`I'm going after 600 Test wickets'

DEBASISH DATTA

V.V.KRISHNAN

WITH a huge farm to rear sheep and cattle, Glenn McGrath need not worry about earning his keep once he retires. In the same way as specialist batsmen all over the world not having to worry about negotiating the lanky man, nicknamed Pigeon, who has the highest number of scalps for any fast bowler, 67 per cent of whom are batsmen number one to six in the batting order. The Athertons, the Laras and the Tendulkars have always been more cautious while facing him. And, he is not even an `Express Quick'. Glenn McGrath spoke to The Sportstar during the recent Super Series.

Excerpts:

Question: Will you please tell us why you are nicknamed Pigeon? Characteristically, a fast bowler is anything but a pigeon, isn't he?

Answer: It was Brad McNamara. I was playing for New South Wales. In those very first games, McNamara used to say there is a pigeon in the dressing room that can't land. Everyone was wondering what he was talking about. At last, he pointed out to me. Everyone burst out in laughter when he said that I'd stolen the legs of the pigeon. That stuck with me!

So, it was more because of your height rather than the attitude. Do you have any other nickname?

Millard, when I was playing for Sutherland. Some of the boys from there, like our fitness trainer Jock Campbell, call me by that name even today.

But Jeff Thomson calls you Glenn McGraf for the grace.

That's typical of Thommo. You should expect something like that from him always.

You now have 160 more wickets than Dennis Lillee. But you'd always have him at the top of the Aussie fast bowlers' list.

Even today, yes. He was my idol. I wished to bowl like him. So the question of comparison does not arise. `DK' was really aggressive, had a classical side-on action. The aura is incomparable. I'm so different from him in aggression, and neither do I have his aura. In fact, no one can have it.

As a fast bowler, your average around 21 should satisfy you especially because you've played more than 100 Test matches?

Yeah, but the average is only my third preference. The first priority is taking wickets. That's why I've always preferred the strike rate than the average. How often you are taking wickets should be more important than the cost at which you're taking it. I'm happy to have my strike rate round the 50-balls corner. Only when a bowler isn't taking wickets does the fact come into play that he is giving away only one or two runs per over. My team expects me to take wickets and when I can satisfy that demand, no matter at what cost, I've done the job. And, the strike rate looks after your average anyway.

You've dismissed the opposition captain more than any other bowler in the history of Test cricket. Do you always target the captains more?

I really didn't know about it. It's a challenge to get the best batsman of the opponent. More often the best batsman is the captain and that may be the reason behind this. And when you get the rival captain out cheaply, it's easier to pressurise the rest. So, it's a challenge worth taking.

There are so many left-handers in your tally. Why are you so successful against them?

That's something they should tell you better. I've really enjoyed having a go at Brian Lara from around the wickets, which is another option I've while bowling at the left-handers. That creates a new angle, offers more options. I hit the deck hard and get the seam movement that goes away for the left-handers, may be that's the reason. They make wrong adjustments and they nick it.

It's said that Sachin Tendulkar remembers all his Test dismissals. Do you remember all your Test wickets?

Well, I did so, but of late it has begun to fade a bit. Taking wickets is my motivation. That keeps me going. So, I used to think about the scalps and had a picture emblazoned in my mind. Every Test wicket is important for me, definitely.

Cricket has always been a batsman's game. Today it's even more inclined towards them rather than towards the bowlers. Have you ever felt so?

There's no denying the fact that bowlers win matches while batsmen save it. Yet, it's a game where the needs of the batsmen are nurtured more. The wickets are getting flatter, the rules are changed every other day in favour of the batsmen. Life is really becoming harder for the bowler.

Talking about wickets, even the Aussie wickets are not as hard as they were earlier.

Not exactly so, but the characteristics have certainly changed. In our early days, we were used to the differences the wickets had in each venue. Gabba (Brisbane) had grass, there was so much of bounce in Perth, Sydney always was turning, Melbourne carried through to five days and Adelaide was always a batting wicket doing something on the last couple of days. Those differences were good for the game, at least that's what we believed. These days, all are pretty similar. It was evident during the series against India.

