Glenn McGrath played a pivotal role in Australia’s remarkable Test series triumph in India in 2004. Indeed, the pace ace, with typical precision, took out some big names. And the Aussies celebrated after conquering the Final Frontier.
That was a long time ago. The Aussies have won little in India subsequently. The batsmen have largely been clueless against the spin and the bowling, lacking teeth, has gone for plenty of runs.
McGrath, who was at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai recently to guide the aspirants, shared his memories from the past and his views on the coming four-Test, India-Australia series in a chat with Sportstar.
He comprehends the challenges faced by Steven Smith and his men. McGrath does see a sliver of hope for the Australians against an in-form Indian side if the squad displays the heart and the technique to adapt to the conditions.
Question: The Australian selectors have placed a lot of emphasis on spin. These spinners will be bowling to some pretty aggressive batsmen on the tour of India.
Answer: Lyon, O’Keefe, and Swepson could play a part, two of them could be picked in the eleven. I have seen young leg-spinner Swepson in pieces at the Academy. For Warne to think he has something special he must be okay. We will find out.
Obviously, Lyon is very experienced, he’s found a bit of form. O’Keefe bowled well in Sri Lanka before he got injured.
As a visiting pace bowler, what do you need to do to succeed in Indian conditions?
You have to be able to bowl to the conditions, adapt to the conditions. The new ball in India carries through okay and you look to take the edges, get early wickets. You got to have more men in the slips.
Once the ball gets softer your work gets harder as a paceman. Got to bowl tight, have less men in the slips, have mid-wicket, short cover and work on the ball, get reverse swing. Once the ball reverse-swings, you can attack again.
Despite having five men who can bowl spin in the squad, if one includes Glenn Maxwell’s off-spin, the Australians will still be looking to their pacemen to take a bulk of wickets when the conditions could be loaded against them.
Starc and Hazlewood have to really fire, particularly Starc. For me, Starc is the key man. Then, guys like Lyon and O’ Keefe get into the picture.
What do you think are the strengths of the Australian pacemen? Starc, Hazlewood, Bird and Mitchell Marsh, they all have different qualities.
Hazlewood bowls in good areas, keeps it tight, gets a bit of bounce. Starc is the X-factor, if he can swing the new ball which he hasn’t done too much this summer, he’s a very dangerous bowler because of the length he bowls. He bowls such an attacking length. He’s a wicket-taker with the new ball and whenever the ball starts reversing, he comes into his own.
Jackson Bird doesn’t bowl with any pace but if there is anything in the wicket, he gets a bit of seam movement. He’s got very good control, bowls a bit of reverse swing. He can contain from one end.
I like the way Mitchell Marsh goes about his bowling. He’s tall, hits the deck well, bowls good areas, he is not going to bowl down leg-side, and gets a good deal of bounce. But I need to see him in Indian conditions. I have not seen him reversing too much. To me he is more a bowling all-rounder. He’s a good striker of the ball. If they decide to have two spinners then they may seek to get more balance by having Mitchell Marsh in.
Yourself and Jason Gillespie formed one of the most potent and successful combinations in Tests. Can Starc and Hazlewood become a feared pair in the days to come?
Without a doubt, Starc and Hazlewood have the potential to do anything. It’s a left and right pair. Hazlewood’s got control. Starc is as good as anyone on his day. At his best, he’s the No.1 bowler in the world. The two complement each other.
Even given the kind of arsenal at his disposal — speed, bounce and swing — there are times when Starc looks ordinary, particularly in Test cricket.
All bowlers go through that when they are a little down in confidence. If they are not bowling well and not happy with the way they are bowling, it happens. Cricket is a confidence sport. In one-day cricket, Starc knows he has done well and he’s very confident. He was probably slow to start with in the Tests. As he has gone through, he’s got a lot more confident in Tests and is bowling well. He’s working out how to bowl in Tests.
You learn as you go on in your career. At the start of my career, I wanted to be a Test bowler and had a real plan of how to go about it. One-day cricket I didn’t take as seriously, didn’t have a plan. It wasn’t till I had worked out exactly what I wanted to do and achieve in one-day cricket, that I started performing well. In one-day cricket, it’s about building pressure, containment even if you only pick a couple of wickets. Test cricket is about taking wickets, having aggressive fields, having a different mentality.
If you have a clear plan of what you want to achieve and how you are going to go about it and execute it, well the chances are that you will be successful.
You have had your successes in India, particularly on the 2004 campaign. You did bowl a fuller length in that series.
Yes, I did bowl a little fuller in 2004, looking to get the nicks. In India, because the bounce is not quite there, the ball sometimes sits up to be hit. So you bowl a fuller length. You want the batsmen to come to the front foot more because if they go back and it sits up, even a tail-ender can hit you.
The pitches we played in 2004, they had a little more in them too. In Nagpur, they left a little more grass on the pitch. Bangalore was a good cricket wicket. In Chennai, it would have been interesting to see how the last day went had it not rained. However, in Mumbai, it turned square.
Can you recall the memorable moments from that tour? After the disappointment of 2001, Australia finally won a series in India.
The win in Nagpur, after trying to win a series for so long in India, was memorable. We came very close in 2001. There were a lot of good moments. We played well as a team. It was also a young Michael’s Clarke’s first series. He got 150 odd on his debut in Bangalore.
From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the battle against some great Indian batsmen. The spell against Dravid in Nagpur was satisfying. He almost saw me through and I got him in the fag end of the spell. I knocked over Sehwag. It was my 100th Test match in Nagpur. And my 450th wicket was Sachin, in that very Test. It wasn’t a great delivery, probably was not a very good shot, caught at gully.
The Australian team of 2001 and 2004 had some formidable cricketers. The present team, skippered by Steven Smith, is rather short on experience.
In 2001 and 2004, we had some very experienced players, some of the greats of the game. You do not get those kinds of players in a team often. In this team, there are a lot of young guys coming in. Steve Smith and David Warner have played for a while, but there is a lot of inexperience. Still, there are some quality players in there.
The Indian team then was more experienced too with a heavyweight batting line-up and some serious bowling options.
You had Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, and Sehwag. The three-match series in 2001 was one of the best Test series of all time. There was Harbhajan in 2001, who really got the ball to turn and bounce.
Now you have Virat Kohli, among the best batsmen in the game. Ashwin was the top wicket-taker in world cricket last year. There are some very good players in there.
You may have to wait until the end of the series to see how the Indian cricketers stand out in tough situations. Just because the present lot has not played as many games as the legends of the past, doesn’t mean they are not good. The attack, both pace and spin, was impressive against England and there was real depth in batting. The side really bats deep.
You have seen quite a bit of Kohli now. How far do you think he will go?
Kohli’s exceptional, but he won’t be able to challenge Sachin’s record in Tests. I don’t think anybody can beat Sachin’s record or get close. To play 100 or 120 Tests these days is going to be a feat in itself.
The Australian batsmen have got into serious trouble against spin in India over the last few campaigns. The batting line-up is bound to be confronted with a major spin test this time around as well.
The Australian batsmen have not found the right method to play spin in India. They have either been too aggressive or too defensive. The batsmen need to have a clear game-plan. Much would depend on Warner and Smith and how the other batsmen rally around them.
To play India in India is probably the toughest thing to do. The Indians just know the conditions so well. The conditions in India are so different from what you have in Australia, or South Africa or England. Even the pitches in Pakistan are different from the ones in India. The Indian wickets turn a lot more, the ball grips a lot more. And they are going to produce turning wickets. It will be tough for the Australian batsmen.
The crowds too could be a factor. Everything adds to the pressure on the batsmen.
I hope we get good crowds for the Test matches. The crowds for the India-England Test matches were a bit down I guess. Every Indian wants to see Australia get beaten, so a lot more people could come. The Indian fans are very vocal.
Belief is vital when you play in India, isn’t it? You have been a part of a victorious Test team here.
Anywhere you play, any sport you play, you got to believe you are good enough to compete. And believe you are good enough to win. You got to be good enough to adjust to the conditions. Play better than the opposition.
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