October 4, 2000

Natural Born Killer - Glenn McGrath's New Road

They might be in the Second Division but Worcestershire's members have reason to be happy, for Glenn McGrath is arguably the world's best bowler and for two years he will be all theirs

They might be in the Second Division but Worcestershire's members have reason to be happy, for Glenn McGrath is arguably the world's best bowler and for two years he will be all theirs. Any fears that he might have coasted the English season were soon dismissed: he even played in the university game to assist his rhythm. Articulate, polite and universally popular, his on-field character is a far more menacing proposition. George Dobell met him...

Why Worcestershire?
I was pretty keen that it shouldn't be an urban area. I've always loved the English countryside and I think the Worcester ground, with its view of the cathedral, is one of the most beautiful in the country. My wife was from the area originally, too.

Were you concerned about the lack of pace in the pitch at Worcester?
I didn't have any preconceived ideas about how it was going to be, but you're right, it is very slow. I'm told it's been particularly wet this summer, and that the place floods in the winter, but it would be nice to have quicker pitches. To be honest, 90 per cent of the pitches in England seem to be slow and low.

Was there any opposition from the ACB to you playing county cricket?
There was a bit of pressure put on me. I don't think they were too keen to see me or `Warnie' come over. Eventually there was a clause put into my contract to cover them in case I injured myself.

Have you adjusted your game to suit the English conditions?
I'm trying not to. I don't want to change my game, then go home and find I can't bowl over there any more. I've started to swing the ball a bit which is weird. What I'm good at is hitting the deck hard, but there have been days when I couldn't get the ball up to chest level.

Have you seen any good young players here that we should all look out for?
No one has jumped out. But it's early days.

Is there more talent in Australia?
Australian cricket is so strong at the moment that I think we could put out two competitive teams.

Do we have enough talent here to compete with you?
I think so. I'm not sure that's the problem anyway. When I look at your Test team I see a very talented group of players. Maybe you don't always get the best out of them. I think the pitches are the biggest problem. There just aren't any wickets like these in Test cricket. If you're used to playing on these slow surfaces and you get one with bounce and pace, it's pretty obvious you're going to start nicking some catches to the slips.

I suppose the argument is that we are playing to our strengths. These pitches act as levellers of talent. Well they keep the average player in the game, yes. That's fine until you tour, and then you're in trouble. I think the whole of English cricket would benefit from better pitches. It would be more like a Test match, and more competitive. The pitches elsewhere will not move around a bit for the little medium-pacers and the batsmen will not be used to the pace. We've only played on a couple of good cricket pitches. The tracks at Trent Bridge and Taunton seem a bit better, but on others it's hardly worth me even trying to bowl a bouncer. I don't think that's good for the game. People want to see runs and good shots, and that means hard, quick pitches.

Do you think that we play too much?
A little bit. Perhaps it's hard to stay fresh and fully fit if you play so much. I guess the other thing is that in Australia we may be more mentally keen and `up' for each game.

Has motivation been any trouble?
No, I'm enjoying it far more than I thought I would. It's broadened my perspective.

You were fast-tracked into the Test team very early weren't you?
I was. In fact, by the end of this season I'll probably have played more games for Worcestershire than I have for my state. I was picked for Australia after six games for New South Wales. I've still only played 18 or 19 Sheffield Shield (Pura Milk Cup) games, and six limited-overs games for them.

You did not play much as a teenager?
That's right. The local captain of the Under-16s never let me bowl. He just didn't rate me. I was 19 before I started playing more than weekend cricket.

You come from a tough background: a very rural farm, no facilities, no coaching. Do you think that made you more determined to succeed?
I am naturally competitive and hungry for success. I guess that must come from my background. I reckon I'm quite lucky though, as I was able to develop a pretty natural action. If I'd been coached they probably would have tried to make me bowl more side-on, and I'd probably have bowled too many overs at a young age.

You were coached by Dennis Lillee at the Academy. What sort of things did you learn?
I did a little bit with Dennis - he showed me a few technical things. Rod Marsh was the coach. He taught us about the mental aspect of the game, and the off-field side, such as dealing with the media.

Who were your peers at the Academy?
Ricky Ponting, Murray Goodwin and Justin Langer, among others. Good players.

Tell me about the bet in the dressing-room about you scoring a first-class 50?
That's a bet between Mark Waugh and Shane Warne. Warnie reckoned I'd get a 50, and they bet A$1,000 on it. I got to 39 in the West Indies quite recently, and then against Nottinghamshire I made a career-best 55.

Do you practise your batting much?
I do practise a bit. It's tough, though, because in the Australian team I only get to bat about once a month. I'd like to see how some of the batters did if it was the same for them.

Do you make a point of targeting players in the opposition?
Yes, I'm happy to make that clear before the series starts. Brian Lara and Michael Atherton are both key players for their teams. Although I'm always trying, it's natural that you go up a notch when you're up against the very best.

Is there anyone that you do not like bowling to?
No, I'd back myself against anyone.

You have a reputation as a sledger, too.
Fast bowling is an aggressive business.

Is it real or do you put it on to intimidate?
It's not put on. I just play hard. I'm usually talking to myself actually. I try to get myself going. Occasionally I'll have a go at a batsman, especially if I think it might unsettle them, but on the whole more is made of it than is fair. It looks bad on television but really I'm talking to myself. All teams do it anyway, and they always have done, but because the Australians have a bit of a reputation, the cameras always focus on us. The important thing is to leave it out on the field. I haven't done much sledging over here anyway, because you can hardly follow it up with a bouncer that barely gets to hip height!

All those stories about the Australian team drinking 50 cans of lager on the flight over to England; are they true?
Apparently, yes. It does not happen any more though. The itinerary is so busy now you're always playing in a couple of days, and with the competition for places you just can't afford it.

It was 3-2 in the last Ashes series in England. Have you seen enough to make you panic about next time?
No, I don't think so. I think 3-1, or even 4-1, would have been a more realistic reflection of the series. We were outplayed in the First Test, no question about it, but then we won three in a row. I only took two wickets in that first game, but 34 in the next five Tests so perhaps I hadn't found my length. We were bowled out for about 100 in the last one when we really had it in the bag. I don't think that will happen again. We were still trying to win but perhaps, because the series was won, we relaxed a little at the wrong time.

England won the one-day series too. Ben Hollioake made a brilliant debut, hitting you back over your head, and looking like a real prospect. He played all right. He had nothing to lose, and just backed himself. It wasn't quite the same in the Tests though. I think we took some time to adjust to the conditions and didn't bowl very well to him. Abdur Razzaq hit me for 61 in five overs recently; you have these days.

We are used to Australians successfully coming over as overseas players. Does it help them to gain Test recognition?
I don't know. I guess there is a view that it's a bit easier over here.

Why are Australia so strong at the moment?
I think the big thing is attitude. We back ourselves and each other. Our next aim is to break the record West Indies set of 11 Test wins in a row, so we've got to win our next two matches. Obviously winning the World Cup was a great achievement, particularly the way we recovered from a poor start to the tournament. I thought the cricket we played in the Final was close to perfect. We're a well rounded team too, with strengths in different areas. Brett Lee coming along has filled a missing link really, and that was an absence of out-and-out pace.

You would not put yourself in that category?
No, not me. `Dizzy' Gillespie maybe, but he's been injured for a while.

Do you worry about injury? The strains that Shoaib Akthar put himself under appear to have taken their toll.
I've been pretty lucky. My back and legs have stood up well, and I guess that's due to having a fairly easy, natural action. I don't go for that sort of speed either. It's important to bowl with some pace, but I want to have a quicker ball and a slower ball. Shoaib's whole aim has been to be the quickest bowler in the world. Mine is to be the best.

What are your plans after you finish playing? Any chance of you settling in England one day?
I don't plan on spending a winter here - the summers are cold enough! It's funny, I live a few miles out of Worcester and people think of it as countryside, but at home it's 160km to the nearest shop. I haven't thought too much about life after cricket. I reckon I've got quite a few more years left in me. I can't really see me coaching or anything like that. Maybe farming. I've some cattle and sheep in the bush, but my wife tells me that if I go to live there it'll be on my own, so who knows?