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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Graham McKenzie

'Some people said I was too nice to be a fast bowler'

Graham McKenzie didn't sledge, though he bowled pretty fast. He talks of life on tour and as a county cricketer

Interview by Brydon Coverdale

July 18, 2012

Comments: 11 | Text size: A | A

Graham McKenzie bowls in the nets
Graham McKenzie: generated plenty of pace with his body and shoulders © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Graham McKenzie
Teams: Australia

I wasn't specifically taught my bowling action. I saw Ray Lindwall a couple of times when I was a youngster. I couldn't watch him on TV but I saw him at the WACA a couple of times and always envisaged that I was probably a bit like him.

Playing for Australia wasn't something that a Western Australian achieved so often.

County cricket was a different world. You didn't earn any money in Australia. I liked it in England. It was a good lifestyle. I was single and had no ties, but it probably didn't help having to bowl all winter and then come back. It wasn't like now. There wasn't a lot of money if you played in Tests.

Three of the best batsmen I bowled to were Garry Sobers and Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock. They were the ones that could really take you on.

Some people said I was too nice to be a fast bowler. Nowadays they build them up to hate the batsman. That wasn't in my nature. Sledging wasn't part of it. There was just the odd player who used to annoy you.

I played against Frank Worrell for Western Australia against West Indies in Perth at the beginning of the 1960-61 tour. He must have been impressed by me because he kept mentioning me in newspaper articles throughout that tour. Then I was picked at the end of that season to go to England.

India was quite a difficult place. We were pretty jaded after three months in India in 1969-70. It was a pretty hard tour. It's much easier now.

It was quite hard when I finished. Your friends are in their mid-30s and they're pretty established in their jobs, and all of a sudden you don't have any job - you had to start afresh and you didn't have a lot behind you.

The West Indies was really interesting. I enjoyed playing there.

One of my regrets was that I didn't get picked in the 1972 team when I was playing really well. I was really looking forward to knowing that there was also Dennis Lillee and Bob Massie. I'd had a Shield season that was probably the easiest I'd ever had, because we were knocking over teams. And then I didn't get picked in the Australian team. I thought I could be the secondary bowler. That was a big disappointment, especially because they were going to England, where I felt I bowled better than anywhere else.

Being a pace bowler is not easy. It's great if you can get good support. You can be lucky and have a couple of other good bowlers with you. If you can't get them out, the others will. A couple of times in my career it was a bit hard. I didn't have a great deal of support.

Richie Benaud was an inspiring captain. He looked after you.

If you only ever did one tour, you'd want to go to England, for the traditions of cricket. I liked playing cricket in England.

About two or three years before I started, WA were brought into the Sheffield Shield full-time instead of having only been part-time. That gave us more exposure and someone was going to break through. Up until then there had only been two or three from WA who had played for Australia, and they had only played one or two Tests. By the time I finished we had half a dozen in the team.

We had a few days off one year when I was playing for Leicestershire and I got invited out to a nearby farm with one of the other players. I'd never ridden a horse, so I thought, "I've got to learn how to ride a horse." I was leading a horse through the gate and opened the gate and didn't realise he was going to go on ahead. He trod on the end of my toe. I had to play the next day but I couldn't put a boot on. I was out for a week.

 
 
"Being a pace bowler is not easy. It's great if you can get good support. You can be lucky and have a couple of other good bowlers with you. A couple of times in my career it was a bit hard. I didn't have a great deal of support"
 

I finished with something like 1200 first-class wickets. There were people like Clarrie Grimmett who had taken more, and a couple of the early Australian players. Shane Warne played quite a bit of county cricket. You had to play quite a bit to get that many wickets.

In those days in the winter you played hockey and in the summer you played cricket. I was doing well in hockey but eventually I got picked in the Australian team to go to England in the winter time. So there wasn't much discussion about what I was going to do.

By normal standards I had a short run-up. It was about 16 metres and then went to about 20 metres at the end of my career. I used to think that I didn't want to run too far. But I could generate enough pace with my body, with my shoulders.

It was the last time [1961] we went the full way to England and back on a ship. These days people are here one week and the next they're in England. We left at the end of March and we only started to play cricket again at the end of April.

I played in one WACA Test. I just snuck it in. I played all my career until then without ever playing at home, so it was quite special and a big occasion for Perth in those days.

They changed the rules in 1968 so that you could go and play county cricket even though you didn't live in England. I was playing with the Australian team in 1969 and a couple of the counties didn't have overseas players, which they were eligible for.

It's hard to know how fast I bowled, because we never had it measured. I imagine I bowled mid-140s, maybe up to 150kph occasionally.

I lived in South Africa for a while. I played a couple of games for Transvaal in the one-day competition. My first wife was South African.

My dad and my uncle both played for Western Australia in cricket, not that WA played much cricket in those days. They were both quite involved in hockey as well. Dad played for Australia in hockey.

In those days you could order a car, buy it and use it in England for a couple of years and then bring it back tax-free. I had to go and collect the car in Germany and drive it to England. I caught the plane to Stuttgart and picked the car up. I tried to come back but I got to the ferry in the middle of the night and there wasn't one until the morning, so I had to stay the night. I missed a couple of days of training.

I started off as a schoolteacher, a phys-ed teacher - 1961 was my first year of teaching, through to about 1964. But then you might do one-third of the year or something, the rest you'd be playing cricket. After that I got into the financial world in 1965.

There were others who were very difficult to get out, like Barrington and Boycott. But you weren't worried they would take you apart. Richards or those others, if they were going, they could take you on. But they would give you a chance, so it was probably a bit more interesting. You'd get a bit sick of bowling to someone like Ken Barrington.

Having a fairly easy action, all of a sudden one would click and come through faster. People said I was deceptively quick.


