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AUSTRALIA V INDIA TESTS

McGrath's memo for Aussie quicks

08 February 2017
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The metronomic quick with an unparalleled record in India has some advice for Australia's fast-bowlers

About the Writer:
 @ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

Glenn McGrath, the former Test seamer with an unparalleled record in India, has a simple message for Australia's fast bowlers about to head to the sub-continent – get mean.

Not as in confrontational and combative with the opposition, but in jealously making sure they give away nothing other than an unswerving commitment to task and buckets of sweat.

McGrath, a key member of the 2004 touring party that was the last Australia Test team to win a series in India, boasts the record to back up his assertions.

No bowler in the past 20 years – pace or spin, local or visiting – to have taken 10 Test wickets or more in India has done so at a lower average than McGrath's 31 at 19.90 from seven matches on cricket's toughest proving ground.

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His economy rate of 2.22 runs per over is topped only by India's incumbent left-arm spin threat Ravindra Jadeja (2.14) and former South Africa quick Shaun Pollock (2.18) over that same period.

And his strike rate of a wicket every nine overs (or marginally less) is superior to Jadaeja's, as well as to legendary India spinners of the recent past Anil Kumble (the current India coach) and Harbhajan Singh.

So when McGrath outlines what's needed for Australia's seamers – led by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood with likely back-up from Jackson Bird and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh – it's essential food for thought.

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In a recent one-on-one interview with cricket.com.au, McGrath explained how his bowling philosophy and game plan changed when he switched from the fast, true pitches of Australia to the dry, slow decks of the Indian sub-continent.

It echoed themes articulated recently by McGrath's teammates on that 2004 tour, his new-ball partner Jason Gillespie and stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist.

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At home, Australia's most successful pace bowler (563 Test wickets) could afford to push hard for wickets and place most of his fielders in attacking roles with very few on the leg side.

His ability to keep the ball in the 'channel' around off stump, coupled with the consistent pace and bounce of Australia's pitches meant he kept probing until batters invariably made mistakes.

"People say I was not an over-attacking bowler, or a defensive bowler – to an extent that was probably right but it meant I could have really aggressive field placements (in Australia) and that's how I looked to take wickets," McGrath revealed.

"In the sub-continent, you don't have that bounce, you don't have that seam, you don't have that carry.

"Okay, how are we going to take wickets?

"The new ball will still carry through quite well, so you're looking to take wickets caught in the slips, caught behind with the new ball.

"Then you go through a patch when the ball really does nothing – it's not carrying through, it's not reverse swinging, so then you really have to dot it up (stop the scoring).

"Give them no easy runs, bring in maybe a short mid-wicket, a short cover and just ring the field up.

"Work on the ball, the wicket's going to be abrasive and after a while it will go reverse swing.

"As soon as that ball starts reverse swinging, it's a little bit more in favour of the bowler and you can attack a bit more.

"And be prepared to bowl long spells, build pressure and look to take wickets that way.

"So that's my mindset in the sub-continent."

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Another element that McGrath sees as crucial for Australia ending a decade-long drought in which they have failed to win a Test in India – with a solitary Test victory across all Asia in that time – is an ability to adapt to local conditions.

Not just the stifling heat, humidity and fanatical local crowd support, but the more specifically the nuances of individual venues where the ideal 'negative' length for seamers can vary incrementally from pitch to pitch.

It's a subtle variation, but one that the 46-year-old – who heads up the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai which tutors up and coming Indian fast bowlers – believes is fundamental to achieving success on Test cricket's toughest tour.

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"Ninety nine times out of a hundred it's still hitting the deck, hitting the top of off stump," McGrath said of the 'secret' to bowling in India.

"A lot of people think that must be easy, but it's a slightly different length on every wicket.

"There's not going to be two wickets where it's just the same length, so you have to adjust to the conditions and that's where I felt I could adjust quite well."

McGrath celebrates the prized scalp of Sachin Tendulkar in 2004 // Getty
McGrath celebrates the prized scalp of Sachin Tendulkar in 2004 // Getty

McGrath identified Starc as Australia's bowling trump card because of his capacity to bowl around 150km/h and above, the full length he can utilise to draw batters into false strokes and his ability to swing the ball whether it be conventional (when new) or old (once it becomes worn).

He also expects Starc's new-ball partner Hazlewood, Australia's leading wicket taker of the Commonwealth Bank Test summer recently completed, to provide an ideal foil.

Provided the 26-year-old sticks to his strength and does not go searching for movement in the air and off the pitch, as he did to his detriment in the UK during Australia's failed 2015 Ashes campaign.

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"(Hazlewood is) tall, strong, and hits good areas," McGrath said.

"As long as he keeps bowling good areas and working on that bounce.

"I think sometimes he's working on swing rather than bounce and getting that carry through.

"Once he really settles down and gets to know his game back to front I think he'll be really good."

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As a craftsman who meticulously plotted and executed the downfall of some of the best batters of the modern era, McGrath also has some thoughts on how Australia's top-order might try and turn around their recent dire form in Asian conditions.

Indeed, it's shortcomings in the batting rather than glaring deficiencies in the bowling attack that the inaugural Allan Border Medallist (in 2000) cites as the principal reason for Australia's repeated failures on sub-continent style pitches.

Most recently in Sri Lanka last year, where Steve Smith's team was humbled 0-3 by a Sri Lankan outfit then ranked seventh out of 10 Test-playing nations.

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"Our batsmen have been more the issue in the sub-continent, they don't know whether to attack or to defend," McGrath assessed.

"At times they look like they over-attack, and at times they look like they over-defend – there's no in-between.

"In Sri Lanka, it just seemed that they went really hard or they just closed up shop.

"And they tried different things but it didn't work, so they have to come up with a plan of 'okay, what shots are we going to play to keep the score rotating'.

"You still have to look at ways to score, and to have the intent of scoring, and I think (former Test opener) Matty Hayden was the perfect example.

"He didn't do as well as he would have liked in the sub-continent when he first started, didn't really have a sweep shot.

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"(But) he developed a very good sweep shot and became a great sweeper, all of a sudden he had a weapon that he would use against their bowlers and did exceptionally well in the sub-continent.

"I don't see too many of our batsmen sweeping any more.

"I noticed when I was commentating for the Matador BBQs (One-Day) Cup that there wasn't many guys playing sweep shots.

"I'd like to see guys in the team develop that shot like Matty Hayden did.

"So they need to come up with a plan.

"At the moment, it's like the plans they are using aren't working or I'm not sure what the plan is."

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