Couch Talk 140 (Play)
Guest: Craig McDermott
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Australian fast bowler and currently their bowling coach, Craig McDermott. He talks about the stock of young Aussie quicks, especially James Pattinson, his role in Ben Hilfenhaus’ resurgence as a swing bowler, his playing career and his favourite fast bowler, among other things.
Thanks for doing the show, Craig!
As a fast bowling coach and also a former quick yourself, what is it that you look for in someone that wants to be a fast bowler?
Craig McDermott (CM)– From my point of view, I suppose arm speed and athletic ability, along with the will to want to work hard. If you don’t have those three attributes, you are going to struggle to be a fast bowler.
SJ– Even with those, for someone that wants to move through the ranks, go up the ladder as a Test bowler, there is something that you need in them. What are the things that you are looking in them, in someone that wants to be a Test fast bowler?
CM– I suppose, if you look at a young Test fast bowler, one who comes through our ranks, one who is injured at the moment is James Pattinson. He has got good arm speed, he has got good athletic ability, he loves the contest, he works hard, he has good wrist and can swing the ball both ways, he has good change ups for the short forms of the game as well. He ticks every box that you would want him to. As does Mitchell Starc to a certain degree. There is certainly two of our better younger bowlers coming along, and then you have Josh Hazlewood who could have been on this tour, but tore his side on the Australian A tournament against India. They are three of the younger guys, all in the same age group that I have been working with in the last 5 years. Certainly, they are the guys to look after the mantle, if you want to call it that, after (Mitchell) Johnson, (Peter) Siddle and Ryan Harris disappear from the face of the earth.
SJ– You just mentioned the stock of fast bowlers and it is great to have such depth in fast bowling especially in Test cricket. But, with these players, playing across various formats in various parts of the world, how do you guard against such injuries that has happened to Pattinson and others?
CM– With Pattinson, it was just a growth thing. His body struggled with the rigours of fast bowling. His action needed some rebuilding, I suppose, we rushed him back last year through T20 cricket, which I think was not a good thing for us to do; but we did. This year, we are taking our time with him, testing him every two or three weeks with his counter rotations and lateral flexion measurements. His action has come together really nice, his back foot is totally different form what it used to be. It used to land straight down the wicket, 90 degrees to the back line and now it is parallel to the back line. Everything else lines up beautifully. He is going to come back better than before. He might even come back faster.
SJ– When you first joined the Australian team as a fast bowing coach there was a distinctive change in the approach to fast bowling. There were definite plans to pitching it up and letting the ball swing. It was evident in how Hilfenhaus performed in India, especially. You went away and then have come back now again. What I want to understand is, how does the planning process work within a team for a particular series or a season, the type of bowlers and the position that you have. What is the planning process from bowling coach’s perspective?
CM– I don’t think anything has changed in cricket from WG Grace, to be honest. I think that for me, in Australia, we got away from teaching fast bowlers how to swing a ball and what the right length was to bowl at this level. Our young fast bowlers, everyone who comes out of Sheffield Shield Cricket, bowl too short. It is probably because they bowl a little bit shorter in domestic cricket because they don’t play against better batters. At [international] level, there is more precise hitting of the ball, particularly to both sides of the field, players play the ball later. Your variation on length has to be very minimal. We spend a lot of time on it, with the likes of James Pattinson getting his length right, not just trying to smash the back of length and bowl a ball over the top of off stump.
Sid(dle)’s worked really hard on that when I first became involved with him, because he was a real bash-the-wicket kind of bowler, didn’t swing the ball. He now swings the ball both ways and bowls a fantastic length and is probably one of the most complete right arm fast bowlers in the world. It is a pleasure to work with gifted athletes, who actually want to listen and improve. That is why every time I get up and go to work, I don’t think it is too stressful for me because there are 10-12 blokes who want to be better and are great athletes.
SJ– There is a question from a listener, Betti from Sydney – she wants to know the work that you did with Hilfenhaus. What was it specifically that you did with Hilfy that made him so successful especially during that India series in 2011-12?
CM– I think during that series, two things came up. His front foot placement – he was too close to the stumps. He moved his front foot out and that allowed him to bowl over his front foot, not around his front foot. He used to bowl very round arm-ish, and in that particular series, he bowled the right line, which was through fourth stump which meant his seam position stood up instead of leaning over. If you have the ball leaning on its side, it will slide to middle and off. So, we worked pretty hard on that. The two of those changes came at the lunch time at the Boxing Day Test. It was good that he was on board with the things that we wanted to work on. During that series, he just got better and better. It was a great thing for him to come up with 26 wickets in the series, he bowled very well.
SJ– With regards to Mitch – Mitchell Johnson. he is a completely reborn Mitchell Johnson in how he approaches his bowling, his approach to the crease tec. What have you been working with him?
CM– I think Mitchell has done the work himself. He went away and got his mental side of his game worked out, that was the biggest thing he had to conquer. He got his action slightly high, that was through a lot of very slow drill work. He does that drill work before every nets session. He walks through a few paces and slides slowly back and back to make sure his release point is right. His seam position has to be in the best possible position for the swing to be right. He has got the out-and-out pace for short pitch bowling and reverse around the wicket, in which he has been exceptional.
SJ– Your background is in fast bowling, and you are in charge of spinners as well here. How do you deal with that, how do you coach the spinners?
CM– Certainly I have been on a bit of a learning curve on this as well. i have been working with Muttiah Murali(tharan) for the past two weeks. It has been great to listen to him talk about bowling the ball and the subtleties of variation across the crease and in speed and not so much about technique. I am not so much about technique either. It is like with Mitchell Marsh, whom we are trying to teach him to bowl to three spots on the crease to aim at the batsmen. Once you get to this level, it is not so much about the technical side, it is about the brain ticking over and taking up the challenges an creating challenges for the batsman at the other end, whether it is an off-spinner bowling one wide off the crease and having a release point at different areas so you can have different angles with different spin, scrambled seam and those kind of stuffs. It is making sure that they can get through their repertoires in their own training so that they can feel comfortable delivering in the heat of the battle.
SJ– I want to talk a little bit about your playing career as well. Being a fast bowler is bloody hard work. Who, or what inspired you to become a fast bowler?
CM– I was a fast bowler from the age of 8 or 9. I had the gift to be able to bowl quick and I really loved it and I kept on going. I was a fair athlete, as far as the athletics go – 400m, 400m hurdles, triple jump, that sort of stuff, and not a bad rugby union player either. I loved bowling fast, and I continued on that vein. Obviously, I just kicked a few goals early by getting into Queensland’s shield team at the age of 17 and playing for Australia at the age of 19. I finished early, at the age of 30. I had other things to do. We didn’t get paid a million bucks a year, so I got started my own business career.
Over the last 5-6 years, I put myself back into cricket. I run my own 6 private academies in Australia now. We are looking to further that into education in India and Pakistan in the subcontinent, and hopefully Dubai.
SJ– Fast bowlers, they are said to be hunting in pairs. Waqar (Younis) – Wasim (Akram), (Jeff) Thomson – (Dennis) Lillee, (Courtly) Ambrose – (Courtney) Walsh. Who is the bowler that you felt most comfortable bowling with?
CM– From a fast bowlers’ point of view, I played about 26-28 Tests with Merv Hughes, and I think we got most wickets as an opening partnership than Lillee Thomson did. That is a little bit of trivia for you. I enjoyed playing with Merv. I certainly enjoyed bowling with Warnie at the other end as well. He was obviously attacking and very tight. That was a good partnership. And then, Glenn McGrath, who came towards the end of my career. Those three, and at one stage, Bruce Reid too for a short period of time. Injury took the best of his career away from him. Merv Hughes would certainly be the no.1 though.
SJ– Any specific spell that comes to your mind when you look back on your career where you felt that you were a complete fast bowler, whether in domestic cricket or in Tests?
CM– I think the best I bowled was in the West Indies in 1991. I was bowling fast and swung the ball. I troubled their best batsmen. I hit a few of them, which made me happy. I probably got crossed off a couple of times but I got my own back. It was probably the best I had bowled on wickets that weren’t made for fast bowling. That was certainly a tough series for us as a team and for me, personally, and I thought bowled really well.
SJ– In terms of a fast bowler that you really admired, whether you played with or against, that seemed to be the complete fast bowler?
CM– Curtly Ambrose and Malcolm Marshall and Wasim Akram. Three different sorts of bowlers, and three different heights too. They are the three guys who were at the pinnacle throughout my career. Malcolm was at the start of my career, he always had a lot of time for young fast bowlers in other teams and other countries and taught me a lot. He was a great guy, rest his soul. Certainly, Wasim was a complete bowler, a great swing bowler who swung the ball both ways new and old. Curtly Ambrose was just brilliant.
SJ– You had reserved your best against your old enemy and did really well. Any favourite Ashes memories?
CM– No, not really. My favourite two Tests was when I first got back in to the team in 1990 or 1991, when I got 20 wickets in 2 Tests. That was a nice bit of cream on the cake for me, after being away from the team for 18 months. I worked my arse off to get back into the side and get fit. Also, winning that series and going on to win a game, the Ashes in 1993 in England and 1994-95 in Australia before I retired. That was a good series. I bowled well in 1994-95. I was the man of the series, took a lot of wickets and scored a couple of runs now and then. Yeah, that wasn’t too bad.
SJ– You were sent ahead of the established batsmen in the World Cup final in 1987. Do you believe that you could have done more with the bat?
CM– It would have been nice to get more runs. I was sitting there, trying to hit from ball one, which I tried to and did a little bit. It would have been nice to come off with a few more runs. But, it certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons, for the Poms. There were all sorts of signals and talk going on when I walked through the gate, and I suppose that served the purpose.
SJ– Finally, when you look back on your playing career and now, with Cricket Australia as coach, how do you look back at everything on how it panned out?
CM– I am pretty happy with my career. 291 wickets, that is a nice career. We didn’t play a lot of Test cricket compared to what they do now. Maybe 6-8 Test matches a year. I got through a fair amount. Brett Lee played 79, Dennis Lillee probably around the same, Jason Gillespie played 71 Tests but got 45 wickets less than me. So, I am pretty happy with where I finished up.
SJ– Fantastic. Thanks a lot, mate!
CM– No problem!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman