Sportstar archives - Graham McKenzie: An atypical Aussie

They simply don't make Aussies like him anymore. An extraordinary fast bowler and an extraordinary man, Graham McKenzie speaks on various aspects of the game.

Graham McKenzie and Dennis Lillee.   -  V. V. Krishnan

Meet Graham McKenzie. Extraordinary fast bowler. More than that, an extraordinary man. Because he did not bowl a single ball in anger. And yet he was as quick as anyone of his era. His pace was lethal enough to send batsmen into hospital. Someone would probably stick a medal on him because he once sent Geoff Boycott into hospital to tend to a broken forearm.

McKenzie was not named the "gentle giant' simply because the media needed to pin an image on him. The nickname is most appropriate. Because 'Garth' is indeed the gentle giant.

He never speaks a word in anger. This prompted someone in the MRF Pace Academy to question whether McKenzie was indeed an Australian. The softspoken Western Australian is the very antithesis of the rugged Aussie sporting pro - mouthing expletives at a touch, all ready to get into a broiling contest, ever willing to sldege, to use gamesmanship to rile opponents.

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Perhaps, McKenzie never uttered a swear word on the field - not even when first slip let slip the simplest of catches. He was so gifted with the natural action and the rhythmic run-up that Graham may never have stopped to wonder why others were getting so aggravated by the intricacies of playing cricket the right way.

He was a Rolls-Royce among fast bowlers. And, more significantly, a gentleman among a pack of brusque, angry, physical young men who ran in fast and bowled quick. Many of his Test wickets may be a tribute to his temperament. For, few pace bowlers succeeded on the slow wickets of India like he did.

He took ten wickets in a match at the Nehru Stadium in 1964 on a pitch of slightly variable bounce but nothing else. He took a crop of wickets on pitches tailor-made for spinners. And then he took some more around the world to be the youngest past a number of milestones.

Little wonder then that India's supreme pace guru, Dennis Lillee, thought it fit to bring McKenzie over to the MRF Pace Academy. He wanted his fellow Western Australian to pass on his "hands-on' knowledge to the hopefuls. The world has changed. But McKenzie hasn't. He is still the gentle giant who will not speak an angry word, who will not put down modem cricketers, who will not get sucked into any controversy over the way the game is going.

They simply don't make Aussies like him anymore. In this interview to Sportstar, Graham McKenzie speaks on various aspects of the game.

Graham McKenzie features in a friendly match for ACB Chairman's XI cricket team, in Perth on November 17, 1991.   -  V.V. Krishnan

 

Are you the last gentleman pace bowler? How come it appears as if there are none of your tribe left?

I wouldn't say I was the last gentleman fast bowler. Though people generally relate me to this. I suppose fast bowlers have different temperaments. The nature of the job is such it shouldn't surprise anyone if there is much aggression associated with it. Most of them were and are generally more aggressive than I was.

To what do you attribute this change in the game - from the era of amateur achievement to professional performance? Is it only the money that has changed everyone into a fierce, aggressive fast bowler?

To be a fast bowler there has got to be that aggression, usually. There have been very non-demonstrative ones. Take Andy Roberts for instance. He was the quiet one but none the less deadly for that.

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But then you did send a couple of batsmen into hospital - Jackie Hendricks was one. Geoff Boycott was another. What did you feel when such a thing happened?

When you are a fast bowler and you bowl a lot that is bound to happen. You are bound to see the odd batsman get hit. You don't do that on purpose. Naturally, you don't like doing it. You would much rather get their wicket. Sometimes, it is good to have that aggression, to be able to assert who is boss. The main aim would, however, be to get the wickets, not hit batsmen.

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Intimidation got to a point that today we have this regulation saying you cannot bowl more than one bouncer per over per batsman. How do you see this development?

It is sad that you have to regulate it this way. It is an unfair restriction on the fast bowlers. Maybe, on certain wickets, bowlers may tend to overdo the short-pitched stuff. Maybe, on certain other wickets, batsmen will love it if you keep on bouncing. The balance has to be struck. How would it be if some regulation were to stipulate that you cannot bowl more than one googly per over. This is a little bit artificial. Actually, the more dangerous ball is not the one passing more than shoulder-high or head-high. These are what the West Indians bowl. They are always at you chest-high and batsmen have to take

It is commonly believed that the direct cause of the bouncer regulation is the West Indian quicks. Those who did not have the weaponry wished to do something to restore the balance in their favour. Don't you think this is unfair?

The only benefit that can come out of this is maybe there will be more variety in the game. The West Indians were not quick enough with their overs. It may have been monotonous to see four fast bowlers each send down 22 overs or so. It is much nicer to see spin bowlers as well. So I would not go to the extent of saying it is unfair. It's a pity though.

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Does that not sound strange coming from a fast bowler like you?

I think it is a good combination to have pace and spin. The variety will be more satisfying. The contest will be more pleasing, as in the first Test in (in England which Australia won) which spinners and pace bowlers got wickets.

It makes for a nicer contest. How very effective Shane Wame was. Also, you got to be a fast bowler there has got to be that aggression, usually. There have been very non-demonstrative ones. Take Andy Roberts for instance. He was the quiet one but none the less deadly for that. At some stage the West Indians had to slow it down if pace was not getting the results.

This is all part of the strategy. On certain types of wickets on which runs are not coming easily enough and batsmen are tense, the bowling team can complicate matters more by slowing down the over rate. The bowlers also keep fresh all day if they have to bowl less. So, I suppose the over rate is a greater problem than the bouncers.

What do you feel about the concept of one-day cricket? You did not play much of it despite experiencing it when you were with Leicestershire CCC. Is it not too restrictive of the fast bowler's craft for them to like it?

I played one match, the first one. In fact, you cannot take it away from me that I bowled the first ball in limited-overs international cricket. History will record that I bowled the first ball.

Graham McKenzie during the Commonwealth cricket team's festival cricket match against Cricket Club of India President's XI in Bombay on February 24, 1963.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

And about the proliferation of one-day cricket?

One-day cricket will not ruin a fast bowler. But there is so much emphasis on the one-day game that it can be worrying. I quite enjoy playing one-day cricket. Bat I would not wish to play it all the time. This is the point. They must draw the line somewhere, find the ideal balance between one-day cricket and Tests. There are teams that travel every year to Australia just to play one-day matches. Now that is taking things too far. The balance has been struck in England. The Australians played only three one-day matches. And then they concentrate on the Tests. The worst is when they play a Test and then a couple of one-day matches and then Tests again. It becomes difficult for experienced players to adapt, leave alone younger players.

You can't deny that one-day cricket brings in the money, etc.?

I played some one-day cricket in England. I quite enjoyed it. It's not so much hard work for a fast bowler. You get to bowl only 12 or 10 overs a day. I still prefer playing the longer match. The tactics can be fascinating. As I said I do watch one-day cricket but I do not get too involved in it. It's hard to get worked up about such cricket.

It's a quick game. Either you win or lose and you don't remember the match for too long. In fact, you find it easy to forget it the moment it is over. You remember the Test matches. I believe Tests in India do not attract as many people as they used to. This is a sad development. I remember every seat

being taken on all five days when we were in India. Maybe, they go to the one-day matches. And then there is television. That has made a big difference.

When the current day Test cricketers walk down the street, everybody recognises them. In our days they did not necessarily recognise you. They knew your name from the radio broadcasts but could not place name and face together. Today's players are more visible. Consequently, there is more money becuase of the marketing and all those things.

You are not jealous of the attention they receive these days whereas in your days all you got was an allowance?

I would have been better off had I been following a profession rather than playing cricket. You finish playing and you find your classmates are doing reasonably well in business. And that is just when you are starting off in a profession.

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That is why you set off to South Africa - to make the fortune you could not in cricket?

Ah! I did not go to South Africa to make a fortune. I was married to this South African girl. She felt homesick and I said let's go and live there for a while and see. I have got a daughter who lives with her mum in South Africa. I came back to Australia in 1987 after living in Johannesburg for seven years. I remarried.

How has pace bowling changed over the years? You hear talk of reverse swing and much else that was virtually unkown in earlier days…

As at the Pace Foundation (MRF) here, there is much more understanding of what is required of a pace bowler. When I was playing, there was not so much knowledge. You picked up solely by experience whether you are doing something wrong. Nowadays, you can see it on video and correct yourself.

There is a greater understanding of the fitness required for fast bowling. You have a better idea of what causes sore backs. I know so many bowlers who quit the game because they developed bad back problems. Now there is much more of a chance of changing your action.

Even without the benefit of the video, you had an action that was classical. Were you not called the Rolls-Royce among fast bowlers?

I was probably one of the lucky ones. My action did not come completely naturally. I had to work on it. When I was bowling well I had the perfect side-on action which puts less strain on the body.

In the days of lesser understanding of the mechanics of bowling, did you have anyone pass on the fruit of his experience to you?

Not really. I had to work out a lot of things myself. I may have modelled myself on Ray Lindwall when I was young. I was very young and impressionable. And subconsciously, I may have said to myself "that's the way you should bowl.”

Dennis is doing a good job. When Dennis and I came down the other day, Dennis was saying 'Oh Geel, Look at that lad. He has grown'. He can see the improvement in the boys' physique on every trip. These are good signs.

There was no video-replay then, no film clippings, no slow motion, just pictures ...

You could not analyse bowling like they do today. Because of the access today's bowlers have to such helpful technology, their learning process should be shortened. A lot of it is psycholgical. You need to know what to do on fast wickets, on slow wickets, etc. Different type of batsmen. What should help the present generation is the greater awareness of physical fitness.

In 30 years, there has not been as good a left-arm pace bowler as Alan Davidson. Any particular reason why?

Davo was the best left-arm swing bowler ever. Probably someone like Bruce Reid had the potential. He was doing so well in his prime. He was the best leftarm bowler Australia produced since Davo. But he has broken down so often. Why Gary Sobers was one of the finest leftarm opening bowlers in the world. Quite often we used to hope that Hall and Griffith would open the bowling, not Sobers. Not that Sobers was fast, just that he was far more dangerous with the new ball.

In your days, the new ball would not have held its shine for so long. They have complex fertilisers and other technology that keeps the grass in better shape. Any thoughts on the reverse swing and such other refinements talked about these days?

I don't know about the ball keeping its shine for long in India. But certainly in Australia the grass is far more lush than it used to be. The shine stays on. The ball stays so much better. The talk of reverse swing did crop up from time to time. That will happen only in very dry conditions when the ball gets very old. This rarely happened in Australia where the ball stays new. Maybe, that is why some bowlers have to use artificial means to get the ball to do the reverse swing as we call it.

Would you agree that the great captain characters at captaincy have disappeared from the game? You find a very ordinary bunch these days.

Oh no! Not necessarily. But I would say Richie Benaud was probably the best I have played under. I was young and impressionable and he was the first captain I played under. So I would class him as the best. But certainly he was an outstanding captain. In a lot of ways he was positive about everything. He was inspirational, courageous. He had a great understanding of the psychology of players, of what we wanted to achieve as a team. Sometimes he would make it very tough on us. But he did not mind losing so long as we tried to win. That was very encouraging. He would come up and say "Come on guys, we can get these chappies out”.

lan Chappell prided himself on being the players' captain, the skipper who socialised with his cricketers, who looked after them off the Held so that they did his bidding on the field. Was Benaud like that?

Benaud may not have socialised like lan did. But he would draw his players out after play, talk to them, discuss their problems. I did not play under lan though I played with him in Tests.

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Having seen the way the MRF Pace Foundation work, would you say there is a definite future for pace bowling in India?

I feel that the young pace bowlers are going to understand quickly what it is all about. Their education in bowling is going to be quick. They must realise that while pace bowlers who came to India from abroad could do reasonably well here while those coming out of India did not always succeed abroad. To correct this imbalance is what the pace school is all about. Dennis was telling me that when he first came here there was little understanding of what is required, of training, etc. I was probably lucky in that I was a physical education teacher. I was aware of the importance of training. In my days, I used to train a lot, stretching, bending, etc. Also, in those days people used to be more active. They used to walk or cycle a lot. Today you just drive everywhere. That is all the more reason why bowlers should train more. Their lifestyle is different, easier. So they need to put in more work on the field, in training particularly.

People like Freddie Trueman came out of the coal mines where they used to chip away at work for days on end, others used to chop wood all day. Craig McDermott is one bowler who feel that the young pace bowlers are going

to understand quickly what it is all about. Their education in bowling is going to be quick. They must realise that while pace bowlers who came to India from abroad could do reasonably well here while those coming out of India did not always succeed abroad. has worked very hard in training. Merv Hughes has bowled magnificently. They are just getting the reward for everything they put into training.

To what do you attribute the high breakdown rate among fast bowlers of today? Take Bishop, Reid, Lillee himself at the start of his career.

With TV it should be possible to say here is a guy who is putting too much of a strain on his hack. And yet today's bowlers seem to break down more. It is easier to study the mechanics.

Dennis is pleased that while quite a few boys used to break down in the early part of the foundation, now only the odd boy goes down with any back problem. This shows that the understanding of the mechanics is helping put young bowlers on the right path straightway. If the right system is followed, we may have less and less of the breakdowns.

Australia's Dean Jones and Craig McDermott lift captain Allan Border (centre) on their shoulders after the side won the 1987 World Cup final.

Australia's Dean Jones and Craig McDermott lift captain Allan Border (centre) on their shoulders after the side won the 1987 World Cup final.   -  Getty Images

 

On the other hand, you have the Caribbean from where pace bowlers seem to come off some invisible assembly line. To what do you attribute this?

The Caribbeans are different. Maybe, they have the physical attributes. the wiriness. And yet all of them have the front-on action which should put more strain on their backs. But when you have half a dozen good fast bowlers in the region, it should not be difficult to put three or four in the team.

There is also the role model. When a team has so many good fast bowlers, the youngsters have their heroes. When they had Ramadhin and Valentine, every boy wanted to be a spinner. I Imagine with Kapil Dev doing so well, he would be a hero to his nation's cricketers. When I played against India, there may have been none in the team that young fast bowlers could look up to. Naturally enough, the boys would have wanted to be the spin bowlers.

Look at the dressing rooms of today and you will see colourful clothing even for training, cellular phones, anti-glare glasses, personal managers, coaches, trainers. Hasn't the cricket world changed?

It's a different world now. They certainly do a lot better financially. It still comes down to the skills you bring into play on the ground. The marketing opportunities are tremendous. I am glad that today's players are getting their due.

The media spotlight is getting to be very hot. What do you think of the incidents that have been played up recently such as Border's row with McDermott?

I don't think these incidents are very important. So many things happen within a team. It's captain's duty to draw the best out of all players. Some may have to be geed up to perform, to bowl quicker. The captain may even needle someone in order to get him to react. Say the same thing to another player and he may feel hurt, he may react differently. But at the end of the day when the team is together, you tend to forget such minor things as friction on the field. Take Australian football. The coaches often abuse players at half time. They shout at them, rave and rant. The aim would be to get them to play better. When the press is involved, they try to get a different angle on the incident. This is the problem. Things change when the game gets over, you drink a beer as friends.

Do you foresee the power of world cricket shifting? The West Indians are still the tops and others have been challenging them without much success.

A change may be round the corner. The West Indians still make the best Test team, there is no doubt about that. But the Asian teams have come along nicely, especially Pakistan. I would imagine that teams like Pakistan, perhaps India, are going to be near the top in the next 20 years. Pakistan is better off because of a couple of pace bowlers which means the side can do well in Australia and England. India has always had a lot of skillful batsmen and good spin bowlers. What the team needs is a couple of fast bowlers, a couple of Kapil Devs.

(This interview was first published on Sportstar on June 19, 1993)

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