed from 11 years at the helm of Tasmania and an unsuccessful applicant for the top job, as his deputy.
''He was a great foil for Hookes, who was like the old football coach who was a big motivator and a tactician but needed the Greg Shipperd polish to organise training and finalise tactics and, with the batters, maybe tighten up their techniques a little bit,'' David Hussey says.
Fielding sessions became longer and harder - literally, given the way Hookes blasted the ball at his players. Berry recalls the new coach making batsmen, accustomed to facing rubber balls in the pre-season instead face cricket balls delivered at full speed by bowling machines, as if to say to them ''Stand up or piss off - I don't want weak pricks around here''.
Cameron White, then a 19-year-old leg-spinning prodigy, was impressed as it became apparent ''there was no cutting corners, no bullshit''.
Hookes demanded not only respect from his players, towards himself and the game, but also that they strove for excellence.
The tone was set.
A key early moment in Hookes' tenure came when, in response to a thrashing by Queensland at home in a one-dayer, he imposed a week of dawn swim sessions, with a warning that any player even ''one minute late'' would be suspended for two matches.
Berry says Hookes did this in the hope of catching enigmatic all-rounder Ian Harvey. Instead, Berry himself was the victim after he incorrectly set his alarm clock.
The wicketkeeper has no qualms about the suspension. Shipperd says it ''set a benchmark of honesty'' within the squad.
Brad Hodge is not glowing about Hookes' first season in charge, because he reckons the Bushrangers ranked last among the coach's priorities. ''But then Cricket Victoria became No.1 the next year.''
Lewis believes the trigger was Victoria just missing a berth in the 2002-03 shield final, and that it ''actually hurt him a lot more than he probably let on''. Graf realised something had changed when Hookes, a year after having to be coaxed into the role, sought an extension of his two-year contract.
Besides an even harder pre-season, which included the blow of Scholes' death at 53, the biggest changes made by Hookes involved the captaincy. Berry had captained Victoria 41 times as a locum but considered it a much bigger honour to be elevated by Hookes to be full-time shield captain ''and in the next breath [he] said 'We're making Cameron White one-day captain'.''
At 20 White became - and remains - the youngest captain in Australian domestic history, for which he is still appreciative.
''He gave me the opportunity not only to bat up the order and bowl but also to captain,'' he says. ''It was a pretty big decision for him to make and it was a great one for me, so I'm forever thankful.''
The benefits of Hookes' motivational talents shone brightly in 2003-04. Hussey says a key trait was that he ''got the best out of every player he coached''. The most striking example was Jon Moss, an all-rounder not considered good enough by his native NSW.
After eight matches in his first two seasons in Victoria and then 389 runs at 35.36 in his first under Hookes the then 28-year-old enjoyed a dazzling 2003-04 season, in which he scored 930 runs at an average of 66.43 and snared 19 wickets at 27.05 with his medium pace.
''He was able to instil that little bit of belief and tip me over the edge to believe that I really could do it,'' Moss explains.
Moss also says Hookes was prepared to needle players to get the best out of them, a strategy corroborated by Lewis. The fiery Lewis recalls being aghast at being dropped from the Bushrangers' one-day team in that second season, and demanded - and received - an explanation from the coach.
''He said: 'There's no reason at all. We lost the game, I wanted to drop someone; we've got a big shield game coming up in Newcastle, I thought if I drop you it's going to fire you up - so that's why I've done it','' Lewis says. ''He was a pretty good judge of character. He knew he could do it to certain people and they'd react a certain way. Some people would kick cans and start whingeing and moping … but he knew it would piss me off - and it did.''
Significant signs of improvement emerged before Christmas in year two. One was winning a shield match at the Gabba for the first time in 20 years. Another was winning away in Perth, for only the second time in nine years and the first by an innings.
The biggest came in what became Hookes' last shield match, in Newcastle against a NSW team laden with Test mainstays. The Bushrangers, inspired by an unbeaten double century from Hussey (in just his ninth game), reached a fourth-innings target of 455, the second highest in shield history. Shipperd cites that win as ''the flickering flame that will forever burn in the corner that reminds the players that you can win from any position''.
A week later Victoria won a home one-day match against Hookes' beloved South Australia, after which he led a contingent of Bushrangers and Redbacks players and officials to that hotel in St Kilda.
Shipperd's then 16-year-old son, Ben, recalled waking to hear his father arriving home near dawn on Monday. He assumed his father would be in trouble for being out so late drinking, until he learned frivolity was not to blame.
In the 13 days between the incident and Victoria's next match - this included Hookes' funeral, attended by his wife, Robyn, and their children Caprice and Kristofer - Shipperd, Graf and Berry sought to lead the shattered players and the distraught Cricket Victoria staff.
Lewis looks back on the outcome of that shield match, away to SA, as being pivotal.
''If we lost that game I think we would have been torn apart,'' he says. ''But if we won it, nothing was going to beat us.''
The Bushrangers won that match, and in the following month were in the final at home at the MCG, against rival Queensland. ''We just had to win it for Hookes,'' Graf says.
The resulting emphatic victory, by 321 runs, was celebrated with a victory song in which a spot in the circle of players and officials was conspicuously left for Hookes.
Across the season, Victoria had four batsmen score above 800 runs in the shield, led by Matthew Elliott's phenomenal 1381 at 81.24, and three bowlers with more than 30 wickets. Berry argues the fact White, Andrew McDonald (then 22) and Hussey (then 26) have gone on to compile excellent careers skews how that 2003-04 line-up is rated.
''The team that won it you look at now and think 'What a great side','' Berry says. ''But then, Cameron White was just a kid; Andrew McDonald was a kid; David Hussey had just come over from Western Australia; Mickey Lewis was off the mats in the northern suburbs.''
Jacobs led Cricket Victoria for 27 years, yet across that entire stint, he sees the appointment of Hookes, to build on the work of Scholes, as ''undoubtedly a bit of a watershed moment for Victorian cricket''.
''Everyone felt we had some good talent in the state. We just needed someone who could pull it all together,'' he says.
In the 11 completed seasons since Hookes took charge of Victoria, most of it under his successor Shipperd, it has won a competition-high 56 of 121 matches and triumphed in three of their five finals, as well as the most one-day and Twenty20 victories in that period.
Hodge credits Hookes with leaving the Bushrangers players with ''a mindset of 'Just smash 'em', and to play an exciting brand of cricket, and to back yourself, to go and dominate''.
Lewis argues Hookes and Scholes should be looked upon as ''the two most influential people in Vic cricket in the past 25 years''.
White, one of two remaining Victorian players from the Hookes period (Hussey is the other), stresses the importance of new Bushrangers getting an insight into the role played by those two coaches.
It was that trait the CA heavyweight overlooked in declaring Hookes and Graf would before long be at each other's throats.
And it is for that reason that Graf cherishes the note Hookes wrote him after his first season in charge of the Bushrangers, which he still keeps in his desk.
''It basically says 'Thanks for the year. We're still mates, we haven't clashed. I look forward to next year','' Graf says.