Couch Talk 156 (Play)
Guest: Nathan Bracken
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Australian bowler, Nathan Bracken. He talks about his career, the epic 438 game vs South Africa, the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, the losses he has filed against Cricket Australia and Australia’s prospect in the 2015 World Cup.
Welcome to the show, Bracks!
Nathan Bracken (NB)– How are you?
SJ– Doing well, thank you so much for being on!
When you look back in your playing career of 5 Tests, 115 ODIs and 67 first class games, do you think that you were able to get the most out of yourself?
NB– When I look back and think what would have happened if it had been this or this or this…but I just got through and say, that I had the opportunity to play Test cricket, ODI cricket and T20 for my country and I enjoyed every minute of it.
SJ– But, were you given all the opportunities to get the most out of yourself?
NB– You are asking what would it be like if I had done this or if I would have liked to have played more Test cricket. But then, I sit there and look at how many ODI games I have played – I thoroughly enjoyed doing that. To me, I found that as a big challenge because you are performing to the best of your ability all the time, on all balls. You can’t afford to be negative and things that you can get away with in the longer form of the game. I understand that Test cricket has its challenges and is often more mental challenge than it can sometimes be a skill challenge.
SJ– Was there a point in your career when you said “Let me focus on ODI cricket more than Tests” for various reasons?
NB– I was not picked in for a couple of series and I started to go down the path, and it became a focus to really push the One Day game and concentrate hard on that, work as hard as I possibly could on it. That probably should have happened after missing out on the South Africa tour. I talked about going to the Test form, and there were a couple of injuries and we should have had 3-4 injuries and still I didn’t get any opportunities then. So, the focus really shifted. When you find one form, your concentration tends to focus to that. So, for me, 2006 season, and probably the Champions Trophy was the first time I pushed well to play this form of the game and concentrated hard on this.
SJ– When you talk about that Test vs ODI….From an outsider point of view, we can see the differences. But, from someone that played both formats and in trying to choose one – how is it different for you as a bowler to focus on an ODI as against Test? If you have to go back and forth, what is the process like?
NB– I enjoyed the shorter forms of the game. I found that Test cricket is a little bit slower and tedious, whereas focusing on the shorter form was something I enjoyed. Switching between the formats – it is about switching to different balls and how things go about. But, the process is very similar. If you are coming back from One Day cricket to first class cricket, your focus changes across and you do thing slightly different, but as a whole I was someone who wanted to swing the ball early and put it in the areas to take wickets. That doesn’t change in any format of the game that you play.
SJ– One of the more epic games that you were a part of was the game in Jo’berg against South Africa, the 434 game, if you ask the Aussies and the 438 game if you ask the South African fans. It is a question from Sriram, a listener – he would like to take us through that match, how Australia batted, what was the thinking in the dressing room during the break, and when you came out and have (Herschelle) Gibbs & (Graeme) Smith going at you?
NB– When you look at that game, you know that they are going to come hard, because they don’t have a choice, and they are going to keep coming because in ODI games you don’t have that many opportunities. You are not going to say, “Ah well, let’s not chase this too fast, just play for a draw.” You have got to go and take the risk. We needed to go all the way. We tried to get the opportunities to get wickets. The biggest way to stop teams from scoring runs is continue to take wickets and that is what we were trying t do. We had opportunities, we missed a couple of bits and pieces here and there. in the end, it probably should have cost us, is the fact that we knew they were going to come hard but some players had in the back of their mind that one more wicket will change it all. Their batters just came and playing well in some way, they kept playing aggressive. They didn’t have a choice to do anything else, they came in and made runs. Suddenly, our total was not big enough.
SJ– And you said that taking wickets would slow down the rate. You did your part. It must be bittersweet for you – you took a five-fer, 5-67, most wickets and the best economy rate in the defense of that total. How did you feel when all those things were transpiring?
