May 29, 2008

Learning from Pigeon

Three bowlers talk about what they've gained from sharing a dressing room with Glenn McGrath

Over the last 40-odd days, the IPL has been cricket's classroom, where just about everyone has benefited from playing with cricketers they had till then only admired from afar. In the Delhi Daredevils side, Glenn McGrath has clearly been the teacher. Three young team-mates, Mohammad Asif, Farveez Maharoof and Yo Mahesh talk about what having him in the side has meant to them.

McGrath: new format, same old formula © AFP

The light-hearted heavyweight
Maharoof It is never easy to approach a new person, but it was easy to gel with McGrath. Off the field he is an amazing guy, joking and making everyone relax. Outside the ring, the kid in him comes alive.

He has been a hero for me, and I've always wanted to be as consistent as him. Lucky to have him, and he is always nice and helpful to share anything about cricket, or life in general.

He is just an icon for the team - the way he reacts, the way he behaves, there's always something to learn from him.

Yo Mahesh He's always friendly. He never makes you feel he is such a star. He is always joking around off the field. That releases all the pressure.

I was a bit reluctant to talk to him when I first met him - I was in awe of him. But as days went by I started to ask him questions -about my bowling, his bowling, preparation ...

Asif I played my first game against Deccan Chargers. I was pretty nervous about playing in front of such a big crowd and with such legends in the team. He was at mid-on and sensed my anxiety, and he came to me and calmed me down and encouraged me throughout that over. That gave me a lot of confidence, a belief that I belonged over there, especially if a guy like McGrath comes up and chats with me.

What they've learned
Maharoof He suggested a few technical adjustments about the variations and the grip when bowling the slow ball. Those should help. I have more control over my slower ball now. Cricket is all about doing the simple things right. If you get the basics right, you will succeed. That's the biggest lesson he has taught me.

Just watching him has been a big learning experience - the way he changes his pace, employs variations, his preparations before a game.

That and all the advice he gave me about cricket and life - he spoke about the importance of taking a break once in a while, considering the stressful lives we lead - will be a treasure.

Yo Mahesh I tend to get excited easily if I take a wicket or if I get hit. What I've learned from McGrath is that in those moments you've got to be really focused on what you're supposed to be doing, rather than thinking about what has happened or what will happen.

Once, I asked him how he prepares the day before the game. He said, "I just want to get a great feel. If I want to bowl here and if I do it, I feel good about it. I'm done for the day. I carry that to the next day for the game." That helped me a lot.

We discussed Aussie batsmen. Guys like Simon Katich move across the crease and make you bowl on the stumps. Effectively, he makes you bowl to his strength. McGrath pointed out that it is better to bowl just outside off stump in such cases. Things like that have helped me read batsmen better.

He will say, "Outside off, he'll leave the ball" and that's what the batsman does. Then he'll say, "Leg-cutter, middle and leg, batsman takes one." And that's what happens! Yo Mahesh

About consistency he said, "I try to keep things very simple as far as bowling is concerned. I don't try much. I understand my own strengths, and I work on them rather than going way beyond myself trying to explore more things." His strength is his bounce - he was never really quick - and he has stuck to that.

He will say he is going to bowl a particular ball, and he goes and does that exactly. He will say, "Outside off, he'll leave the ball" and that's what the batsman does. Then he'll say, "Leg-cutter, middle and leg, batsman takes one." And that's what happens!

Asif He told me to hit the seam and that the bounce should come from the surface - that's what the batsman is bothered by more than anything else.

Like he was never away
Maharoof On the field he gives 100%. I had heard that about him but it was still surprising to see. He is 37 and most of us are in our twenties, but still we never felt the age difference.

The first two games, he bowled right on the spot. It spoke volumes: this guy has been out for a year but is still so accurate. Normally a bowler who has been out for a while would tend to find it difficult to pitch it right, but this guy proved his star value. And this despite the fact that he said he wasn't 100%!

Yo Mahesh When I saw him pitch his first ball perfectly I realised what a legend he is. It does not seem like he has retired from international cricket. In the nets he is very consistent with what he does, always pitching the ball in the right areas.

He is a class apart from other bowlers when it comes to bowling with the new ball in Twenty20. You see how many opening bowlers have been clobbered, and how he has mostly remained untouched. He reads the pitch early, in terms of what length to bowl.

Asif Glenn has been in a different class and he has maintained that always. He bowls as if there is no pressure, and he keeps it simple, even in a game like Twenty20 where the bowlers are always under pressure due to the short boundaries and batsmen attacking them. Glenn has managed to put pressure on the batsmen.

He is always open to talking. He asked me about subcontinental conditions, trying to understand the wickets here so he could bowl better on them.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo