May 24, 2015

'I like getting in people's faces'

Mitchell McClenaghan talks about how being aggressive makes him stand out, why being a team man is important, and his World Cup and IPL journeys

"I don't plan my celebrations. I am not a Bravo - I don't plan to do a certain dance. It is just emotion" © BCCI

"Oh, man, the heat. It is boiling. It is just the humidity." Mitchell McClenaghan, the New Zealand and Mumbai Indians fast bowler, says the weather will be the biggest challenge for him, two days before the IPL final in Kolkata. McClenaghan, with 15 wickets in 11 matches so far, has in his maiden IPL become a catalyst for Mumbai Indians' amazing run in the second half of the tournament.

While doing a photo shoot for a calendar for Bachelor of the Year in 2013 you described your job as: "Captain wants me up, sends me in one direction and says please hit this guy or get him out." Does that still hold true?
It is a philosophy that has worked really well with me. It is a role I do well. I like being aggressive. I like getting in people's faces. You can change the game in many ways. At times you need to be aggressive and guys will make mistakes just from your presence.

Like every New Zealander, on green wickets I used to just bowl medium pace, nibble it in, swing it. I must have been 17 or 18 when my dad said to me, if you want to play first-class and international cricket you need a point of difference. He said every bowler in the country can run in and swing the ball, but there are not enough guys who run in, bowl quick, bowl heavy and bowl bouncers. So it was his motivation that kind of pushed me to want to run in hard, try and bowl quick, and my game has developed from there.

Who was the first batsman you hit?
I obviously do not go out to hurt people. But it is nice when a bouncer comes off. I bowled a good one to AB [de Villiers] before the World Cup. And he got out the next over. You bowl to hopefully put them on the back foot so that they make the wrong decision. I don't use them to hurt people but I use them as a means of setting them up to change the game for me or the guy at the other end.

"I have been known to bite myself, bite my hand. A few of the Auckland boys have given me a bit of shit about that"

You also describe yourself as "ultra-competitive, aggressive, maybe a little bit crazy sometimes on the field". Define crazy.
(Laughs) I have calmed down a lot. I've got to admit it. I used to just lose the plot. I look at Dale Steyn. He just has the ability to deliver an amazing spell just after tea or towards the end of the day, when he bowls quicker than ever. I try and emulate that attitude when I play first-class cricket - you have got to get your adrenaline up, even if that is imagining that person at the other end as someone you absolutely hate. Or if the umpire gives a wide, even if it is obviously a wide, get yourself fired up and get angry at him, which makes you pumped up.

Any examples of times where you did go crazy?
I have been known to bite myself, bite my hand. A few of the Auckland boys have given me a bit of shit about that. It seems to give me that adrenaline kick. When people get hit during a fight, their senses get heightened, so it is a bit of a weird one but it has worked for me to pump myself up for some spells at times.

Tell us about the recent celebration where you hit the ground with the palm of your hand a few times having dismissed Sunrisers Hyderabad captain David Warner.
We identified a couple of plans for Shikhar [Dhawan] and Davy. One of them was to take a punt and go short. It was a massive wicket. I was just pumped. In the moment I just let it out. It turned the whole match, because if one of the guys bats through, they make a decent score and that is how they win their games. In T20, guys have got to play their shots. You just bowl a ball that you hope goes to a fielder or gets you a wicket. It could have gone for six too, but thankfully it was a wicket. You have to take the gamble sometimes.

I don't plan my celebrations. I am not a [Dwayne] Bravo - I don't plan to do a certain dance if I get a wicket. It just comes naturally. It is just emotion. It is just living in the moment. It is just giving it everything for the team and being stoked that I can contribute.

"I don't use bouncers to hurt people but I use them as a means of setting them up to change the game for me or the guy at the other end" © AFP

What is it about fast bowling that drives you?
I might not be the most economical bowler but with the way the game is going and how flat the pitches are around the world, there needs to be a point of difference. You need to have someone in your team who can run in and change the game without the ball swinging, seaming, turning. You need to have an aggressive bowler who can enforce himself. And whether that brings some wickets or that means they have to attack the guy at the other end, which give him the opportunity to take wickets…

You have three three-wicket hauls this IPL (only Ashish Nehra and Mitchell Starc have more). Can you talk about the performance against Rajasthan Royals, where they were favourites with six overs to go, needing 64 runs with eight wickets in hand. You got three wickets in quick succession and altered the result.
That is what I have done for New Zealand: being able to come and change the game in an over. Against Rajasthan Royals, they were in a good position. We probably were a little bit below par with the runs we scored and we needed to take wickets. [Sanju] Samson was playing very well on the leg side and I thought I could take the pace off and move the ball away from him especially since the wicket was starting to hold. He still struck the ball well but it went straight to the fielder. So it is about the accumulation of different factors, trying to put the percentages in your favour, and it is about bowling the right ball which has the least chance of going over the fence, and hopefully guys would have to hit it in areas they are not comfortable with. Steven Smith's wicket was similar. You only have to watch one minute of footage to know how good he is on the leg side. Since the wicket was holding a little bit, it was going to be hard to cut and I just pitched it outside off and moved it away and he was caught at third man.