NB– I worked hard on what I can do to each player and how to control each situation. It came down to looking at what they were trying to do and setting out on how to combat that. Gibbs, when he is on is an amazing player. AB de Villiers, and other – that is an amazing line of players who can score very, very quickly. For me, it was about controlling that as much as I could, but it wasn’t about being in a negative situation where I would bowl 6 balls and go for one run this over, because I knew that in those six balls someone is going to take the risk of going for a boundary. You deal with every over in trying to get a wicket or try to put pressure on them to get a wicket in the next over. It was all about the result, in a game where we could have come good.
SJ– You had the situation of Mick Lewis. Do you have sympathy for someone like him, someone who comes in, gets bashed around the park and is never to be seen again?
NB– Yeah, of course. You have questions…. Why do you have him bowl 10 overs when it wasn’t his day and a little bit better job could have been done if he had bowled 9 overs and Symonds had bowled one, or if Brett Lee bowled out his ten. You start looking at those questions. I am not the captain, I just do what I am told to.
SJ– Since we are in a World Cup year and we are in the midst of the tournament, I want to talk about the 2015 World Cup. But first, I want to talk about the World Cup you were a part of, a successful one in 2007, in the West Indies. Could you take us through the tournament, the composition of the side itself, the preparations involved and the matches?
NB– When we entered the tournament, we should have come in with formal training and we were quite heavy. We pushed ourselves through some One Day series and we were preparing to head to the World Cup, at the end of the Australian series. We had the results, we lost out to England, we went to New Zealand, a game load that was quite heavy and we didn’t perform as good as we should have and we lost there. But, by the time we got there we were through our games, we often had 2-a-day training sessions and we were training hard. once we got through to the Super-8 stage, it then was then back to the normal training routine and program. We were in a position where all the hard work was done and now only the fine turning was what we had to do. the training period came down a little bit and made it easier to push through the series.
We started off a little bit slow. But we had a good setup against Netherlands and Scotland in the first couple of games and then South Africa. That was a big game for us, an important one after what happened in Johannesburg. We had a good start, Hayden gave us a great total. Like in Johannesburg, they got off to a good start. Then, there was a good run out from Shane Watson from the boundary, and that all of a sudden changed it. that was a game that we grabbed. We had an opportunity and we grabbed it and really played hard to finish it off, and we did.
SJ– Australia had already won in 1999 under dramatic circumstances in the semi-finals, and won the World Cup a against Pakistan in a runaway. In 2003, the same thing, the finals was a runaway. Basically, when you are a 2-time defending champion, was there any kind of pressure and expectation within the team itself? What was John Buchanan’s role there in keeping everybody grounded?
NB– For me, I came off the 2003 WC with the win there but didn’t play. For me that was a driving force. On top of that, we had a few guys who were walking away from the game after the series. It was about building everything from there and gaining momentum. We knew there would be days where as a bowling group some guys would have their days and as the series moved on it would go round and round in circle and we would have our opportunities and chances. It was the same with the batting group. You look at someone like Adam Gilchrist, who didn’t have a big tournament that everyone thought he would, but every time he batted if he missed out he was one game close to that big score and it came in the finals for us. in this approach we knew that players would stand up when needed to. It was different players every time. It wasn’t the same player doing it. it was about different players putting their hand up for good performances.
SJ– That is what is the most remarkable thing about that Australian team – there was always someone good enough to take the game away from the opposition, right from no.1 to no.11 with the ball, bat and the ball. Would you say that was the best ODI team ever?
NB– It is hard to say. The game changed, it is hard to compare different sides to different times and players. You look at these now, and even with the ICC talking about having to look at bat sizes and all those things, things change and you start to think in tough situations and compare sides from 3-4-5-10-15 years apart, because things, techniques, skills and attitudes change. To be a part of the group and the guys we had, the confidence was there that the players would step up and perform when needed. We guys were in the position and were very comfortable because of how they played and went about it, and that made the job a lot easier.
SJ– You mentioned about memories from 2006 motivating you about South Africa. You met them twice – once in first round and once in 2nd semi-finals. You crushed them. When you met them the second time, did you know that you had the wood on them because you just bowled them out for 100-something and chased it with some 20 overs left?
NB– We knew that we had to win games at the back end of the tournament. we knew when we had a tough game we had to scrape out a victory, we had that belief that we could do it. we had that knowing that South Africa hadn’t had the best run in semi-finals or any knock out games, which would put pressure on them, they had a few hiccups in the past. We really used that to draw their momentum out of the game. It was also probably that question on South Africa not being a finisher. With that pressure, awe worked around that and worked as a group. It was important to get on top early and we did that.
SJ– Did you remind them that they don’t have the best record in the knock-outs?
NB- I am sure it was probably discussed before the tour, getting to a couple of players on the field. Being a bowler, most of the time you are at fine leg or 3rd man and you miss out on most of the friendly conversation. A little bit of helpful advice that was given out in the middle by both sides. It is good, when you are batting and you hear the folks at keeper and slips giving you inputs on what little technical things that you need to work on or what is quite not working for you then.
SJ– Coming to the finals itself, vs Sri Lanka- Gilchrist played one of the fines ODI innings ever. Of course, it was rain interrupted. What were your thoughts going into the defence of that total?
NB– When you get runs on the board in the finals, it always makes things easier. There was a good total on the board. We knew we had to start well, when you get in front it makes it hard for them. When you push the run rate up and up every over, it makes it more and more difficult. We got the start we wanted. It was a flat wicket but it was a wicket that suited us a little bit more than it suited them. It had a little bit of bounce and carry, which suited our bowlers more, and we used that to the best we could.
SB– You opened the bowling with Shaun Tait, with the backup of McGrath, Watson and others. Towards the end of it, it became a farce, you thought you had won but you had to go out into the dark again. Could you explain that situation please?
NB- We knew that once so many overs were bowled, it was game over. It goes to Duckworth Lewis method. We knew the score and we knew they were out of it. we knew it was game over. The 3rd umpire was of the same opinion, he knew it was game over. We celebrated the game because we knew results because of something that we should have really pushed to pride ourselves to knowing what was happening and what the rules were. It came down to a discussion, and we were told that we had to come and bowl 4 overs or something. We kept circling around in circles and then decided that we will go out and play it out so we can finish it. They were going to make us come back the next day even-though we didn’t need to. If we were pushed down that path, maybe it would have been that late that night we might have had a call saying that we don’t have to come back, it is game-over. But, we went through that position where they volunteered to come out and play to end it then and there. When you look at it, we got to celebrate a World Cup win twice.
SJ– I was going to ask you that – did it take anything out of your celebration – the stop-start end to the game?
NB– The second one wasn’t probably as good as the first one. But the scenes in the dressing room after it – a win is a win. We had the trophy in the room, to know that it was something that you worked really hard to get – it doesn’t get anything like that at all. The on ground celebrations the second time around wasn’t as exciting, but hey we got the result. The trophy was heading to Australia.
SJ– You were not even 30 yet on that day when you played the finals in Barbados. Two years after that you played your last representative game. that must have been a rude shock for you, to call it a day so soon?
NB– Yes. it wasn’t something that I planned. A knee injury wasn’t something that I had planned. It was difficult to continue. After my third knee operation I bowled for New South Wales and my pace was right down and it was difficult to get out of the front leg. I lost some movement, to this day I lost about 10-12 degrees movement in my front legs. As a bowler that is a massive change to happen at 30 years of age. I was trying to get through it. Once I started to lose movement, the pace dropped. I looked back at the games, looking at the games and results, my pace was dropping. It was half way through the tournament, and the pace was dropping more and more. Towards the end of it, it was a lot of work to get the ball to the other end.
