‘You must relish pressure’

‘You must relish pressure’

Former Australia Cricketer Glenn McGrath and Troy Cooley interact with the trainees of MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, on Friday, July 27, 2018. (PTI Photo)

With a measured run up and a pace that was far from express, Glenn McGrath wasn’t your tearaway fast bowler. But his outstanding accuracy and discipline made him one of the most feared pacers. The legendary cricketer, who challenged the best of batsmen with a derisive smile, played an integral role in Australia’s rise to the top during the late 90s and early 2000s.

A three-time World Cup winner (1999, 2003 & 2007), McGrath was also lethal in red-ball cricket thanks to his clever ways. Currently, the director of the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, the 48-year-old says he is enjoying the role of mentoring young Indian quicks. In a free-wheeling chat, McGrath spoke about the challenges faced by today’s pacers, his secret to success and the reasons behind Australia’s stupendous run during his playing days. Excerpts:

What do you tell the young pacers as a coach?

I have learnt a lot on the technical side of fast bowling. I wish I knew these techniques during my playing days, I could have worked a bit on my action or on my bowling overall. I speak to the youngsters about match situations. It’s not about trying to get a wicket off every ball. A pacer needs to have a clear mind and should know exactly what he is looking to do, whether it is about building pressure or setting up batsmen. I try to make sure they are relaxed and confident so that when they get a big opportunity, they don’t get nervous.

Who is a complete fast bowler, according to you?

To be a complete fast bowler you need three main things. Firstly, it goes without saying, you need the skills. You need to be physically fit and strong. Thirdly and most importantly, you need the right attitude, a positive attitude. Your mental strength, the approach and preparations matter a lot. There is no substitute for hard work. When you rise to a certain level, you need to work harder to make an impact there. It’s just the nature of the beast.

How can today’s fast bowlers cope better with injuries?   

If I had an answer for it, I would be a wealthy man because injury management is a big topic in world cricket. What the fast bowlers do out there is very stressful on the body. With day in and day out of fast bowling, you are going to get injured at some point. The key is to work hard off the field and become stronger to cope with those stresses. I think they are playing a lot of cricket and players these days have no off-season to put strength back in their bodies. There is hardly any recovery time. Then there are too many T20 matches and the nature of the game is intense in that format.

How do you explain your envious longevity?

When you are younger, the body hasn’t hardened up and there are a lot of chances of getting injured. Once you get to 25 and 26 years of age, then you don’t get injured much. I remember, Brett (Lee) had back injuries early on. But he worked hard and came back strongly and bowled almost 100 miles an hour. Also, we didn’t play a lot of T20 cricket. We mostly played Test cricket so we spent a lot of time at one place. This helped us recover better and prepare better. It’s important to know your body well and then work accordingly. That’s what I, Brett or Jason (Gillespie) did.

Did you ever fear a team or dread bowling to a batsman?

I didn’t fear anybody. I was confident of my abilities and confident about the team I was playing in. I enjoyed bowling to class batsmen, the best in the business like Sachin (Tendulkar), Lara (Brian), Dravid (Rahul), VVS (Laxman) and Viru (Sehwag). That was the ultimate challenge. If you can bowl well to them, tie them up, make it tough for them and get them out, then you are going okay. I didn’t fear any condition. Over here in India, the conditions are tough. Sharjah was tough, there was one game in UAE where it was 55 degrees but I still enjoyed bowling.

What makes a pacer a match-winner?

You need to be the bowler your captain depends on. Bowling well in death overs is crucial and that helps you win games for your team. One must relish the pressure moments. It’s crucial to cash in on your good form. For example, at the peak of my powers, I knew exactly how I would bowl two overs. I knew what I was going to do and how I was going to set the batsman up in those 12 balls. And nine times out of 10, I picked up a wicket during that phase. I also quickly worked out that there would be some bad days and nobody is spared. Once you know that, it’s easy to get back from a slump.

The Australia team of the late 90s and early 2000s was so dominant…

It was a pretty good era of Australian cricket. If there was an edge, 99 times of 100 the catch would be taken and for me it was not a bad team to be part of (laughs). We had big personalities and strong characters in our team. They brought out their natural temperament. Cricketers these days don’t allow that side of them to come out and we start wondering who they really are. They aren’t confident to put that out there and it’s a little disappointing. We also set a standard for ourselves. Even when we played a team we thought we could beat easily, we still played with the same aggression and didn’t rest on our laurels.  

Australians are known for mind games…

I think it came by default. I would get a batsman out a couple of times and the media would say McGrath has got his bunny again and I liked that. Growing up, I watched the West Indies of the 70s and 80s and they were incredible. They would get on top of the captain and that had a big impact on the team.

I wouldn’t care about mind games on me. I was confident and if they can beat me in my own game, then good. Our team environment was so good that we knew we could achieve our plans. So we liked making the predictions of 3-0, 5-0 or a World Cup win.

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