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December 10, 2013
Switch Hit: How low will they go?
Australia's bowling coach Craig McDermott is unapologetic about the short-pitched assault that has rendered England's tail all but irrelevant over two Tests, promising more deliveries around the ears of the touring bowlers at WACA for the third Test.
While the hosts' planning for England's batsmen has been surgical, there is a brutal simplicity to how the visiting tail has been targeted. McDermott's own effectiveness batting in the lower order in Test matches was severely cut back by West Indian throat balls in the 1990s, leaving him to often seek sanctuary outside leg stump with the notable exceptions of the one-run defeat in Adelaide in 1993 and a five-run loss to South Africa at the SCG the following year.
Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have all delivered concerted spells of short-pitched bowling at Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar in Brisbane and Adelaide, often with the near Bodyline field of a leg slip, short leg and forward square leg. The results have been stark, condemning England to a "six out, all out" pattern, in contrast to lower order runs made by Brad Haddin, Johnson and Harris for Australia.
"That's been our team plan and I don't think we're going to go away from that," McDermott said as the teams travelled to Perth for the third match. "There's not too many tailenders around the place who bat below seven that enjoy playing a lot of balls around their helmet, so, so be it. Speaking from my personal experience it never really affected my bowling but it certainly affects your batting.
"The way we want to play our cricket we will continue to do, and what you want to describe that as is up to you. We just want to play good, aggressive, Australian cricket, and keep doing that every single day from the moment we put our feet over the [boundary] rope."
Despite the wide margin of victory in Adelaide, Johnson, Harris and Siddle bowled almost as many overs as their England equivalents and will have a day less time to recover after bowling last in the second Test. McDermott forecast little or no bowling for any of the trio ahead of Friday's recommencement of hostilities, confident his experienced pupils knew how to revert to a fuller, swinging length for Perth, its bouncy pitch and assortment of breezes.
"We probably won't bowl too much between now and Friday to be honest, maybe not at all until the morning of the game," he said. "So it really depends on the next 24 hours and how the medical staff look upon that from a recovery point of view. But as a bowling coach I'm really happy with where the guys are at. You might be sore but if you're 2-0 up you're feeling pretty okay, aren't you.
"As far as recalibrating I don't think that's going to be too much of a drama from our point of view, with most of our bowling attack used to bowling at the Gabba or the WACA as their home grounds. We want to be able to swing the ball and bowl good short-pitched bowling when we want to. Our lengths were very good in Brisbane and here, so I'm looking forward more to having them rested and fresh for the start of the game."
McDermott admitted he should not be allowed to take too much credit for the revitalisation of Johnson, who has been the most irresistible force on either side in the first two matches. A haul of 17 wickets augers very well indeed for the WACA ground, where he has surged through 36 victims in five Tests since 2008.
"Everyone keeps talking about me, but it's really had nothing to do with me to be honest," McDermott said of Johnson's startling return. "He's got himself together … the 12 months out of the game has really done him the world of good I think, he's come back a complete cricketer and he's on top of his batting, he's bowling fast, and we've got a great unit. They're not just three or four bowlers, they're all great mates, and to see them on the dressing room floor yesterday afternoon, sitting together, talking about the game and having a beer is what it's all about. If we can keep up that sort of camaraderie in our unit we're going to go really well."
A common sight in McDermott's time as the fast bowling coach has been to glimpse him at the boundary's edge talking to one of his charges between overs. While many will speculate over the theories and techniques that may be discussed, McDermott said it was often a simple chat about life to keep his men relaxed.
"You talk about different things all the time, it might be just stuff, normal everyday things, what's going on in each other's lives, family, all those sorts of things," he said. "It doesn't always have to be cricket, because if you're cricket 24/7 your head's going to explode. It's good to just talk things through.
"They've done their homework, the team's done their homework, not only from a batter's handling their bowlers but where our field placements are. It's not just about getting the ball in the right spot, we've set very, very good fields with Michael [Clarke] and the team's input, so it couldn't be any more complete at the moment."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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