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Jason Gillespie talks about what separates a good fast bowler from a great one, and why it's important to find a balance between rest and practice
Interview by Scott Oliver
February 21, 2014
England have had a couple of Australian fast bowling coaches in recent times. Troy Cooley was regarded as someone who developed skills, particularly reverse swing, whereas David Saker is renowned as more of a tactical coach. As a former fast bowler, what do you think you can most offer an elite fast bowler who's already pretty set in his game?
Pump his tyres up. Get him confident. Obviously it depends what's required, and every individual's different, but by and large you want that lad going out on to the ground believing he can walk through a wall. How you get there is going to be different for every bowler. Some guys might just need a little technical reminder of one or two things in their bowling. Others might need a reminder about tactics and how they're going about it.
How about you? What did you do?
I felt good walking out on the ground when I knew I'd done everything I could in training. I had a saying: "If I'm preparing myself physically, I'm preparing myself mentally." If I'd done everything I could physically to make sure I could bowl a cricket ball at high speed for a long period of time, then I was happy. That was my whole game. That and being disciplined with my line and my length. If I do that, then I'm contributing to the team cause, fulfilling an important role. That's how I approached my cricket. And it worked for me. I wouldn't say it would work for everyone.
What do you think separates a decent quick from a very, very good one?
Pace. The reality is we've got some wonderful cricketers playing domestic cricket here in England. David Masters will give you a perfect example. Fantastically skilled bowler; will never play international cricket, purely because of his pace. Imagine if he bowled two yards quicker. Steven Patterson is a great example here at Yorkshire. Wonderfully skilful bowler, bowls mid-to-high 70mph, maybe nudging 80. Is that quite quick enough to be threatening in international cricket?
Is that what happened a bit with you near the end? How tough was it on the 2005 Ashes tour, for instance, knowing that the 25-year-old bowler would have been able to push the batsman back - Kevin Pietersen in that ODI in Bristol, say?
Look, it happens. The reality was that I didn't bowl as well as I could have. My lines and lengths weren't as disciplined as they could have been and I paid the price for that. It was as simple as that. Maybe I wasn't quite as fast as I was maybe five years before, but that's certainly not an excuse. I didn't perform in that series because I didn't bowl well enough in terms of line and length.
What about heart as a bowler? Courage. That's something that's quite hard to measure on a laptop, but the willingness to come back in the last hour of the day - is that something you look out for?
Yeah, definitely. That comes from within. You need a bowler to be willing to run in hard at half-past five on a hot day, after he's bowled 20 overs, and give you a couple more overs. What you don't want to see is a bowler throwing the ball back to the captain and saying, "No, can't do it". If they can't do it because they have absolutely given everything, no problem, but if it's because they haven't given themselves the best chance by getting themselves as fit and as strong as possible then I would have a bit of an issue with that.
You became renowned for long spells with Australia, but do you think your role changed depending on who was the other seamer in there with McGrath and yourself - whether it was Reiffel, Bichel, Kasprowicz, Lee?
Definitely. When Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath played, they both wanted to bowl with the wind and downhill. I was the third seamer, and I just thought, "Well, I want to play international cricket and 50% of the overs need to be bowled uphill and into the breeze, so it may as well be me." And I was more than happy to take that role on, because it helped the team. Simple as that. You do what you need to do for the team. I've seen or heard comments from players - "I deserve to bat here" or "I deserve to bowl here", "I've earned the right", all these sort of things, and I don't buy that. You go where the team needs you.
|"You need a bowler to be willing to run in hard at half-past five on a hot day, after he's bowled 20 overs, and give you a couple more overs"|
Do you think you got the wickets you deserved in Test cricket? You took 259 but 171 of those were top six batsmen. So perhaps you didn't pick up all that many cheapies…
Well, it's a bit hard when Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were in the side, you know! As soon as six wickets were down, and you had done all the hard work, you'd see McGrath warming up or Warnie just signalling to the captain that it's time for him to bowl. Look, that didn't bother me at all - as I said, it's about performing a role for the side. I quite like the fact that most of my wickets were top six batsmen, because one of my main jobs was to open the bowling and make inroads. Whoever gets the wickets doesn't really matter. It's the fact that you get them. If you're on a flat wicket with not too much sideways movement and you have a tailender sticking around, then a quick's probably not going to be as effective as the great Shane Warne bamboozling them. You just want to win the game of cricket and get off the park.
What do you think was your best spell, or even delivery?
If you play long enough you're always going to bowl good balls. I suppose what you're asking is what was the most satisfying wicket. Everyone wants to get the Tendulkars, the Kallises, the Laras - I remember once I had a spell of 6 for 6 in a Boxing Day Test against West Indies, the first six, and I bowled a couple at Brian Lara that went across him then one that just hit the seam, came back a little bit and just clipped the off bail. He let it go and was out for nought. That was a very satisfying wicket because, number one, a plan came off, which is very exciting for a bowler, but also the fact that it was such a great player as Lara. You test yourself against the best and there are times when you get beaten and there are times when you come out on top. That was very satisfying.
Which other quicks knocking around in your era did you admire?
Malcolm Marshall was probably my all-time favourite. Obviously I looked up to Glenn. Great friend. Someone I could really bounce ideas off. I always listened to his approach to bowling. I also looked up to a lot of my team-mates. Damien Fleming, best man at my wedding, really taught me a lot about bowling. Mike Kasprowicz, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee, Paul Reiffel - I learned something from them all.
That great tradition of the opposition coming in to your dressing room at the end of a series - usually after you'd won. Was there a corner for the quicks where you'd share trade secrets?
Yeah, obviously you'd chat to guys like Allan Donald. Earlier in my career, there was Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Curtly and Courtney. I made my debut against West Indies and in my second Test I did my side and at the end of that Test - we lost it; it was at the MCG - Courtney Walsh came into the dressing room and sat next to me and asked me what happened with my side. We chatted for about ten minutes and he stood up and said, "You'll be okay, boy" and walked off. That was a massive moment for me: I was this young 21-year-old and a legend of the game has taken ten minutes out to speak to me. I'll always remember that. Then there were guys like Darren Gough. I remember having a great chat with Matthew Hoggard after the Ashes '05 - even though I'd been dropped from the side, he gave me one of his shirts, signed, and we spent a bit of time chatting, talking about bowling. He's a good lad and I enjoyed that conversation.
I think I read that Shaun Tait used to make no-bouncer pacts with opposition quicks…
I think he did that for a laugh, really. I never made a pact with anyone because I knew I was going to cop it anyway. And I didn't mind it. I'm playing Test cricket; I'm not playing in the backyard. This is what it's all about.
I guess your method as a quick bowler varied from country to country…
Yeah, you had certain plans. As a general rule, on wickets that bounced and carried through you'd tend to bowl more of a fourth-stump line looking to get wickets nicking to the keeper and slips. The lower and slower the wicket, you tended to bowl a bit straighter, looking to hit the pads, hit the stumps. That was my basic game, really. And as a game wore on and a wicket became slower and lower you just straighten your lines up and adjust your field slightly, maybe have a bit more protection on the leg side.
When you were seaming the ball, was it always intentional which way it went, or would you sometimes deliberately scramble it to randomise things?
You'd sometimes scramble it but my focus was trying to move the ball away from the right-hander, so 90% of my deliveries would be looking to take it that way and get that nick. And if it nipped the other way off the wicket and I got bowleds and lbws - that was fantastic, but I didn't actually try to do that unless it was a really slow wicket and I ran my fingers down the side to get some sort of cut on the ball. Generally, it was seam-up.
It seemed to me that you had an action that didn't have a lot to go wrong with it and didn't need much honing. Was that natural or the result of coaching?
Well, I had to hone my action to an extent. I was a little bit loose in my teens. When you're younger you're still growing into your body. You get the right advice, get strength and conditioning programmes to build up muscles and build up your strength, until you sort of get to your early to mid-20s, where your body has settled down and you've had a few years of building your strength, learning how to bowl - that's the Holy Grail at the moment with fast bowlers.
You want players to improve their skills so they need to practice, but if there's restrictions on practice you're probably getting to a point where someone's really honing a skill but because of workloads they have to stop bowling. Sometimes as a coach you just think: "They need more. They need more bowling to get the skill right." So that's a real challenge, but I understand that you have to work within some of the sports science guidelines because you do need to look after your bowlers and make sure they're not being overworked. Certainly, I got stress fractures of my back when I was young - I remember bowling three times a week for two hours straight at training.
Do you think that was the cause?
It certainly didn't help. But, on the flipside, I think it actually helped me improve my skills. So there's a bit of give and take. It's what the tipping point is; what the saturation point is regarding the amount of bowling. And that's where I think the sports science guys are discovering things all the time. They're finding what the balance is between practice and rest and playing. And that's what all coaches are trying to find, too. Everyone has differing opinions. I'm certainly in the corner where you need to look after your bowlers but you also need to make sure they get that good, hard, solid practice in to improve skills.
I guess the other factor in that equation would be precisely how much stress is put on a bowler's body by their own specific action.
Yeah, that's certainly taken into account. You look at Pat Cummins for Australia, for example. A wonderful young bowler. I think he's probably going to have the odd little niggle here and there, but I'm really confident that in a few years' time, once his body settles right down, I think you're going to see a lad who's very resilient. For the next few years he'll be seen as an injury prone fast bowler, but I think if you ask someone in ten years' time what they think of Pat Cummins they'll say he's very resilient. You just have to cast your mind back to Mitchell Johnson. He's seen as a very resilient and robust cricketer but when he first started he was in and out of Queensland's side and lost his place because he couldn't get on the park often enough because he kept pulling up injured. Ryan Harris as well. But you watch - I'm really confident that the same thing will happen with Pat Cummins.
Do you think "laptop coaching" is something you need to be careful of, filling players' heads with data, particularly young players who might be impressionable or susceptible to being influenced this way and that way?
Well, it's a bit of a running joke here at Yorkshire, because I can't use a computer. But I'm a big believer in the coach having all the information. I'm very keen to get as much information as I can. Then I think the key to good coaching is what information you give to your players, taking into account what's required for a game. The big thing that Darren Lehmann's done is have clear and simple game plans for Australia to play to, and given them the opportunity to go and do that with a clear mind and some freedom to express themselves.
You do have a team plan - Darren, I know he'd be the first one to get stuck into his players if they strayed from the team plan. At Yorkshire, we allow our players to go out there to play positive, aggressive cricket, but we do have team plans and team goals that we don't want compromised. And if they are compromised, then players will know about it.
How has your time at Yorkshire been?
I'm really enjoying my role here. I find it a challenge every day. I jump out of bed in the morning knowing that I'm coming to work at the greatest club in the world. We're trying to provide as many players for England as we can and we want to win trophies. A real catchphrase of ours here at Yorkshire is "give ourselves the best chance" to be successful, which is what we're trying to do. That encompasses everything: the efforts and attitudes you have at training; the preparation, challenging the players as much as possible; we encourage them to give it their all and leave nothing in the tank.
Do you get involved with the fast bowling coaching on the technical side of things?
We have a coaching staff - I'm first team coach, we have a second team coach, an academy director, a development manager - we all work together. I work with a lot of the quicks, but that doesn't mean that one of our other coaches can't work with them. So it's flexible. Players might identify a bit more with one of our coaches than me, and that's absolutely fine. There are no egos in our coaching staff. It's about the player, about getting the best out of them. Whatever words or actions can be delivered - it doesn't matter which coach.
For instance, we've got a couple of lads who enjoy talking bowling to Ryan Sidebottom, so how stupid would we be if we didn't utilise his knowledge and tap into that? I know Ryan's worked with a couple of our bowlers, talking tactics and things like that.
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