Donning a new hat

Glenn McGrath... whole new ball game.-R. RAGU

Glenn McGrath’s scalp-hunting credentials are impeccable. He has 563 wickets in 124 Tests at 21.64 and 381 scalps in 250 ODIs at 22.02. The Australian speaks to S. Dinakar, as he gets ready to play a different role.

Flash bulbs clicked and cameras whirred as Glenn McGrath emerged from a giant-sized cricket ball. It was a dramatic introduction of the MRF Pace Foundation’s new director.

The 42-year-old Australian then took over the symbolic baton from Dennis Lillee. One pace legend left, as another took over at MRF; the occasion was indeed special in Chennai. Incidentally, the MRF Pace Foundation also completed 25 years.

McGrath, guided by MRF’s Rahul Mammen and head coach M. Senthilnathan, met the trainees at the Pace Foundation that has given India bowlers like Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth and Varun Aaron.

McGrath’s scalp-hunting credentials are impeccable. He has 563 wickets in 124 Tests at 21.64 and 381 scalps in 250 ODIs at 22.02. He shared his views with Sportstar in an exclusive interview.

Question: Your thoughts on taking over as the director of the MRF Pace Foundation?

Grand appearance... The former pace champion makes a dramatic entry.-PTI

Answer: The MRF is a terrific place to learn. It is an outstanding achievement for the Foundation to complete 25 years. It’s a special occasion. Coming here as the director of coaching is a wonderful opportunity for me. The MRF Pace Foundation has grown into a global centre of learning for young pacemen. I remember coming here in 1992 and learning from the great Dennis Lillee. He was my idol growing up in New South Wales. It is a privilege and an honour taking over from him at MRF. I am looking forward to the experience. It should be exciting. The MRF has made a tremendous contribution to Indian pace bowling. Today there are a number of young pace bowlers around in India. The example of Zaheer Khan stands out. Every attack needs a leader and he is the one for India. He’s experienced and crafty and there are others around him. Among the younger crop, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron are promising.

Apart from right technique what are the other essential attributes for a cricketer?

Apart from right technique a young cricketer has to be tough mentally. Cricket is 95 percent in the mind.

What was the secret behind your exceptional control with the ball?

I knew my strengths. I knew that if I could keep the ball on or around the off-stump, and move it away from the batsmen or bring it in, I could be successful. I was not a big swinger of the ball and relied more on seam movement. I knew with my height and action I could always get the bounce. It was the right line, movement and bounce that made me successful. It’s pretty simple, really. It’s a lot about sweat and sacrifice. It’s hard work. I practised a lot and it was about hitting the right areas. Gradually, I developed the ability to lock the delivery I wanted to bowl in my head and deliver exactly the same ball. You can have plans as a bowler but execution is very important. Control and accuracy are key elements. Of course, getting into the right rhythm is crucial. You do not have to move the ball big. You only have to do enough to find the edge.

You evolved as a bowler in a 14-year-old Test career...

I could bowl at a good pace when I was younger and I used to run in hard. As I became older, you could say I developed more tricks, mixed my speed judiciously. You evolve as a bowler depending on how much your body can take and the conditions you are bowling in.

As a coach, what’s your take on bowling actions?

Unless the action puts your body under a lot of stress which could eventually lead to injuries, I would be against changing a young paceman’s natural action. Of course, you can harness it, make it better. I had a front-on action; my hips were in line with my shoulders. I was not made to bowl side-on, which at that time, was considered the best action for a paceman. But my action was not hurting my body. Rather than changing it, Dennis (Lillee) worked on my chest-on release and got the best out of it.

You formed a lethal new ball combination with Jason Gillespie. Several batting line-ups were destroyed…

The chemistry between us was great. In many ways we were similar bowlers. Gillespie was quicker than me and this, on occasions, worked against him. By the time the bat came down to play the ball, it would have gone past the willow. So it was, perhaps, harder for him to find the edges. The ball would be too quick to kiss the bat. Since I was slower in comparison, the batsmen would play at the ball and get the edge.

In a unique pace-spin combination, you shared a great pairing with Shane Warne. Both of you were game-changers…

Both of us were accurate. We could create the pressure and deny the batsmen run-scoring opportunities. And pressure forced batsmen to make mistakes. Of course, both Warne and I had our share of wicket-taking deliveries. He was a great bowler, could vary the extent of his spin. Batsmen used to find our pair tough to cope with since they could not get into a rhythm with pace at one end and spin at another.

From one legend to another... Glenn McGrath, taking charge as Director of the MRF Pace Foundation, from Dennis Lillee.-S.S. KUMAR

During your illustrious career, you played under different captains from Allan Border to Ricky Ponting. How would you look at them?

All of them were different. Allan Border took the team from rock bottom and made it into a good team. He was a fighter and guided Australia through a demanding phase. Mark Taylor made the team into a very good one. Steve Waugh converted it into a world beating force. Ricky Ponting had a tough job. He had to maintain the standards.

All of them had different mind-sets?

Border would want to put his team in a dominant position before he would try for a win. Taylor was a creative captain, he would attack the opposition. Steve Waugh was ruthless. He would want to crush the opposition from the first ball. Ponting, too, was aggressive and had the team to do it. Again his job was difficult because people expected the team to win every match.

Warne, with such a clever cricketing mind, missed out on captaincy…

Warne was full of ideas, would have made a tremendous captain. I think his biggest regret was that he did not get to lead Australia in Tests.

Despite blanking the opposition in series after series, what kept the all-conquering Australian team under Steve Waugh and, to a large extent, Ricky Ponting going? Where did the motivation come from?

The pursuit of excellence was the motivation. It was a team of so many great players, legends. We had Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden, Langer, the Waugh brothers, Ponting and many others. We had so many match-winners and we worked as a team. This is why we were able to maintain that level of excellence. We never got bored or tired of winning. We wanted to perform to the best of our ability.

How would you look at the Kevin Pietersen issue?

I do not know what the issues are between Kevin Pietersen and the ECB. At a personal level I can tell you that the team comes before individuals. One of the reasons for the Australian team doing so well was that we enjoyed each other’s success. There is no bigger thing than playing for your country.

The Australians won so much but some of the opponents were not happy with the words spoken on the field.

The Australians do not sledge more than any other team and do not say anything on the sly. We are very upfront about how we feel. There were times when I perhaps should not have said some of the things I said but I was not the kind to hide my emotions.

Perhaps you and the other pacemen of your era were fortunate that Australia had some sensational catchers in the slip cordon?

I would not have been as successful but for the catching around me. We had Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Hayden, Warne, Ponting and so many other fantastic catchers around the bat. It lifts the bowlers if great catches are taken. I was lucky in that regard. I always wanted a strong slip cordon. I believed that with my height, bounce and movement, I always had a chance of getting a batsman out caught at slips or gully. I could always visualise a scenario where even if the batsman went for a stroke when the ball became older the bounce would result in him being picked up at gully.

Brett Lee had a slightly different field placements for his bowling than yours…

Lee, a fantastic fast bowler, was different. He wanted some protection, a man at mid-wicket or cover. Since he bowled quick and at a fuller length, the ball would fly off the bat quickly, even if there was the slightest error in line. The strokes like the flick would come into play.

There has been plenty of debate here as to when Sachin Tendulkar should leave the international stage…

I think it is Sachin’s decision. He knows best like I did when I decided to leave. He is a legendary batsman. I always thought Ponting would score the most number of runs in Tests and ODIs. But Sachin proved me wrong.

You have had some stirring face-offs with Brian Lara and Tendulkar. How would you assess them?

I enjoyed the duels. Lara was a flamboyant player. He would take chances. I knew he would go for his strokes. I had my deliveries against him, he was a left-hander and I would angle deliveries across him. Given the slightest chance, he would play his shots. Tendulkar was different. There were times when he played the waiting game against me. He would bide his time and play you in the manner that was correct. And he had all the shots. It was a challenge bowling to these great players.

Deadly duo... Shane Warne with Glenn McGrath.-SANDEEP SAXENA

It is going to be hard for India to find replacements for two formidable batsmen you bowled at, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman...

Players such as them do not come easy. Dravid was technically so good and had a great temperament to back him. Laxman was a very special batsman, he played some astonishing shots. He could hit Warne against the rough. I still remember his innings against us at the Eden Gardens in 2001. It was a mind-boggling effort. India was following on and I remember how the game changed. It was difficult for us, the bowlers though!

What’s your view on DRS?

I think the DRS is good for the game. It helps the umpires and removes blatant umpiring errors. How many times have we seen batsmen being not given out off a huge inside nick? I know that technology is not 100 percent right but I believe it is 95 percent right. It is better than having nothing. In the matches where it has been used, DRS has made a difference.

How would you view South Africa’s climb to the acme in Test cricket?

I think teams that want to be No. 1 need to have an incisive pace attack. England had a very good pace attack when it became No. 1 and it had a quality spinner in Graeme Swann. South Africa, again, has a top notch pace attack. It has Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, a swing bowler with whom I am very impressed. South Africa, in fact, is a very balanced side. In Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, it has world class batsmen. And I think Steyn is the most complete paceman in the world today.

Can Australia be No. 1 again?

We still have good talent but it could take some time before we become No. 1 again. Michael Clarke is a promising captain, has ideas. Again, replacements for great cricketers do not come easy. Australia misses a few batsmen. But I think it has an impressive pace attack. Pattinson, Starc and Cummins are pacy and have possibilities. Mitchell Johnson is around too and so are Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle.

What do aggression and pressure mean to you?

Aggression is a force within you. It drives you during difficult moments. You need to know how to harness it. And pressure came from the expectations I put on myself. I used to love the pressure. It brought the best out of me. When the bar was raised, I relished it.