Aussie pace stalwart-turned-mentor Glenn McGrath drives home some truths about the pleasures and pain of pace bowling; backs Indian fast bowling attack to perform well on tours abroad
It’s a silver jubilee to celebrate whole-heartedly considering how India and Australian cricket have benefited from the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the MRF Pace Foundation and Cricket Australia (then called the Australian Cricket Board) to encourage reciprocal tours from pacemen of both countries to sharpen their skills and steer them into national reckoning.
Australian pace legend Dennis Lillee was around right from the start — in 1987 when the Foundation was formed. Lanky New South Welshman Glenn McGrath trained at the academy and has been its director since 2012. McGrath, 47, Australia’s most successful fast bowler with 563 Test scalps spoke to mid-day over the phone from Chennai yesterday.
It’s been 25 years since Cricket Australia and MRF Pace Foundation signed a MOU. Can you describe the journey?
It’s incredible that it has been going strong for 25 years — full credit to everyone involved. It was one of the first academies that were set up here in India and probably the only privately-funded one. I was one of the first trainees 25 years ago when I was with the Cricket Academy in Australia. Now I have come the full circle from being a trainee to a director. It has been an amazing journey, there have been plenty of quality Indian bowlers who have come from the MRF Pace Foundation. There have also been a few Australia bowlers who have gone on to represent Australia, so it has been an incredibly successful program.
Do you believe the fast bowling culture has changed in India?
To be a fast bowler in India is as tough as it can get. The conditions are not that conducive to fast bowling; the wickets are slow and they don’t bounce that much. It can be hot and humid, so all those factors were always against you. I think that is the first issue. There are some quality fast bowlers playing for India who have come up in recent times, so the culture is definitely changing or it has changed now. Fast bowling is a lot of hard work and it is good to see bowlers working hard. You need to be able to adapt to conditions when you travel the world. If you are successful in India then you are doing pretty well.
What do you think of the current crop of Indian fast bowlers – Umesh Yadav, Mohd Shami, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar
I don’t want to comment on each individual, but they are a good bowling unit. They seem to be united, can swing the ball and get the ball through at decent pace. They have been playing together for a while now. India have the same group of bowlers and I think that is so important because they have good experience now.
You have also started to teach young bowlers how to plan a dismissal…
I had to look at my strengths and that was more the mental side of the game — the thought processes, the preparation, how to go about bowling plans and teaching patience. Importantly, it is about getting to know your strengths and limitations. The best bowling coach you can have is yourself and to become that you need to know your game well. I always tell fast bowlers — know what you are trying to do and always have a plan, whether that is at training or in a game. They should know what they are trying to achieve something and how to go about it. I like to show them videos of how I planned a dismissal. I get them thinking about their own game.
Indian fast bowlers tend to struggle abroad especially when the ball gets old or when the pitches are flat. Why do you think that happens?
Generally, in places like Australia, SA and England the ball tends to carry through nicely so it opens up more avenues of getting batsmen out and you need to exploit those ways. For me, it is all about control, getting the ball in the right areas, building pressure, looking to take wickets and to be able to bowl to your field. Obviously, they need to look after the ball and try to get some reverse swing. The Kookaburra gets softer a lot earlier and when the wicket flattens out, it is hard work. But if you still get enough balls in the right areas, build up pressure and take away the scoring options (they will vary for each batsmen and the bowlers should be aware of those things), things will work.
Build pressure, bowling consistently on one spot — not everyone can do it. How do you train for it?
I keep reiterating that patience is the key. Look at the best fast bowlers in the world — Waqar Younis has a strike rate of 42, which is exceptional but at the end of the day, it is one wicket every seven overs. If you are trying to take a wicket every over, it’s never been done in the history of the game. It is all about bowling to a plan and then backing it up. They can’t have the mentality of, ‘I have bowled three good balls and then bowl a full ball on middle stump, trying to bowl the magic ball or trying harder to take that wicket and then get whacked for four.’ It just releases the pressure. My method is to show the boys these strategies in centre-wicket practice and in matches how to go about it. Then, it is about practising it and doing it themselves.
Are you confident that the current lot of Indian fast bowlers can take 20 wickets on a consistent basis overseas?
They have the ability to take wickets all around the world regardless of the conditions. When they travel to SA, England or Australia, I’m not worried about the bowlers. It is the batsmen that need to do their job. At home, they have that toughness and they need to show that overseas.
In India, fast bowlers generally bowl in short bursts but overseas they need to bowl longer spells. How do you prepare for those challenges?
It comes down to mental strength. It is about control and being able to bowl the ball where you want to bowl it with the bowling plans. In the past, you used to get practice matches, travel and then get used to it, while now it is pretty much straight into a Test match. The current lot of Indian pacers have played in conditions around the world, so it is about that patience, control and execution.