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Craig McDermott: The man behind Australia’s pace bowling resurgence in Ashes 2013-14

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(From left) Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, coach Craig McDermott, Nathan Lyon and Ryan Harris pose after Australia regained the Ashes after winning the third Test at Perth  © Getty Images

 

Craig McDermott’s appointment as Australia’s bowling coach has fostered a sea change in their approach. Bharath Ramaraj explores McDermott’s tried and tested formula that has paved the way for the remarkable turnaround by the Australian pacers during the Ashes 2013-14.

When Australia’s spearhead Craig McDermott bowled at the peak of his prowess with arcane subtleties,  it was crystal clear that he pitched it up and drew the batsmen forward on a fourth stump line to catch the edge off the bat. It helped him to take nearly 300 wickets in his distinguished Test career. However, when he took over as the bowling coach of Australian setup in 2011, long after he retired, the pacers were bowling back of a length more on a fifth stump channel to play a game of patience.

The flawed strategy cost Australia the Ashes 2010-11. Ben Hilfenhaus was especially guilty of bowling negative lines. English pacers did more with the ball and pitched it up to invite the batsmen forward during that Test series. Under McDermott though, it changed drastically, as during the first series under his tenure in Sri Lanka in 2011, there was a noticeable change in Australia’s modus operandi.  They tempted the batsmen to come forward and took a slew of wickets to help them script a famous Test series win in the subcontinent.

Incidentally, when McDermott was reappointed as the bowling coach before the recently concluded Ashes series, Australian bowlers again relentlessly pitched it up and played an attacking brand of cricket. They also gave a taste of chin music to the English tail enders. Curiously, the English bowlers, who bowled incisively in 2010-11, suddenly started to follow in the footsteps of the Australians of 2010-11 by hitting a shorter length.

In fact, modern cricket has largely been a game of patience. It is a theory that works well, if the opposition batsmen are prepared to take risks. But when a batsman is prepared to back his judgment outside the off-stump, the tactic doesn’t work on most occasions.  Yes, when the opposition is on top, one has to play the game of patience, but wasting a new red cherry in hand by banging it into the pitch for the ball to lose its shine quickly doesn’t seem to make much sense to the writer.

In the Ashes series, Ryan Harris in particular, bowled a beautiful length to tempt the batsmen forward to drive. Peter Siddle too bowled a teasing line to Kevin Pietersen and troubled him all the time. Mitchell Johnson was more used as a battering ram of the team. But even he bowled a fuller length compared to English pacers. The trio also did bend their backs while digging it short and got it high enough and outside the off-stump to make life more difficult for the batsmen. These were the traits that worked for McDermott throughout his Test career. Even in his final Test series against Sri Lanka in 1995-96, McDermott, who well past his best, stuck to his tried and tested formula of pitching it on a fuller length and using the short delivery as a surprise element.

Test matches are won by taking 20 wickets.  McDermott, as the bowling coach has certainly been the fulcrum of the high octane performances delivered by Australians in the Ashes 2013-14.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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