This winter, we are offering a special tour of Australia, following the Ashes Series 2017-18 from start to finish. From the tropical climes of Brisbane, to the spectacular cityscape of Sydney, guests will experience the excitement of the most famous cricket contest in the world, while also delving into the beauty of Australia’s sights, culture and cuisine.
Leading the tour is a former England fast bowler and Ashes winner, Gladstone Small. The Brit with Barbadian roots is loved on both sides of the UK-Australia divide, with his jovial demeanour making him the ideal commentator for the sport.
When he returns to Australia this winter, Gladstone will be the official tour guide for guests joining this special Ashes tour experience; a role he has happily fulfilled in previous years.
Hi Gladstone. Tell me, what exactly does your role involve on the tour?
As an ex-player, my role is to offer our guests some insights into the game, its history and also how it is to experience the Ashes from the player’s perspective.
At what points are you with the group through the trip?
Oh, I’m with my group all the time; on the bus, on the plane, in the hotels, in the bar, having breakfast and dinner. And at the cricket I sit in the stand with them.
Sounds busy but fun.
I still love the game of cricket, you see, and particularly test match cricket. So when I go abroad on these trips, I have a seat in the stand with my group and we watch it all together. That for me is a real pleasure and joy.
Why do you especially love test match cricket?
Because it’s the purest form of the game. All games are important, but it’s the one element of the game where the true quality of the player comes through. You get tested on all aspects of your game, from your technique, to your temperament, your fitness and weaknesses. Everything gets exposed.
The length of the game means you need to have a special approach to last the full five days. That’s why it’s called a ‘test match’, because it really is a test of every aspect of your game.
It’s long days for the spectators too, especially with all that hospitality! What’s your top tip for those people joining your tour?
Well it’s a test for them too. (Laughs). You know, it’s hot weather, and you can get thirsty and lulled into drinking too much of the amber nectar. That’s when you see people dozing off at 3pm in the afternoon. So, you do have to pace yourself. Though on these tours we always try to get seats in the shade, so it’s fine.
Australia itself is a big draw for people joining the tour. Do you like going back there?
I love Australia. As much as they do like to think they give the English a hard time, deep down there’s a lot of respect for the English. There’s a great sporting culture in Australia, and they are really up for this contest. At the same time, it’s a great place beyond just the sport. The cities are all different, it’s such a massive country. You start in Brisbane where it’s very tropical, then it’s on to Perth where it’s very Mediterranean. Then in Melbourne you can have winter and summer all in one day. So, when you throw the cricket in with all this, it’s a really good mix.
These kinds of tours are a great way to get a flavour of a new destination, such as visiting Ayers Rock, and visiting the wineries. It’s a great way to discover faraway places but in a sporting and convivial context.
You sound like you enjoy travelling.
Yes, I love travelling. And sport has really given me the opportunity to do it. I mean, I’ve been going to Australia since 1980 when I did my first cricket tour. I was an 18-year-old boy, a pup, when we toured all of Australasia. That gave me a taste for the touring life, being with a bunch of guys all on one mission.
I played for 20 seasons – 20 years – and in that time I probably only had two or three winters in England. I’ve always loved going abroad and playing, so now these holiday tours are part of that. The group that I’m with, everyone is included and we make sure everyone’s having a good time. So even though I’m not playing, it’s a great way for me to carry on in this tradition. And it’s a good time of year to get away from England, frankly!
What are your top tips for dealing with the long-haul flight to Australia?
A good book, hopefully there’s a couple of nice films to watch, and also a couple of some really good wines to help make it more pleasurable.
What kind of wine would you hope was on the menu?
A good Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis, and a nice Merlot or Malbec. Just as long as it’s a nice drink, it doesn’t have to be too posh.
What kind of food do you enjoy eating in Australia?
Oh, fish. Lots of fresh fish.
So go on then, tell me what it’s actually like to play in the Ashes.
Because of the history of it, it is a nerve-wracking experience, but at the same time you’ve just got to say to yourself, ‘look, it’s just a game of cricket’. Initially, the noise, hullabaloo and fanfare grabs you, particularly for the young players.
When you walk on the field to represent your country, you know the biggest battle as an Englishman is against the Australians, and vice versa. So you know it’s going to be really, really intense. It’s a real highlight to play in one of these series.
What’s your abiding memory of the 4th test of the 86-87 Ashes where you were named Man of the Match?
Well we just had the biggest party that you can have legally. (Laughs). I mean I was in a team with the likes of Mike Gatting, David Gower, Phil Edmonds, Graham Dilley – some really wonderful cricketers, but lovely people as well, who played hard on the field but enjoyed themselves off it too.
At that stage, England hadn’t won a series in Australia for a while. I was called into the test match in Melbourne only half-an-hour before the game started. It was just my first tour. But I was able to contribute to what put us two-nil up in play. To be able to contribute in that environment is something that will always be up there for me.
I can only imagine what went through your mind when you were called on to play in the match at such short notice.
Luckily it wasn’t the night before because I wouldn’t have slept with all of that going through my mind. I didn’t have time. So it was just a matter of saying to myself, ‘okay, here we go, let’s get on with it’.
Of course you get butterflies and your palms are sweaty, and the noise from the 70,000 people in the crowd is scary. But once you’ve started, you collect your thoughts and just play a game of cricket. You do what you’re trained to do, and your natural instincts take over.
Do you meet with old rivals when you’re back in Australia?
Yes, I get to meet the guys I’ve played against, the likes of Merv Hughes, Dean Jones, Tom Hogan and Allan Border. We can’t beat each other up anymore, so we have a beer, a laugh, reminisce, and play a game of golf.
In terms of travel in general, if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be and why?
Although I played for England my whole career, I was born in Barbados and that place has a real attachment for me. Also, these days, golf is my passion, so anywhere that there’s a stunningly beautiful golf course with nice weather that I can wear shorts and a t-shirt for a few days, that’ll do me.
What would be your dream course to play on?
That’s a tough question. Maybe somewhere in Scotland, that’s a stunning place, or Pebble Beach on the Monterey peninsula in California. But then in Melbourne you have the Sandbelt area which has a couple of really great courses too, so hopefully I’ll be able to take some money off Merv Hughes on those courses. (Laughs).
Ha! I love that. You say it’s all friendly reminiscing with your old rivals, but I bet it all comes out on the course when you’re playing together.
You better believe it. You don’t want to lose to those guys, no matter what.
You know, a lot of your career was in Warwickshire, near to RB Collection’s heartland. Do you have fond memories of your time there?
Absolutely. I played at Warwickshire for 20 years. I had a terrific time with some great people – cricketers and people – through my 20 years there. And alongside people who also played for England, such as Bob Willis, Dennis Amiss, David Brown, and international players like Brian Lara, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock.
So a lot of fond memories. In fact, anywhere I am in the world and hear ‘Gladys’ I know they are a Warwickshire supporter because that’s what they used to call me when I played there.
Looking back at your career, and life in general, what are you most proud of?
The thing I am most proud of? Well my love of cricket was handed down to me by my grandad. I don’t have many pictures in my house of me playing cricket, but the one picture I look at regularly, which will always bring a tear to my eye, is my grandad standing in his sugarcane field in Barbados and he’s wearing my England cap and sweater from the 1990 tour I did to the Caribbean. To see the guy who gave me the love of this wonderful sport was a really proud moment.
That’s so lovely. Lastly, what message do you have for the group that will be joining you on the Ashes tour?
I look forward to meeting you! It’s all about meeting fun, like-minded people and going to a wonderful country together. So just make sure you come away having had a good experience and having made some new friends.
The Ashes 2017-18 tours runs from 23 November 2017 to 8 January 2018. The tour follows the whole series, including matches in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Packages start at £3,445pp.