McGrath: ‘Would’ve enjoyed bowling to Virat’

The 46-year-old veteran was in Chennai, at the Madras School of Economics, narrating anecdotes, making cheeky comments on former teammates, rivals and himself, and providing rich insights while discussing cricket with N. Ram, the chairman of Kasturi & Sons Ltd, who’s a big fan of the sport.

Former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath speaks to the audience at the Madras School of Economics.   -  R. Ragu

In cornflower blue full-sleeve shirts, folded nearly till the elbow, neatly tucked into dark blue trousers, Glenn McGrath looked avuncular in contrast to his cunning, predatory self one saw on the mark of his run-up during his playing days. Chennai’s not a happy hunting ground for Pidge -- he has seven wickets here from two Tests and an ODI. But he’s growing fond of the city after his recent regular visits to the MRF pace foundation, of which he replaced Dennis Lillee as the director in 2012. On Friday evening, the 46-year-old veteran was here again, at the Madras School of Economics, narrating anecdotes, making cheeky comments on former teammates, rivals and himself, and providing rich insights while discussing cricket with N. Ram, the chairman of Kasturi & Sons Ltd, who’s a big fan of the sport.

Here’s an excerpt of McGrath spoke in that 45-minute conversation:

‘Warne was the best captain Australia never had’

Warnie (Shane Warne) was probably the best captain Australia never had. He did go and captain Hampshire. He really brought a different attitude to that club and they played good, aggressive, positive cricket.

Though he didn’t captain in Tests, he has captained a few ODIs when Steve Waugh was injured. But the thing with Shane was that sometimes he’d over-captain. There was a one-day game at the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) where we played England. He was captain, I was bowling. I had taken the ninth wicket. And Alan Mulally walks out. When it comes to batting he makes me look like Sir Donald Bradman. So, we need one more wicket to win, they need four runs. So, Warnie runs all the way to me from first slip and says “Pidge, this guy’s not very good. The ball we need to bowl is a reverse inswinging yorker.” I told him, “What else am I going to bowl?”. So, the match resumes. I bowl a good yorker. Mulally gets nowhere near it. Stumps all over. We win. We are running around, happy with the win. Warnie comes up to me and says: “I told you so.”

‘Batsmen are better suited for captaincy’

I never wanted to be captain of the team. Fast bowlers are not the best captains of the team. Not because they can’t. But when you’re bowling you want to be focussed on what you’re going to do in the middle. That’s why I think batsmen are better suited for that role. When they’re batting, they can just focus on batting and not changing the fields or anything like that. For instance, Mark Taylor, when he was on the field, had nothing much to do, except for watching the balls or maybe taking the odd catch.

‘In my Australian XI, I made Allan Border as the captain’

I was very lucky with the captains I’ve played under. When I first came in, Allan Border was captain. He took over the captaincy when Australia was pretty ordinary and built the team to make it one of the best teams in the world. His attitude was ‘let’s not lose this game before we go for the win.’

Mark Taylor, an esteemed captain, took over a quality team. He brought a different philosophy. ‘Let’s go for win from ball one.’ More aggressive form, more positive form of the game, which I prefer. He handed over a very good team to Steve Waugh.

Steve Waugh didn’t just want us to go for a win from ball one; he wanted us to crush the opposition. His favourite word was “ruthless”. He didn’t want to give the other team any chance at all.

I thought Rick (Ricky Ponting) did a very good job. He lost seven senior player in a two-year period and the team still did pretty well. He won two World Cups as captain. He was captain in 2004 when we won in India after a long time.

I’ve often been asked to pick the best Australian eleven with players whom I’ve played with. I’d make Allan Border the captain. If you ask Steve, Mark and Rick, they would all say Allan Border.

‘Tough to say what’s the best method to train for fast bowlers’

Personally, the more I bowled, the better I felt. But there’s a different intensity in international cricket these days. More so, with respect to T20s. We played more Test cricket back then. During a Test match, you can get into your routines, you can recover well, get set and it’s not too bad. In T20s, you fly in, you play, it’s all quick, it’s high intensity. Then you’re back at the hotel, then to the airport. It makes it more difficult. But I think bowlers need to work more hard, there is no substitute for that. Wonder how much the fast bowlers work these days off the field. And, they need an off-season to get fit and strong again.

I went to the West Indies in 1995. I did well on that tour. That’s the first time I cemented my place in the team. But when I came home, I was injured in one of my side muscles. I weighed 77 kilos. That’s about 26-27 kilos less than I am now. I knew if I kept doing what I was doing, I wouldn’t last long. So, I found a trainer, who was tough. His attitude was to train so much harder that you’re ready to experience anything in the cricket field. I must say, under him, I felt playing international cricket was a break.

So, it’s a balance between working hard in the nets, on your fitness, gym and doing the right strength work.

‘I wouldn’t prefer to sit out because of rotation policy’

I don’t like to sit out because of a rotation policy. When the toss went up, and the captain chose to bowl, there would’ve been 12 players in the field. I did sit out a little bit for one-dayers. Wasn’t happy to do it but felt that was the best for the team. But I wanted to play in every Test possible. At the start of the season, it takes a few matches to perform at your best. And, that’s why you need to play regularly.

‘To be a great, you gotta perform in all three formats’

As a cricketer, I wanted to play all three formats. All three required different game plans, different attitudes to approach the game. When I started my career, I focussed on Test cricket. It was the ultimate. I enjoyed one-day cricket. But I didn’t take it quite seriously. And my records show that. But once I had a game-plan of how I was going to approach one-day cricket, my record improved. To be a great in the game, you have to perform in all three formats and adapt to them. If you look at the top batsmen of today -- Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson, Steve Smith -- they perform in all three forms. But we’re going to get to a stage where “this fellow will play Tests, this fellow in ODIs, and this fellow in T20s”... I think we’re already getting there.

‘Country over clubs’

Coming from Australia, I think, the boys there get paid really well. Even in India, they get paid really well. But countries like West Indies, New Zealand, that’s where the issue is. Certain players can earn more playing one season of the Indian Premier League than playing five-six years for their country, which is pretty tough. Security for the family and everything else come into play.

‘Sachin and Lara are standouts’

Sachin (Tendulkar) and (Brian) Lara are two of the standouts I’ve played against. Sachin was technically great, mentally strong. Lara was very flamboyant, (he’s) got all the shots in the world, but mentally unstable. Brian and I had a bit of a ‘love-hate’ relationship. I’ve spent quite a bit of a time with Brian in the last few years. We’re good mates now. We get off well. He even says that I was not as bad as what he thought I used to be.

Sachin has scored few hundreds against us. But he would always wait for a bad delivery. I could sort of tie him down a little bit with good deliveries. Whereas it was difficult to tie Brian down. He would keep hitting boundaries.

Then, there’s Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. I vaguely remember a game, think it was Eden Gardens, if I remember well. VVS and Rahul batted the whole day. It was an incredible performance from those two guys. We ended up losing that game. If we’d won that game it would’ve been 17 wins in a row.

‘Would’ve enjoyed the challenge of bowling to Virat’

I would’ve enjoyed the challenge of bowling to Virat. No doubt at all. A couple of guys who I met on the lift today told me “Ah, I bet you’re glad that you aren’t bowling these days.” It is different these days. Batsmen have a different mentality. Especially in the one-dayers and T20s. Making 380 in a one-dayer and only just defending it... I wonder what the bowlers are doing.

‘When I started playing every ground had a different character’

The pitches in Australia are so good to bat on that they’re a bit unfair to the bowlers. When I started playing, every ground in Australia had a different character. SCG, you knew it was a wicket that would take spin. Perth was quick and bouncy. Gabba was green and the ball would go through nicely. Adelaide, it was a good cricket wicket till day four and five where it would go up and down a bit. So, you had to adapt to these different wickets. When I finished my career, majority of the wickets were drop-in wickets. Some pitches were so good that if you played every now and then for five or six weeks, it would still be a good batting wicket. Same soil, same clay. And they performed exactly the same. And it’s a negative because players in Australia get to play on type of wicket. Which is why they play so well at home, and struggle playing away.

‘The game’s too much in favour of batsmen these days’

The game’s too much in favour of the batsmen these days. It’s amazing when a mis-hit goes twenty rows back of the fence. I wish I had one of those bats, I would’ve scored more runs. So, it’s a combination of very good batting conditions, bats that are bigger. Still I think the bowlers will have to improve with the game.

‘Heading the MRF pace foundation is a big honour’

When I grew up, my hero was Dennis Lillee. So, to be asked to take over from Dennis in the MRF pace foundation was a big honour. Dennis for me is one of the best fast bowling coaches in the world. But it’s great to see how the MRF foundation goes about it as well. Senthil’s (Myluahanan Senthilnathan, chief coach of the foundation) probably one of the best coaches too. He’s an expert in the technical side. I wish that I knew what I know now when I was playing. I could’ve fixed my action up a bit and got more wickets. And, I’ve enjoyed the last five years coaching here. I hope I’ve passed on something to the young guys coming here as much as I’ve learnt. And, I am always impressed by the young bowlers we have. Couple of them who stood out in the last season was Aswin Crist and K. Vignesh. Guys who are full time students at the MRF pace foundation have gone to represent their country. Hopefully, in the years to come, we’ll see more and more players.