That was an amazing series when the Aussies were struggling to draw a series in their own backyard and all the Indian batsmen were at their best.

That's not surprising. Neither Warney nor I played that series. So, whether that was the reason behind their success, we'll never know.

In your subsequent tour to India in 2004 neither Laxman nor Dravid could be successful against you.

The Aussies have always played attacking cricket. But what happened on the India tour was that we changed our strategy and became a bit defensive in our approach. We bowled a lot straighter, at the stumps and our field-setting was onside oriented. That worked against them, especially against Laxman and Dravid. When they had toured here, we were not very familiar with their styles to set those defensive fields we had set in India.

Why have the pitches and strategies changed?

May be for the TV rights. Now everybody wants the match to go the full length of five days. The crowds come to the ground on the fifth morning with the hope of seeing an exciting finish. Nothing wrong with that, but to ensure a fifth day finish, you've to compromise with the characteristics of the wickets. When I first bowled in the West Indies, it was on true, bouncy wickets. And last time when I had to bowl there, I even thought about preferring an Indian wicket than those in the Caribbean.

Do you regret the Sarwan episode in Antigua on your last tour?

With age, you don't want to be remembered as a foul-mouthed man. Fatherhood makes one more responsible. But I think people always see the Aussies as more ugly than others. There are teams that sledge like us but don't have the same ugly image. Regarding the Sarwan episode what I can say is that my wife was suffering from breast cancer then and the reference to that influenced what I did that day. However, with the 20-odd TV cameras focused on you, that's something you do not want not to repeat.

Sachin went at you in Nairobi in 1999. Were you surprised?

Believe me, I'd not uttered a single word on that day. And that's the proof that sometimes even a batsman of his class needs to do that just to raise his own performance level. I've the highest regard for him as a batsman and always enjoyed bowling against him. He is such a composed and cool customer. I was really surprised at him that day. Harbhajan Singh too is a wonderful sledger, I must say. He gives it back as much as we give him.

With Shane Warne, you've formed the most dangerous bowling pair in modern cricket. But, as a person, Warne is just the opposite of what you are. What's the reason behind the success you've achieved as a pair?

He has always been a different personality. I'm introvert and Warney's extrovert, he likes the limelight, enjoys every bit of it. Don't get it wrong, in a team game he has always been part of the team and played his role to perfection. Out of it, he loves to live his life differently and you should not want to interfere there. On the field, we formed a perfect pair because we are well aware of our bowling styles. He is an attacker while I tend to test a batsman differently. It worked for us. The understanding is important.

What is your evaluation of the four skippers you'd played under — Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting?

Border was my first captain. He had to do the build-up job and did it marvellously. He steadied the ship and gave it the right direction. He was not as aggressive as others, but he could not be so because at the time he took charge the team was not on top of the world. He had to be a little calculative before going all out. `From ball one, we're going for win,' was Taylor's catch-line and he did just that. He inherited a steady unit from AB. That was important. We began winning all over. Steve Waugh took the team to the next level and his favourite word was `ruthlessness'. He wanted to ensure that the opponent should not even be in a position to revive after being hit. Ricky Ponting had just taken over and in a small time under him we won in Sri Lanka, India and lifted the World Cup winning all the matches. He took to captaincy as duck to water. I'm really impressed with him.

Now that you've more wickets than Walsh, what more is left for you to achieve?

600 Test wickets is possible. I'm going after that milestone and can reach there if injuries don't prevent me from playing.

There was a time when injuries almost forced you to retire?

That's part and parcel of any sportsman's life. I had the hunger in me to make a comeback and now I'm probably at the best of my rhythm. So, I can definitely continue to play for a few more years. There have been instances of fast bowlers playing till their late thirties. There is no reason why I shouldn't be able to do so. And if I can, reaching 600 Test wickets is a realistic possibility.