McGrath bats for settled combinations in playing XI

Former Aussie quick Glenn McGrath believes having the same set of players over a period of time helps create match-winning units.

Former Australia pacer Glenn McGrath interacts with youngsters at a cricket stadium in Rohtak on Monday.   -  VIVEK TRIPATHI

 

Ever since he took over as India captain, Virat Kohli has led in 36 Test matches. While he has gone about accumulating runs to go on top of the ICC rankings, the same cannot be said about the rest of the players.

There were questions asked about India’s playing XI in the first Test against England. Former Aussie quick Glenn McGrath — who was part of an invincible side led by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting — feels having a settled combination makes a world of difference to a team’s performance.

“When you have the same batting unit, it builds confidence in the team. You know how it all just comes together. Without a doubt having a settled batting unit matters. The team I was lucky to play in was very similar for the whole time and we cared about each other and how we performed and enjoyed their success as much as our own,” McGrath, now the Director at MRF Pace Foundation, told Sportstar in an interaction on Monday.

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Working with Haryana fast bowlers — both juniors and the likes of Mohit Sharma — in their pre-season camp, McGrath added that a stable bowling unit is equally important.

“When you’ve got the same bowling attack for a while, you can build in confidence. They have a couple of injured bowlers in (Bhuvneshwar) Kumar and (Jasprit) Bumrah but it also gives an opportunity to the other guys. (Umesh) Yadav’s got good pace, (Mohammed) Shami too, Ishant’s got a lot of experience. It is a combination of experience and confidence. And when you have a reasonably strong batting line-up, it gives you a lot of confidence as well though I was a bit disappointed with the way India batted,” he admitted.

It was all about momentum, he stressed. “When you are playing in a unit that is winning all the time, you find ways to win. When you start losing and not playing well, you find ways to lose. It’s just a momentum and confidence thing and if it’s the same unit you are playing with, the confidence goes up, not just individually but also as a team and it makes a huge difference,” McGrath added.

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Asked how he would have bowled to Kohli, McGrath said it would have been a challenge he would have loved. “Enjoy the challenge, no doubt. It's just about getting enough balls in the right area. You don't see any obvious weaknesses there and it's just about building pressure. I loved bowling to guys like Sachin (Tendulkar), Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid because as a bowler you want to step up and enjoy that challenge. By the end of his career, he will be up there with guys like Sachin and Rahul,” he declared.

But the pacer with maximum Test wickets – 563, fourth on the all-time list — also had a word of caution. “He is definitely aggressive, he gets out there and plays his shots, doesn’t take a backward step obviously. When you are playing well, it all goes in your favour. When you are not playing well, his getting out of control makes it a lot tougher. Lara was one of the best batsmen of all times and there would be days you could see he was so focussed, if you said anything he would get a 200.

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“Other days, he would look to be so all over you could get him out for fun. With Virat, when he is doing well he loves that challenge and being in the fight. If he starts going through a tough period, it would probably have more of an impact,” McGrath advised.

Tour Down Under

The one criticism he did have was about teams not adapting as well to different conditions as in the past and not spending enough time preparing for tough away tours. “In the past, tours used to be longer. So you get to a country and play two to three practice matches and get used to conditions quicker. Now the schedule makes it tougher to do that, I think the teams just get used to their own conditions and are not adapting as much because they don’t have to. But playing in different conditions makes you a better cricketer,” he said.

And his thoughts on India’s tour of Australia later this year, specially in the backdrop of bans on David Warner and Steve Smith? “It would be nice to have Smith and Warner but it's unlikely. If our three quicks — Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins — are back along with Nathan Lyon, that will make a huge difference.

“Obviously there will be a big hole. Matt Renshaw could come in for Warner as opener and Peter Handscomb in the middle but these (Warner and Smith) are really big shoes to fill and it won’t happen overnight. Whether it happens before this summer or during or after, I can’t say,” he signed off.