March 4, 2015

'Australia should win, but they have home pressure to deal with'

Former Australia fast bowler Nathan Bracken backs his side to win this World Cup, and looks back at 2007, and at the premature end to his international career

Play 25:15

Subash Jayaraman: When you look back on your career of five Tests, 116 ODIs and 67 first-class games, did you think you were able to get the most out of yourself?

Nathan Bracken: I had the opportunity to play Test cricket, ODI cricket and T20s for my country and I enjoyed every minute of it. You are asking what would it be like if I had done this, or if I would have liked to have played more Test cricket. But then, I sit there and look at how many ODIs I have played - I thoroughly enjoyed doing that. To me, I found that a big challenge, because you are performing to the best of your ability all the time. You can't afford to be negative and [do] things that you can get away with in the longer form of the game. I understand that Test cricket has its challenges and is often more a mental challenge than it can sometimes be a skill challenge.

SJ: Was there a point in your career when you thought about focusing more on ODIs than Tests?

NB: I was not picked for a couple of series and I started to go down the path, and it became a focus to really push the one-day game and concentrate hard on that. That probably should have happened after missing out on the South Africa tour. I talked about going to the Test format, and there were a couple of injuries and still I didn't get any opportunities then. So the focus really shifted. For me, the 2006 season, and probably the Champions Trophy, was the first time I pushed well to play this form of the game.

SJ: How was it for you as a bowler to switch between the formats?

NB: I found that Test cricket is a little bit slower and tedious, whereas focusing on the shorter form was something I enjoyed. If you are coming back to first-class cricket from one-day cricket, you do things slightly differently, but as a whole I was someone who wanted to swing the ball early and put it in the areas to take wickets. That doesn't change in any format of the game that you play.

SJ: A listener, Sriram, asks about the 438 chase in Johannesburg. What was the thinking in the dressing room during the break, and when Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith were going at you?

NB: When you look at that game, you knew that they were going to come hard, because they didn't have a choice. You are not going to say, "Ah well, let's not chase this too fast, just play for a draw." You have got to go and take the risk. We needed to go all the way. We tried to get the opportunities to get wickets. The biggest way to stop teams from scoring runs is to continue to take wickets and that was what we were trying to do. We had opportunities, we missed a couple of bits and pieces here and there. Some players had in the back of their minds that one more wicket would change it all. Their batters just kept playing aggressively. Suddenly, our total was not big enough.

"I was in South Africa in 2003 [for the World Cup] but didn't play. For me that was a driving force in 2007" © Getty Images

SJ: It must have been bittersweet for you, taking 5 for 67, and with the best economy rate. How did you feel?

NB: It was hard. I worked hard on what I could do with each player and how to control each situation. Gibbs, when he is on, is an amazing player. You had AB de Villiers - that is an amazing line of players who can score very, very quickly. For me, it was about controlling that as much as I could. You deal with every over in trying to get a wicket or try to put pressure on them to get a wicket in the next over.

SJ: Take us through the 2007 World Cup, the composition of the side, the preparations and the matches.

NB: When we entered the tournament, we should have come in with formal training. We pushed ourselves through some one-day series and we were preparing to head to the World Cup at the end of the Australian home series. We had the results, we lost out to England, we went to New Zealand - a game workload that was quite heavy - and we didn't perform as good as we should have and we lost there. But by the time we got there [West Indies] we often had training sessions twice a day and we were training hard. Once we got through to the Super Eights stage, it then was back to the normal training routine. We were in a position where all the hard work was done and now only the fine-turning was needed.

We started off a little slow. But we had a good set-up against Netherlands and Scotland in the first three games and then South Africa. That was a big game for us, an important one after what happened in Johannesburg. We had a good start, Matthew Hayden gave us a great total. Like in Johannesburg, they got off to a good start. Then, there was a good run-out from Shane Watson from the boundary, and that all of a sudden changed it. We had an opportunity and we grabbed it.

"After my third knee operation I bowled for New South Wales and my pace was down. It was a lot of work to get the ball to the other end"

SJ: As a two-time defending champion, was there any kind of pressure and expectation within the team itself? What was John Buchanan's role in keeping everybody grounded?

NB: I was in South Africa in 2003 but didn't play. For me that was a driving force. We had a few guys who were walking away from the game after the series. It was about building everything from there and gaining momentum. We knew there would be days where as a bowling group some guys would have their days, and as the series moved on it would go round and round in circles and we would have our opportunities. It was the same with the batting group. You look at someone like Adam Gilchrist, who didn't have the big tournament that everyone thought he would. But he was always one game close to that big score and it came in the final for us. With this approach we knew that players would stand up when needed. It was different players each time.

SJ: Would you say that was the best Australian ODI team ever?

NB: It is hard to say. The game has changed. It is hard to compare different sides, because things, techniques, skills and attitudes change. To be a part of the group and the guys we had, the confidence was there that the players would step up and perform when needed. We guys were very comfortable because of how we played and went about it, and that made the job a lot easier.

SJ: You met South Africa in the first round and once again in the semi-final. When you met them the second time, did you know that you had the wood on them - because you just bowled them out for 100-something and chased it with some 20 overs left?

NB: At that time we knew that we had to win games at the back end of the tournament. We knew when we had a tough game, we had to scrape out a victory and we had the belief that we could do it. We knew that South Africa hadn't had the best run in semi-finals or any knockout games, which would put pressure on them, and they had a few hiccups in the past. We really used that to draw their momentum out of the game. It was important to get on top early and we did that.

"I found that Test cricket is a little bit slower and tedious, whereas focusing on the shorter form was something I enjoyed" © Getty Images

SJ: Did you remind them that they didn't have the best record in the knockouts?

NB: I am sure it was probably discussed before the tour, getting to a couple of players on the field. Being a bowler, most of the time you are at fine leg or third man and you miss out on most of the "friendly conversation". A little bit of helpful advice was given out in the middle by both sides. It is good, when you are batting and you hear the keeper and slips giving you inputs on the little technical things that you need to work on or what is not quite working for you then.

SJ: In the final against Sri Lanka, Gilchrist played one of the finest ODI innings ever. What were your thoughts when defending that total?

NB: When you get runs on the board in the final, it always makes things easier. We knew we had to start well - when you get in front it makes it hard for them. When you push the run rate up and up every over, it makes it more and more difficult. We got the start we wanted. It was a flat wicket but it was a wicket that suited us a little bit more than it suited them. It had a little bit of bounce and carry, which suited our bowlers more, and we used that the best we could.

SB: Towards the end it became a farce. You thought you had won but you had to go out into the dark again.

NB: We knew that once so many overs were bowled, it was game over. The third umpire was of the same opinion. We celebrated. It came down to a discussion, and we were told that we had to bowl four overs or something. We kept going around in circles and then probably one of the nicest things in sport happened when they [Sri Lanka] turned around and said they would go out and play so we could get done with it. They were literally going to make us come back the next day even though we didn't need to. When you look at it, we got to celebrate a World Cup win twice.

SJ: Did the stop-start end to the game take anything out of your celebration?

NB: The second one wasn't probably as good as the first one. But the scenes in the dressing room after it - a win is a win. We had the trophy in the room, to know that it was something that you worked really hard to get. The ground celebrations the second time around wasn't as exciting, but hey, we got the result. The trophy was heading to Australia.

"One of the nicest things in sport happened when Sri Lanka turned around and said they would go out and play so we could get done with it"
On the 2007 World Cup final

SJ: Two years later you played your last game for Australia. That must have been a rude shock for you, to call it a day so soon?

NB: Yes. It wasn't planned. The knee injury got to the point where it was difficult to continue. After my third knee operation I bowled for New South Wales and my pace was down. I lost some movement. To this day I've lost about ten to 12 degrees movement in my front leg. As a bowler who has bowled since the age of seven with a straight front leg, that is a massive change to happen at 30. Once I started to lose movement, the pace dropped. It was halfway through the tournament, and the pace was dropping more and more. Towards the end of it, it was a lot of work to get the ball to the other end.

SJ: You filed a lawsuit against Cricket Australia for mismanagement of those injuries. Where does it stand? What are the ramifications of such actions by a player?

NB: Where it stands now is that we have a court hearing in October. Ramifications depend on where it goes. Sporting boards in Australia now have until 2017 to have full insurance in their plans. But when you look at it, as professional organisations, for example, my club, where I played early in my career, had insurance when a player got injured. When you look at the top level, there is nothing a player can do when he is injured, in order to help him through. That has to change. In a sporting organisation, the players need to feel that they can go and give their heart and soul for the country and team. If you do get hurt in that process, you are looked after and protected.

At the moment it comes down to the discretion of Cricket Australia to whether they help you out or not. I don't think that is fair. You have players who push the limits a lot of times. The players need to be looked after and something needs to be put in place so that the players and their families don't have to go through what I had to go through. Suddenly that is what I am carrying for the rest of my life. When I retired I wasn't that old. I had two kids running around, kicking up a soccer ball with my elder sister, which is something I can't do. Life will be more difficult now.

SJ: Do you see a fifth World Cup win for Australia?

NB: They should win it with the players and the personnel in there. But, you are at home, and you have seen it with India, the extra pressure that comes with that. All of a sudden you are in that environment when you are around your home media. One of the players has a great game and it is in the papers. The next day it is forgotten because someone else is playing well and his performance is up. I will talk about Aaron Finch hitting a century in the first game, Mitchell Marsh getting wickets - that will keep rolling. The players will be talking all through the week on the radio and on the news. "Is it time to change the tactics? What is the team make-up? Why are we going down suddenly? What is happening here?" That is the extra pressure that you do face. When you are away, you don't see that, you don't see what your home media is saying. [At home] you just can't focus. That is going to be the only issue that I can see.

SJ: Who do you think Australia will face in Melbourne on March 29?

NB: There are three teams in contention. New Zealand are playing well at the moment. For them, it would be how well they can hold in the series, if they can continue all the way in the series, no reason why they can't win. You are looking also at India. India is India. When they are on, they are one of the best sides in the world. Many times, you have seen games when they are dead and buried and all of a sudden they come back and win it. And then you have seen games where they should have won it but didn't. That is a question mark.

South Africa have great bowling and amazing batters. For them it is just about getting it right. I pick between those teams and how well they perform till the end of the series. West Indies and Pakistan, if they get there, on their day they can beat anybody. You don't want to be meeting one of them in the quarter-final or semi-final, because if they have a day out, it can be game over, see you later! We saw Chris Gayle's 215. He got to hundred at almost a run a ball and then unloaded and got 215 off 147 balls. You know what he can do. If he comes off in a semi-final, he might go to the final and not make a run and West Indies might be bowled out for 120. But the day they get it right, they will give any team a serious shake. Cricket is a beautiful game. If you have a day off, they can get you anytime. In these tournaments, if you have one team that fires, everything changes very quickly.

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