Saker's other student prospers
Q: What do the best performing bowlers in England's ODI series against Australia have in common? A: They all count David Saker as a major influence.
Alongside Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and James Anderson, the Australia seamer Clint McKay is a long-time student of Saker's, having spent many a session with him when the former swing bowler was employed by Victoria. McKay said Saker had been a tremendous help to him and was clearly doing great things with England's pacemen, stopping short of wishing for his return home only as it would be impolite to the interim bowling coach, Ali de Winter, to do so.
"I've known David Saker for a long time, he's been fantastic for my career. Being a Victorian, he worked with us for a long period of time and he's fantastic," McKay said. "No wonder the England bowlers are bowling so well at the moment and [have] so many opening bowlers around.
"They're bowling a fuller length, you can see the ball swing, and that's one of his big strengths. He's great at summing up batters and the knowledge of the game, which he seems to have passed on to the English bowlers, and there's no doubt they've gone on in leaps and bounds since he's been involved in the setup.
"But in saying that too we've got a couple of good bowling coaches in Australia, we've got Ali de Winter on this tour, we had Craig McDermott before that and Troy Cooley before him."
While hardly the most fashionable member of the touring ODI squad, McKay has been their most effective by a distance this year, collecting 24 wickets at 24.54 in 15 matches, while conceding 4.65 runs per over. No one other than Shane Watson has conceded fewer runs per over, with Brett Lee and Xavier Doherty the next most frequent wicket-takers at significantly greater cost.
McKay has done all this while bowling at the most difficult times, generally called upon by his captain, Michael Clarke, during the Powerplay overs and also at the close of an innings when batsmen flail most urgently. The public perception is that he is probably the last man picked for Australia in ODIs - the statistical evidence suggests he must be one of the first.
"I love it, it's the best way to be - the less headlines the better," McKay said of his low profile. "You just float, get through, keep doing your job week in, week out and that's what your team needs you to do. I don't worry about the fanfare and all that sort of thing, the young kids can have it. Young James Pattinson loves the limelight and we'll push him forward as much as we can.
"I'm not sure about being comfortable in my spot, as soon as you get into a comfortable position, that's when you can get yourself into trouble. So not only myself but the whole playing group are trying to work hard and get better as individuals and a group to stay No. 1 in the world. That's a big thing for us and we've got to make sure we keep improving, getting better and better so we stay there."
A little less than two years ago, McKay had been Australia's most accomplished limited-overs bowler, in a home series against Sri Lanka, and seemed destined for a critical role at the 2011 World Cup. However a stress fracture of the foot, sustained while playing a Twenty20 match, kept him out for almost a year, and had surgery gone awry there was the chance of it being the end for him. McKay said he reminded himself of his good fortune to be playing at all when he missed out on a Cricket Australia contract last month.
"I knew it was going to be touch and go," he said. "But looking back at where I was 18 months ago I thought I wasn't going to play cricket ever again, let alone play international cricket. I had a bad injury, broke my foot and the surgeon said that if the the bone graft doesn't take then I'd only be able to walk or run in five or six years' time.
"So to be out playing international cricket you take every day as it comes. You take the setbacks, but you bounce back and I try to play as much cricket as I can."
While the likes of Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc jostle for chances to establish themselves, McKay provides a steady counterpoint. He knows he can only keep them out for a little while, but will do his best to help them develop along the way, offering them much of the advice passed down to him by Saker.
"If the young kids jump me then it's great for them and great for Australian cricket," he said. "There's some very exciting names coming through that are going to be superstars, but hopefully I can keep going for a while. Anything I can pass on to them to get to where they need to get to as quick as possible, I'm happy to do that. They're going to be some great players."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here