Graham McKenzie meets Alec Bedser on board the SS Himalaya after it arrived at Tilbury, April 21, 1961
McKenzie meets Alec Bedser on board the SS Himalaya after it arrived in Tilbury in April 1961 © Getty Images
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In the mid-1960s, India didn't cater for tourists as much, so you didn't have the home comforts. I've been back to India a few times since and I've really enjoyed it. I've been back on a holiday and we went to the Commonwealth Games.

Leicestershire got Ray Illingworth and me to come and play. They'd never won the County Championship. Illingworth became captain. Then within a year or so he was the captain of England. Then in my last match there, we won the County Championship, which was their first time ever. That was a good feeling.

[After the India tour] we went straight on to South Africa. I picked up a bug right at the end of the Indian tour. I was weakened for the whole South African trip. They couldn't diagnose what it was. I could play, but I wasn't quite right. It was pretty disappointing.

In those times they'd just put you out and wouldn't give you a break. You bowled many more overs than they do now leading up to a Test match. You couldn't really train because you were tired out from the other matches. You just played match after match.

I don't regret it. There are some things you can't buy.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Meety on (July 20, 2012, 1:16 GMT)

@Rasheed Khan - I think McKenzie usually was more 140kph (no evidence to back that), but would ocasionally let loose an effort ball towards 150kph when the batsmen wasn't expecting it. @anuradha_d - as per other comments, you need to look at the context, & the uncovered pitch comment was uninformed.

Posted by JohnnyP on (July 19, 2012, 21:57 GMT)

If I could choose a team of past players I'd like to see play again from all Test countries, Graham McKenzie would be near top of my list. In my 50+ years of cricket watching, his was the most graceful action I've seen - great shoulder strength combined with a smooth-as-silk delivery and a perfect rhythm. As a young blioke I tried to model my action on his - at about half his speed! He came across to the public as a gentleman and great team man who accepted the unfortunate need to be used often as a work-horse. Given today's rules and more support in the pace group his fine record would have been even better.

Posted by Baddabing on (July 19, 2012, 0:47 GMT)

@anuradha_d on what planet was anybody still using uncovered pitches in the 1960s, and in what universe did the best bowlers ever have strike-rates anything like the low 40s?, G.McKenzies stats certainly do not rank him up with the greats of all time but they are quite decent for the era he played in with lots of defensive tactics and more matches drawn than resulted, McKenzie was a real workhorse who could keep going all day when other bowlers got tired,the only pace bowler in the history of the game to bowl more overs per match was Alec Bedser.

Posted by Chris_P on (July 18, 2012, 23:38 GMT)

@anuradha_d. A few points. 1) They had covered pitches when he bowled, 2) The LBW rule allowed batsmen to pad up without getting out LBW until they changed it in the early 70's 3) He only bowled against the top teams, no easy pickings like the Bangas, Zim or early NZ 4) He had an incredibly successful Indian tour where his efforts have hardly been matched let alone topped. 5) Unfortunately, the era he played represented the most boring period of test cricket where draws were the usual recipe and victories were spaced far & wide. This was the era where batsmen would bat all day for 70 to 80 runs (or less in some cases) meaning no chances were taken against bowlers, thereby impacting strike rates. A little history of our great game means a lot you know, try it.

Posted by   on (July 18, 2012, 21:38 GMT)

@anuradha_d... If you look at the main quicks that Australia used during McKenzie's time, they all have similar numbers in regards to average & strike rate.

Posted by anuradha_d on (July 18, 2012, 14:42 GMT)

Who knows how fast he was..........statistically a Strike Rate of 72 balls /wkt in an era of uncovered pitches and no protective gear, was very, very mediocre.....compared to low 40s for the good fast bowlers......

stats also suggest that he declined quite rapidly after 1968........with his strike rate climbing over 100 and average of over 50........probably injury that he never recovered from.....and the good thing for bowlers was that there were no speed guns to expose their sharp decline in pace

Posted by   on (July 18, 2012, 14:13 GMT)

i didn't know he was that quick,145-150km is quite fast.that's brett lee's pace we're talking about there.

Posted by Beazle on (July 18, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

Garth was a fine out swing bowler. He was not however a 145k plus bowler. More likely 130 -145. Slightly quicker than Mc Grath .

Posted by fleetwood-smith on (July 18, 2012, 13:27 GMT)

Great player and a great ambassador for fast bowlers. In the week when Brett Lee has bowed out, just confirms that you don't have to be snarly to be a great fast bowler. Garth was hard done by during his career - besides missing out on England in 1972, and having to carry the attack through most of the 1960s without any great support apart from perhaps Neil Hawke, he was also asked to sit out a test against India in 1968-69 after taking 10 wickets in the previous test! He ended up with 246 test wickets, which was 2 behind the leading Australian at the time, Richie Benaud. Cynical West Australians reckon he was deliberately pensioned off so he wouldn't overtake New South Welshman Benaud's Australian record!

Posted by camcove on (July 18, 2012, 10:18 GMT)

He was a gentleman on the field and seemed to be one off the field, and this interview bears this out. Fascinating that the three great batsmen he refers to are G Sobers, B Richards and G Pollock. Barry Richards was cut short for reasons outside of his control, but one senses he would probably have otherwise been regarded as the best of - or the - the best ever as an opener. G Sobers is the most inspiring cricketer I have ever seen, and G Pollock (along with V Richards, who as Tony Cosier helpfully pointed out is not a relative of Barry) would be the best batsmen I have seen (no disrespect to Sachin or Brian). As for G McKenzie's disappointment at not being selected for the 1972 team - what were the selectors thinking about? The front line quicks were DKL and Bob Massie, backed up by David Collie. GM would have slayed them! (Redpath was the other notable omission - the omission of Lawrie, though incredibly stupid, was expected).

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

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