SJ– You had a filed a lawsuit against Cricket Australia for mismanagement of those injuries that you just talked about. where does it stand? What are the ramifications of such actions by a player?
NB– Where it stands is that we are in court in October. Ramifications depends on where it goes. Sporting boards in Australia haven’t until 2017 to have full insurance in their plans. But when you look at it, as sports organizations…for example, my club where I played early in my career, We had insurance, and a player got injured. He was in a game and got injured and the insurance got him covered and made sure it was OK. When you look at top level, there is nothing that a player can do when playing there is injured, to help him through. That has to change. In a sporting organization the players need to feel that they have full confidentiality, they can go and give their heart and soul for the country and team. If you do get hurt in that process, you are looked after and protected. In the moment it comes to the discretion of Cricket Australia to [pay for injured players]. That is something I don’t think is the best. Cricket needs to be something because when you have a lot of players, they push over the limit a lot of time. There is always that chance. It is just looking through the fact that the players need to be looked after and something needs to be put in place so taht the players and family don’t have to go through what I had to go through. Suddenly that is what I am carrying the rest of my life. When I retired I wasn’t that old. I had two kids and running around kicking up soccer ball with my elder sis is something I can’t do. knowing about the knee surgeries, nothing is going to bring opportunities like that back. It is just something where it seems that life will be more difficult now and it is all those things that everybody looks at.
SJ– I want to ask you about the 2015 World Cup. Do you see a fifth World Cup for Australia.
NB– I so. Honestly, they should win it with the players personnel in there. But, then you go back to that question. You are in home, and you have seen it with India- the extra pressure that comes with that. All of a sudden you are in that environment when you are around your home media. The big thing is that you have a great game, like you did in the Caribbean – one of the player has a great game. it is on the paper that day. The next day is forgotten about because someone else is playing and their performance is up. That rolls, when you are a home team, if those performances are up then it is up again….leading into the game in New Zealand, I will talk about Finch hitting 100 in the first game, Marsh getting the wickets he got, how we played and what happened – that will keep rolling. If we have a good result in New Zealand, that will roll through. If we don’t, the same thing will happen – “What happened? Was it the break?” and then the players will be talking all through the week on the radio and on the news – “Is it time to change the tactics, what is the team make-up? Why are we going down suddenly? What is happening here?” that is the extra pressure that you do face. When you are away, you don’t see that, you don’t see what your home media is saying about. You just can’t focus. That is going to be the only issue that I can see.
SJ– Who do you think will face Australia in Melbourne on March 29th, then?
NB– There are 3 teams in contention. New Zealand is playing well at this moment. For them, it would be how well they can hold in the series, if they can continue all the way in the series, no reason why they can’t be there. You are looking also at India. India is India. When they are on, they are the best sides in the world. Many times, you have seen games when they are dead and buried and all of a sudden they come back and have won it. And then you have seen games that they should win it and they haven’t. That is a question mark. If they start to play good cricket and play well, there is a chance. South Africa has great bowling and amazing batters. For them it is just about getting it right. If they get it right, it is them. I pick between those teams and how well they perform to the end of the series. The big thing is the dark horse of this series. The West Indies and the Pakistan, if they get there, on their day they can beat anybody when they are on. you don’t want to be meeting one of them in a quarter finals or a semi-finals because if they have a day out, it can be “Game over, see you later!” We saw Chris Gayle 215. He got to 100 at almost run a ball and then unloaded and got 215 off 147 balls. You know what he can do. if he goes off in a semi final, he might go to the finals and not make a run and West Indies might be bowled out for 120. But, the day they get it right, they will give any team a serious shake. There are the little things that you look out. Cricket is a beautiful game. If you have a day off, they can get you anytime. In these tournaments there is nothing like off days, because if you had one thing go wrong, everything changes very quickly.
On that note, Bracks, thank you so much for spending this morning. I wish you the very best!
NB– Thank you!
Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman