Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2012

McDermott's vigilance needs emulating

Under the guidance of their pace-bowling coach, Australia's fast bowlers have adopted the simplest of methods and delivered excellent results

Entering the second hour of the morning session, Craig McDermott, Australia's pace-bowling coach, was glimpsed on the boundary's edge at the northern end of the SCG. He was hunched over on bended knee, eyes watchful, body pointing to the pitch. It was not clear whether McDermott was intent on relaying a message to the middle or simply taking notes from behind the wicket, but his presence alone provided Australia's bowlers with a reminder of what they had to do.

In truth James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle were not doing much wrong in the first place, nipping out the hapless Gautam Gambhir and a penitent Rahul Dravid. But too many deliveries had been allowed to pass, and a minor tightening of method was required. Full balls needed to be fuller, off stump threatened more often, and India's batsmen kept guessing by the occasional short ball. Either side of lunch, such a peak of performance was reached, the trio dumping India from 2 for 55 to 6 for 124. Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar all fell during the period, consigning India to a dire first innings on a glorious day.

Amid general dismay at the visitors' spendthrift batting, there was also admiration - just as there had been in Melbourne - for the way the Australian pacemen went about their work. Immense credit for this had to go to McDermott, who has moulded Australia's quicks very much in his image. Against India, it is arguable that this is precisely the method required down under - 20 years ago, McDermott dominated a series won 4-0 over the tourists, plucking 31 wickets by alternating the full and fast with the short and nasty.

Ever since McDermott replaced Troy Cooley as Australia's bowling coach in mid-winter, the fast men have concentrating more or less on this simplest of methods, with increasingly startling results. His appointment was not met with universal approval, and even after South Africa there were sniggers in various places that McDermott was not the man to be mentoring Pat Cummins, Pattinson and the rest. More than once, the phrase "out of his depth" was used.

This muttering has become altogether more scarce since the start of the home summer, as each innings has brought regular wickets for the quicks via the aforementioned means. Pattinson is the bowler to have spent the most time with McDermott since his appointment, and he also happens to be the taker of 24 wickets at 14.45 in seven completed Test innings. Siddle too has improved, gleaning 29 at 24.82 since his recall to the Test side in the third Test in Sri Lanka.

The bare figures do not quite illustrate the improvement wrought from encouraging the Dandenong duo to abandon the shorter length favoured from them in Victoria. More striking evidence can be found with the eyes, and India's second, third and fourth wickets were memorable examples. Dravid drove at a delivery that seamed into him and squeezed a catch to short leg, Sehwag was coaxed into poking at a full delivery and snicked behind, and Laxman pushed out at one bending just enough away from him to take an edge to third slip. This time last summer all three of those deliveries might have been considered too full, the first and third definitely so.

While the batsmen have been tormented by the bouncing, moving ball of full length, the tail have been bounced without mercy. R Ashwin received a Siddle brute in Melbourne after the captain Michael Clarke had pointed sternly at the badge of his cap, and in Sydney the short-leg fielder Ed Cowan was busier than any Australian in the position since David Boon had been for McDermott and Merv Hughes 20 years ago. Simple as McDermott's dictums are, they are not one-dimensional. The short stuff is well-directed, and full-blooded. Nothing is sent down into the halfway zone that promotes the pull and hook shots, instead being higher and sharper rising to prompt flinching and gloves raised in surrender.

Tails are one thing, but perhaps the most salient illustration of the success engendered by McDermott's advice has been the slim scores registered by Laxman so far. For so long Australia's great nemesis, he has batted three times in the series for all of five runs. Twice he has probed at full deliveries and edged into the cordon, and to the third he flicked a full ball from middle stump into the hands of a man placed neatly by Clarke just forward of square leg. In a trice, the mystique of a man who has routinely tormented Australia for more than a decade has been drastically reduced. While it is true that Laxman is older than before, he is also facing more concerted and organised Australian bowling than at virtually any stage of his career. McDermott the bowler, one senses, may have had his measure.

If anything has detracted from Australia's pace regeneration it is the lack of support from the batsmen. While McDermott and his battery have quietly established a modus operandi proven to succeed, their willow-wielding counterparts have indulged in a batting camp yet still managed to slip into trouble in each innings against India. Though the pitches have offered some help in each case, the muddled methods of the batsmen using them have suggested anything but permanence.

History has been littered with batting aristocrats regarding the grey matter of fast bowlers with scant regard, but for the moment McDermott's simplicity is clearly winning out over the cod psychology and pugilism of his batting equivalent Justin Langer. It is to be expected that the team performance manager Pat Howard will be as vigilant about this as McDermott was at the SCG about his bowlers.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahul on January 4, 2012, 17:29 GMT

    @Jordan Frost yes of course i mean like they could have gone for allan donald before NZ got him know he is with his hometeam...if they dont get anyone even Kapil Dev is not a bad option our legendary champion fast bowler

  • Rajaram on January 4, 2012, 9:50 GMT

    This is great news for Australia! Look at our fast bowling stocks now! Peter Siddle,Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins,Trent Copeland,Mitchell Starc,Ben Cutting, Josh Hazelwood, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson! Wow! Thank you, Craig McDermott. What a choice!

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas.. U r very much biased against SRT which makes ur comments none bt fun.. So, it was "his centuries and huge loads of runs" b4 and now the 30s and 40s have become meaningless.. May b, the scores of Dravid in this series were more meaningful for u.. If every batsman(till Dhoni) could score those meaningless 30s r 40s we will very well end up above 300.. If u can't appreciate some1 who is doing better than others, why don't u move out of his way.??

  • Abhishek on January 4, 2012, 4:50 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster- Kapil Dev was turned off from coaching post his disastrous stint as the Indian coach during 1999-2000. Afterwards, he took up the assignment of promoting cricket via BCCI! Another problem is that Kapil was a natural talent, an athlete who went by instinct. For coaching, the detail oriented, process driven people are possibly better.

  • David on January 4, 2012, 1:55 GMT

    I went to the Gabba and saw this line-up demolish NZ. I came to the conclusion that Pattinson is a lot like Ian Bishop: tall, quick and able to bowl fast away-swing with the new ball, but short of tricks after the 25 over mark - and he can't get the bounce from a full length that Bishop could. The comments about his top-order swag of wickets could reflect that limited bag of tricks and his toothlessness when the shine is gone. Siddle is similar to Merv Hughes: quick and aggressive, but not especially good at moving the ball. Meanwhile Hilfy is just an into-the-wind support bowler. But Lyon isn't going to take wickets unless Mitchell Johnson or Starc return to create him some rough outside off-stump. Good attack. Scary on a fast wicket with a new ball. Not particularly suited to English or NZ conditions, let alone the sub-continent. It's only 16 months ago we watched the English Tests where Asif / Amir / Gul / Ajmal was the Pakistan attack - each far better than this lot.

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    Australia's best quick bowlers of the last 20 years (post McDermott and Hughes?) have been McGrath, Gillespie (before his last 10 tests), S Clarke, and recently R Harris. All of them bowled simple nagging lines and lengths that didn't give batsmen breathers. McGrath bowled a shorter length than McDermott asks but he forced batsmen to play every ball.

    This is all that McDermott has gotten the current pacemen to do in recent tests. If you looked at the heat maps of ball placement between last summer and this summer it would be chalk and cheese. And this reflects poorly on both the coaching and captaincy before now.

    In contrast to the above Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson were both 'match winners' who lacked the consistency to maintain their brilliance - their overall records (averages, wickets per test etc.) are poor if you remove the peak 10 test bursts of their careers.

    We can only hope Pattinson, Cummins learn from McGraths consistency and keep hitting the right spots.

  • Roo on January 4, 2012, 0:32 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas... The only time you will ever see 4 fast bowlers in a Oz team would be on very fast bouncy trackes - WACA ground & possibly the Gabba... Not many overseas pitches look that inviting... Also need a batter that is a reasonable spinner - aka Viv Richards... Cummins @ 1 Test & Pattinson playing 4th Test have a way to go - especially Cummins... Still there is a good group of SS bowlers coming through atm... I thought Kohli was as comfortable as Sachin & Dhoni in the 1st innings - he'll get runs... More likely another batter needs a spell... The more I read, you sound less & less like an Indian supporter...

  • H on January 3, 2012, 23:46 GMT

    I hope Zaheer Khan comes back as bowling coach after he retires.

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2012, 23:33 GMT

    What India need to start doing is preparing fair and varying pitches in its first class system so their players can start getting used to playing on bouncy and seaming wickets. On top of that this will also encourage fast bowling and also challenge the batsmen so the best aren't averaging over 60 in first class cricket.

  • wayne on January 3, 2012, 23:12 GMT

    I'm not sure how much the bowling has been influenced by McDermott (he was always kept to the basics as a bowler, which these guys are doing well), but it's good to see them bowling in a pack. You can't help but point to the absence of Johnson as a huge part of the jigsaw. As much as Mitch had those dizzyingly good spells, he lost it sometime in the last 12-18 months and it's hard to maintain pressure from both ends when you spearhead is spraying them at 145km/h. The future of Australian quick bowling is quite rightly in the hands of Pattinson & Cummins (get fit soon, buddy), supported by Siddle and Hilfenhaus, and a bunch of talented domestic kids.

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