What happens mentally when you are hit for three fours in an over, as in the game against Delhi Daredevils when Shreyas Iyer took you on?
Frustration. I don't want to get hit for fours. If I'm hit for a four, the first question I ask is: did I execute the ball the way I had planned to? If I executed the ball and he played a good shot, then I can go back to my mark with a clear mind. If I did not execute it, was it a bad ball? Yes. Then I know I just have to go back to the same plans. Those are two ways to deal with it and that comes to the same result, and it makes you think positively. Sometimes when you're angry you can forget those things and a few times, definitely in the IPL and in my career, I have let that get to me. It might affect me for one spell, but next over, next spell, no dramas. It is about being able to process things and not let it affect you for the whole match.

There have been a few occasions when catches have been spilled off your bowling during this IPL, like in the Daredevils match when Iyer was dropped at deep cover when two fielders ran for the same catch.
I don't want to point fingers. I am more about the team and I would never say anything to mates. I am frustrated obviously in the moment because important catches of, for example, top-order batsmen can change games. If you look at most T20 stats, if you take three wickets in the first six overs, you generally win the game. Not many teams come back from three down. So catches that get dropped in the first six overs for me are the most important catches. I had a coach [Dermot Reeve] for a while whose philosophy on dropped catches was, if you go off at someone, they are not going to catch the next one and it affects the whole team. You have to just smile and get on with it.

Your dot-ball percentage this IPL is pretty good: 42% (109 out of 258 deliveries).
But it doesn't seem like that. I feel like I am getting hit for a lot of boundaries (laughs).

"The way Brendon McCullum approaches the game definitely suits my style of cricket" © Getty Images

How much has Shane Bond (previously New Zealand's bowling coach, now with Mumbai Indians) played a role in your development?
We are different as fast bowlers. Shane was a swinger of the ball and a faster bowler than me. He is always trying to keep me positive, helping me maintain my focus by saying things like I am one of the hardest guys to get away for batsmen if I hit my areas. He is very good during our preparations, where everything is very detailed. He understands the way different guys bowl. He never says it is one way or the highway. He is very malleable and can actually understand everyone from every point of view. He has been a big asset to my career.

Barring West Indies and Pakistan, you have at least a four-wicket haul in your first match against all other main international teams in ODIs. That is some feat.
Brendon's [McCullum] style of captaincy definitely helps. He is very aggressive. He is a brilliant captain and has a great cricketing mind. The way he approaches the game definitely suits my style of cricket. You just have to look at the World Cup and what he can do to bring a team together, and the effect his captaincy has on the performance of any player, to understand him.

You sat out for most of the World Cup except for one match. Did that teach you anything?
At the start of the tournament obviously I was disappointed as my record is pretty good. But in a tournament like a World Cup it comes down to what is best for the team and what is best keeping the conditions in mind. It is all about trying to win the World Cup. If you are upset or angry that you are not playing, that can filter through to the guys who are playing, and I don't think that is very fair. You can't show any sort of resentment. You have got to be ultra-positive. So if I wasn't going to play, I had to find a way to contribute in some other way, so I was bowling in the nets trying to prepare the batsmen to face Mitchell Starc and the likes. At the end of the day it comes down to the team. It is not just those 11 guys, it is the whole squad. And if you are not together you are not going to go all the way into the tournament.

How has Ricky Ponting (the Mumbai Indians coach) helped you?
He gives you confidence. He is a very positive man. To see his passion and his drive to win, even when he is not on the field, you can see why the Australian team was so successful during his reign. He is very inspiring. Even when Royal Challengers Bangalore scored 235 against us, he spoke for maybe 30 seconds between the innings and he had the guys believing that they could go out and chase the target.

How big is this IPL final for you?
Outside the World Cup final, it doesn't get any bigger. This is awesome. I'm buzzing. Win or lose, we have made a lot of strides this year as a team. Under Ricky and the support staff, there has been a real shift towards a team-first mentality, putting your body on the line for your mates on the field, putting in that extra little bit of effort. We are actually doing the little things right and we have made massive gains as an organisation in terms of playing for each other and not playing as individuals.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo