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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Stuart MacGill

'Wake me when it's time to bowl'

The 41-year-old legspinner is still fascinated by his craft and knows he can still get the job done. As long as he doesn't actually have to watch too much cricket

Interview by Faraz Sarwat

May 24, 2012

Comments: 49 | Text size: A | A

Stuart MacGill is borne aloft as he exits the Test arena for the last time, West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Antigua, June 3, 2008
"I would have loved to have played 100 Test matches. I think my life would be a little different if I had" © Getty Images
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I like that when you look at the number of Tests I took to get to 200 wickets, it was relatively fast, but then in time it was ten years. I kind of like that. I think that's fun.

Shane Warne and I very rarely played together when we were both at our peak. A lot of the time when Shane and I played together, he was either injured or coming back from injury or going into injury. When we did, it was pretty formidable.

Like most kids growing up in Australia in the '70s, I wanted to bowl fast like Dennis Lillee, and I certainly tried to be a fast bowler. Dennis was a friend of the family's and I just enjoyed watching him play and I wanted to be him.

John Buchanan was of the opinion that economy rates won you one-day cricket. I still disagree with that. I think if you take ten wickets in a one-day match, you win the game.

Everybody knows I like reading. My new job is in advertising, and reading is now my living.

Everybody always talks about Muralitharan, but he very rarely got the wickets that Shane and I got in the same environment. He's a very good bowler, his record will probably never be beaten, but you can only judge people when they are playing in the same environment, and I remember very well that Shane completely outbowled him on a tour of Sri Lanka.

Shield cricket in the '90s and 2000s was tough, but it wasn't more competitive than international cricket. You had guys like Jamie Siddons, Stuart Law, Darren Lehmann, Michael Kasprowicz and Andy Bichel playing for their states. There were some amazing players. Jamie Siddons didn't play a Test match and he was a ridiculously good player.

I'm very disappointed I didn't get a chance in the IPL. I know that I can still take wickets and I know I don't like playing cricket if I don't. I only want to take wickets, so from a team's point of view, I'm a pretty handy acquisition.

My dad bowled legspin, so I tried to bowl spin as well as bowl fast. I did both until I was about ten years old. I realised I wasn't a very good fast bowler, so from then on I was bowling spin all the time, and I really enjoyed doing what my dad did.

I don't really like watching cricket. I quite like sitting in a corner with a book. It relaxes me. I think you get very tired watching cricket on a cricket tour. Sitting and reading a book is like being on a holiday. Wake me when it's time to bowl.

There are a number of us who still rate the '98 tour to Pakistan as our favourite. I've been to Pakistan twice - I went with an A team as well.

The hardest batsman to bowl to for a spinner was Brian Lara. There's no spin bowler in the world who hasn't been smashed by him. In Shield cricket it was Darren Lehmann and Michael Bevan. Lehmann was the best player of spin in Australia by a long way. Bevan wasn't too far behind. Lehmann would try to hit you from ball one, really hard. As far as right-handers go, VVS Laxman was right up there.

 
 
"I don't really like watching cricket. I quite like sitting in a corner with a book. Sitting and reading a book is like being on a holiday"
 

Warne and I are both prepared to say that we weren't the biggest fans of Buchanan. You only need to look at New Zealand's experience recently to know that there aren't very many environments that he's worked in that have been successful. I think he was gifted the best team of all time when he was coach of Australia.

When I got my best innings figures in Tests (8 for 108), I didn't come on to bowl until they were almost 200. People say it was against Bangladesh and it doesn't really matter, but they were none-for when I came on to bowl, so it was quite a satisfying haul of wickets.

In Pakistan, we found the people are incredibly friendly. It's clean, the structure is good, the food is good. When you consider that culturally our two countries are so different, we got along with everyone so well and we were looked after so well. I don't like Westerners saying, "Oh, we shouldn't go there", because they don't understand and they don't know how good it is.

The whole Big Bash Twenty20 experience, for me, was up there with some of the best experiences of my life, because we won though we were tipped to finish second-last.

I think I would have been a good ODI player for Australia. But once again if I look at my ODI career, I only played three games but I got six wickets.

Everybody always says that the Australia versus Rest of World game was a farce because the world team didn't try and all that sort of stuff. I know Shane has this opinion too, that he and I bowled really well, and it was no surprise to us that we won the game comprehensively.

Murali was a great bowler but Shane was special in Australian conditions, when you consider that we don't have Asian spin-bowling conditions. Shane was very good - his control was ridiculous.

Dad played a few games for Western Australia, and it was cool to do what he did.

When I started playing first-grade cricket for my club, I looked at [getting] five wickets a game. When I started playing, the most anyone got, when I first looked, was 5.25 wickets per Test. And I thought, "Right, I'm going to go for five", and I ended up getting just under that. That was a really cool thing for me.

I would have loved to have played 100 Test matches. I think my life would be a little different if I had, but if you look at the game historically, 44 Tests is plenty. Forty-four Tests and 200 wickets - I'm very happy with that.

As a spinner, if you're going to get hit in Twenty20, you've got to balance that with a strike rate that's decent. There's no point getting smacked around if you're not taking any wickets. That's the trade-off.

With Sachin Tendulkar, you were very hard-pressed to find an opening, but he didn't really ever get away from me. He made a 200 somewhere, but he occupied the crease, whereas Lara and Laxman would try to smash you and invariably get away with it.

It was actually 17 books, not 24 books that I read on the tour of Pakistan. I've changed it a number of times.

I do consumer insights for an advertising agency. It's quite good fun and sort of like being in university again. They've been very good to me. They let me take six weeks off over the summer for the Big Bash and they let me come here [Toronto].

I find T20 cricket pretty easy for a bowler, provided you don't get upset. It's great for older players. You know that if you get hit for six, it doesn't matter. The batsman's trying to hit you for six every ball, so if you bowl a dot, it's a win.


Stuart MacGill, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori at a press conference before the Super Series, October 2005
You no match for us, boys © Getty Images
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I enjoyed playing with Warne, and I think it's very difficult for spin bowlers now because they don't get to compare themselves with him. They can only compare themselves with his stats and that's not something they can win. I'm very lucky to have played with him.

There was no question about me playing for another club. If Stuart Clark, the general manager of the Sydney Sixers, hadn't managed to find a spot for me, I wouldn't have played in the Big Bash.

I'm very disappointed at not playing many ODIs. Until recently I was the leading wicket-taker of all time in domestic one-day cricket in Australia. I did very, very well for New South Wales. I got lots of four- and five-wickets hauls. New South Wales won a lot of one-day tournaments - they may have even won five during my career.

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures

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Posted by   on (May 25, 2012, 14:04 GMT)

very interesting interview Stuart's strike rate tells you that he could have been among the best of the bests And I really appreciate him for putting good words for Pakistan. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole interview.

Posted by Moppa on (May 25, 2012, 9:53 GMT)

Had to dig up some stats to fuel the debate. The fairest comparison of Warne and Murali is looking at their stats against all opponents other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (for obvious reasons - @jonathanjosephs, you're kidding, right?!) and Australia/Sri Lanka (because Warne didn't bowl to Ponting and Murali didn't bowl to Jayawardene etc). And the numbers say it was pretty close with Murali slightly ahead: Warne 626 wkts at 25.5, Murali 565 wkts at 23.7. Very similar strike rates, with Murali obviously taking more wickets per test due to lack of support. Incidentally, same stats in ODI (Namibia etc also excluded): Murali 355 wkts at 25.0 (econ 3.98), Warne 233 wkts at 26.4 (econ 4.26). Overall, two handy bowlers. I'm prepared to pay the win to Murali on stats and Warne on flair/impact (good and bad) on the game.

Posted by KK47 on (May 25, 2012, 8:40 GMT)

@Meety: My observations abt McGrath was that he took MORE wickets on friendly conditions in Eng/Aus but I don't argue his greatness. He was one of the best modern bowlers. There has been some very valid points from SeamingWicket and D.S.Wijesiriwardena abt Murali. When you look back at the kind of legacy leftover these 2 greats, its a no-brainer on whom you would pick. Murali's on and off field behavior has been impeccable. He had to carry SL's hopes for more than a decade almost entirely on his shoulders. Add to that unfair criticism on his action throughout his career, more so by ppl like Holding and Botham (ironically both are Cricinfo's 'Legends of the game' selectors!) but Murali has kept his head high though all this and kept on performing year after year. Undoubtedly he will be the person who will never 'fade from memory'

Posted by Shams on (May 25, 2012, 8:13 GMT)

@Mozenrath Tabaqi Anil Kumble himself rated Brian Lara as the best opposition batsman to bowl to (of course he didn't bowl against Indian batsmen) and the biggest challenge :P

Posted by   on (May 25, 2012, 6:07 GMT)

BC Lara NEVER smashed Anil Kumble.Someone tell Macgill. Another thing Macgill bowled to SRT in 2004 when SRT had flurry of injuries affecting his strokeplay. He only came back to his old self again in 2007-08 ironically in Aus.

Posted by Sandeep.M.J.D on (May 25, 2012, 3:31 GMT)

Hats off to those who rated Murali over Warne. I cant believe it if someone thinks that way.

Posted by Meety on (May 25, 2012, 1:14 GMT)

@DS Wijesiriwardena - you are more than entitled to your views. I will pick you up on a comment though "...But it's the minority like Mr. McGill who think warne was any better.." in actual fact the majority of cricket experts (by a long way), voted Warney into the Team of the Century. The articles on this very site, (click on Features & there is a link). The panel consisted of 12 people of which FIVE were of Asian origins. ALL TWELVE voters put Warne in the World XI. Only Sobers & Bradman were regarded as highly. At the end of the day, when you have two greats like Murali & Warne - it's splitting hairs over who was better. BTW - EVERY year, Wisden selects the top 5 cricketers of the year, with emphasis on the County season. Warne was (like Murali) also selected as a Wisden top 5. On the topic of bowling on 1st day v last day - Warne clearly was better in 1st inn (ave 27 v 32) & (S/R 58 v 68). On 4th inn Murali was better (ave 21 v23) & (S/R 50 v 54).

Posted by Meety on (May 25, 2012, 0:18 GMT)

@johnathonjosephs - I would say that over the last 15 years, SL have had a very good batting line up. I understand the points you make, although saying The Don "only" played against one team is not well worded, (fairly sure you don't mean that literally). Keep in mind England was the "centre" of cricket in those days - so The Don's runs were almost entirely scored against THE BEST opposition in the world at the time, which is more than what we can say for any of the modern greats of the last 20yrs. Lillee toured the sub-continent rarely & it is fairly open to some debate as to how that affects his true greatness. The fact is many Sachin fans do trash the Bradman legacy to make SRT look better, & that is 60yrs after The Don last played. @Jared Hansen - I think fielding was the main thing that held Stuey back in ODIs. He was more successful than anyone else domestically in Oz as a List A bowler, but he would have to be "hidden" in ODIs in the field (IMO).

Posted by Meety on (May 25, 2012, 0:07 GMT)

@jevans90 - very good point. Slightly off topic, I rate Kaneria as a near great leggie, imagine what his stats would of been like if he didn't have Akmal stuffing up every 2nd chance he created!!!!! You have mentioned a very significant advantage Warne did have. Matty Hayden was a great slipper to spinners, Mark Taylor & Mark Waugh & AB were all time great slippers & Punter & Boonie up close was massive pressure. @smudgeon - I love MacGilla the person more than Warney actually. I like how he is a bit of a man apart, sort of of the same reason I like Swann. I have long believed that Oz's dip in the rankings was primarily due to MacGill not being able to carry on for the 3 yrs after Warne retired. I think we would of won the 09 Ashes with him. @popcorn - do you know if they've been asked?

Posted by   on (May 24, 2012, 23:40 GMT)

@Chris_P While Warne was a great bowler no one denies the fact that what Murali did for SL cricket and world cricket will ever be forgotten. You might like him to fade away into history but ain't gonna happen. Look at the man. Can you even compare warne's behaviour outside of the field to Muralis? Who do you think is a sporting idol? Comparing their onfield performances are fun. But it's the minority like Mr. McGill who think warne was any better. Mind you this coming from one of Warne's mates. What else was he supposed to say right. Someone mentioned the wisden top 5. Do you realize that Murali was selected the bowler of the century by wisden?

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