The first choice in any Australian team

THE longest serving member of the Australian cricket team is also the least known. He has been saving and making careers for Australia since 1984, yet is known to only a few cricket fanatics.

BOB SIMPSON

Erroll Alcott (extreme left), the Australian team's superb physiotherapist, with fitness advisor Jock Campbell, skipper Steve Waugh and the retired Ian Healy at Headingley in 2001. Alcott worked a miracle with Healy during the 1989 tour of England, getting him fit in double quick time. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

THE longest serving member of the Australian cricket team is also the least known. He has been saving and making careers for Australia since 1984, yet is known to only a few cricket fanatics.

I am, of course, speaking about Erroll Alcott, the almost indispensable Australia physio.

Alcott was first appointed as the Aussie physio on the West Indies tour of 1984. He was virtually unknown in cricket circles, though he had quickly gained a reputation in the Rugby league. A former Rugby league 2nd Rower, Alcott was tough, willing and very committed.

He knew very little about cricket and liked it even less. On his first full day of cricket he was totally bored and finally in frustration muttered, "When the hell does the `hooter' go to end this game?" This was picked up by the 12th man and Alcott earned the nickname, `Hooter'.

A big, strong, tough, but also a compassionate man, Alcott quickly earned a reputation for his skills and considerate approach. The players quickly respected him and learnt not to take him for granted.

He was undoubtedly the toughest, strongest and fittest member of the party and proved this over and over again as almost every big, strong youngster coming into the team tried to take him on in a physical contest.

In my early days it was Craig McDermott, then big Merv Hughes and then Matthew Hayden.

No one got on top of the Hooter and while this immediately earned him some respect it was his skills as a physio they admired the most.

In those early days Erroll and myself plus a Manager for each tour, were the support staff.

Erroll was the physio, trainer, dietician, doctor and also my invaluable assistant in running practices.

It didn't take me long to appreciate just how good and tough he was. On my first trip I had some problems with my shoulder and made the mistake of mentioning it to Erroll. Within minutes I was on the massage table or should I say torture slab as he probed the sore spot.

Once he found it he was unrelenting as his iron hands and fingers manipulated the spot. "It's deep, Simmo," was all he said as he forcefully massaged the troubled spot.

I have always had a high tolerance for pain, but I must admit I struggled to keep my mouth shut and resisted the urge to say `enough'.

These sessions went on for days until the problem was fixed, never thankfully to return. When my treatment came to an end Erroll slapped me on the shoulder and said, "You are a tough old bastard, aren't you?"

Respect had been earned by both of us and Hooter was my right hand man for the 10 years I was coach of Australia. While his toughness won him initial respect, it was his skill, dedication and compassion that made him such a great physio.

In fact, I consider him a genius in his ability to get a player fit and back on the field. An incident as far back as the 1989 English tour illustrates this perfectly.

At that time we were having great trouble with the wicket-keeping position. Neither Tim Zoehrer nor Ian Healy had nailed down the spot and a week before the first Test they both went down with similar injuries.

Erroll was confident he could get them fit providing they were prepared to be treated every four hours of the day and night.

Zoehrer wasn't, Healy was and he took the vacant spot and became one of the greatest Aussie wicket-keepers ever.

While Healy got all the plaudits, Alcott in my eyes was the hero as his skills both medically and mentally drove Healy on.

It is not easy to be on call 24 hours a day, but Alcott saw this as part of the job.

Geoff Marsh was always a very nervous character before a big match and countless times Hooter would be woken in the middle of the night by a phone call saying, "Feel like a cup of tea, Hoot".

No player would ever be rebuffed by the big man if he had a problem, either real or imaginary.

He was always a great psychologist and was able to quickly establish the real or the imaginary in his charges.

Alcott was greatly admired by other physios and absolutely revered by Johnson, the Pakistan physio in the 90s.

Johnson, who I don't think had any formal training and was the only Christian in the Pakistan team, was always in our dressing room picking Erroll's brain.

As ever the big Hooter was very patient when Johnson frantically rushed into our room when yet another Pakistan batsman went down, struck painfully in the private area just below the belt, on a poor up and down Melbourne pitch.

"Dr. Sahib, Dr. Sahib what can I do?" he pleaded, "Your men get hit but you get them better so quickly while my batsmen roll around and moan," Johnson said.

Quick as a flash Erroll grabbed a white tablet from his medical chest, handed it to Johnson and said with a wink, "Get him on to his feet, give him my special pill and he will be okay."

Johnson raced to the centre of the field, grabbed the unfortunate and suffering batsman under the arm and hauled him painfully to his feet. He then rammed the white tablet into his mouth.

At this stage, I looked at my trusted physio and raised my eyebrows.

With a grin Erroll said, "Don't worry Simmo, it was only a smartie chocolate. I have done the same to some of our softies many times."

From then on it was always known as the white tablet treatment.

Alcott had and still has all the answers and that is why he is still in my mind the first choice for any Australian team.