Rise of a heavy­weight


Inside Sport - - Inside | Cricket - – James Smith

In the nearly 50 years since I first played against In­dia in a Test match, their per­for­mance has evolved in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion. A for­mer In­dian player once told me: “We’ve had guys who craved se­lec­tion just so they could show off the cap, sweater and blazer.”

This a­itude was epit­o­mised by a tourist in 1977-78 who was in fine form in the state games. When told he was in line for the next Test side to play against an Aus­tralian a­ack headed by the tear­away Jeff Thom­son, he re­sponded: “Why me?”

While it was true the odd In­dian team mem­ber ac­tu­ally hero-wor­shipped play­ers in the op­po­si­tion side, this is no longer the case. The tone for In­dia’s present com­pet­i­tive­ness was set by play­ers in the mould of as­tute cap­tain “Tiger” Pataudi, pro­lific bats­men such as Su­nil Gavaskar and Sachin Ten­dulkar, the tal­ented all­rounder Kapil Dev and the feisty com­peti­tor Ravi Shas­tri.“

The big hur­dle for In­dian cricket was to be­come more com­pet­i­tive over­seas, es­pe­cially against strong sides like Aus­tralia, Eng­land and South Africa. The im­prove­ment in this re­gard has steadily es­ca­lated, boosted by the com­bat­ive lead­er­ship of Sourav Gan­guly and the ad­vent of the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed IPL.“

In­dia’s im­proved show­ing over­seas has also co­in­cided with a con­certed ef­fort to pro­duce fast bowlers to com­ple­ment their reg­u­lar sup­ply of wily spin­ners. Aus­tralians have played a big part in their pace-bowl­ing pro­duc­tion line, with Den­nis Lillee and then Glenn McGrath in charge at the MRF Pace Foun­da­tion and a stint by Thom­son at a fast bowl­ing acad­emy in Mum­bai.

A strong In­dian tour party led by Vi­rat Kohli – a cap­tain in the Gan­guly mould – now has its best chance of win­ning their first-ever se­ries in Aus­tralia, as they take on a weak­ened home side. How­ever, they also had a great chance to achieve a sim­i­lar feat in Eng­land in the lead-up to this tour, but fluffed that chance badly.

It was the ba­ing – Kohli apart – that failed In­dia in Eng­land, as the fast bowlers per­formed ad­mirably. This poses two ques­tions for Kohli’s side: will the bats­men be able to han­dle a strong Aus­tralian pace a­ack on bouncy pitches? And will their fast bowlers per­form well in con­di­tions that don’t favour swing and seam as they did in Eng­land?

The se­ries shapes as re­volv­ing around ba­ing: which team will make enough runs to pro­vide their a­ack with some lee­way in tak­ing the re­quired 20 wick­ets?“

There’s no doubt Kohli has the class and the pre­vi­ous his­tory to suc­ceed against Aus­tralia’s po­tent a­ack but ques­tion marks abound with the rest of the line-up. Their open­ing part­ner­ship was ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble in Eng­land and they’ll be hop­ing that the tal­ented 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw can bol­ster that weak­ness.

To do so, he’ll need to re­peat the suc­cess of a teenage Ten­dulkar who scored two Test cen­turies on his first tour of Aus­tralia in 1991-92, in­clud­ing a re­mark­able hun­dred on the bouncy WACA pitch.“

With all the ques­tions about In­dia’s bats­men against Aus­tralia’s pace a­ack, the se­lec­tion of the enig­matic Ro­hit

Sharma is an in­ter­est­ing gam­ble. A highly tal­ented and suc­cess­ful short­form bats­man, Sharma hasn’t achieved con­sis­tency in the Test arena. Nev­er­the­less he has the hor­i­zon­tal bat shots to suc­ceed in Aus­tralia and could be a dan­ger­ous op­po­nent if he can over­come his five­day demons.

The ab­sence through in­jury of pace bowl­ing all-rounder Hardik Pandya will hurt In­dia as he pro­vided bal­ance to the line-up. Aus­tralia’s prob­lems with spin bowl­ing are well-doc­u­mented and Pandya’s pres­ence would’ve made it eas­ier for In­dia to in­clude two spin­ners in the side but that op­tion is now more dif­fi­cult to achieve.

There’s a cer­tain amount of doom and gloom sur­round­ing the Aus­tralian ba­ing a€er some dra­matic col­lapses in the UAE and the ab­sence of Steve Smith and David Warner through sus­pen­sion. Nev­er­the­less Aus­tralia has a chance in the se­ries be­cause they pos­sess a po­tent a­ack.

There’s no doubt Aus­tralia has the class

With a much-im­proved at­tack, In­dia won’t flag in their ef­fort be­cause they’ll have in the back of their mind, ‘This team can col­lapse at any mo­ment.’

to dis­miss In­dia cheaply and it’ll be a ma­er of whether the frag­ile ba­ing lineup can then amass enough runs to achieve vic­tory. This will re­quire a cou­ple of Aus­tralian bats­men to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions and for the bowlers to adopt the creed of for­mer West Indies fast bowler Andy Roberts who pro­claimed: “It doesn’t ma­er what the op­po­si­tion bowl us out for, we’ll bowl them out for less.”

How­ever, by re­peat­edly col­laps­ing, the Aus­tralian ba­ing line-up has made a rod for their own back. In­dia – with a much-im­proved a­ack – won’t flag in their ef­fort be­cause they’ll have in the back of their mind, “This team can col­lapse at any mo­ment.”

Aus­tralia ver­sus In­dia con­tests have evolved into a heavy­weight clash in re­cent times and this se­ries has the po­ten­tial to be an en­ter­tain­ing scrap. Kohli’s skill as a bats­man is un­doubted but it’s his a­ack­ing de­sires as a cap­tain that will be fully tested in Aus­tralia. The se­ries could well hinge on Aus­tralia’s abil­ity to con­tain Kohli the bats­man and also whether they can force him into de­fen­sive mode as cap­tain.

Why don't we start with the ques­tion all footy ad­min­is­tra­tors hate be­ing asked: what do you do in the off-sea­son?

Ha ha! There’s no ques­tion it’s qui­eter. Ob­vi­ously you’re not run­ning around from week to week think­ing about footy games and stuff like that. In my job we’re very much in the plan­ning stage for next year. We’re talk­ing about bud­gets, fund­ing and the preparation of dif­fer­ent bits and pieces. We’re also build­ing our NSWRL Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence out at Syd­ney Olympic Park; that’s com­ing to its con­clu­sion. There’s a multi-mil­lion­dol­lar piece of in­fra­struc­ture that has been si‡ing with me for the last two and a half to three years which is about to be com­pleted. So from my point of view, yes, it is a li‡le bit slower footy-wise at the mo­ment, but we’re still fly­ing along.

You have a com­merce de­gree and also stud­ied law at univer­sity. Was some­thing in sports ad­min a main tar­get for you post-play­ing ca­reer?

Oh, I don’t re­ally know. Look, I just got the urge to study. I started later in life; I was about 25 so I didn’t do it straight from school. I went and played cricket and worked as a real es­tate agent as well for a li‡le while. I quite en­joyed the study­ing side of life. I got my­self in and earned my Masters of Com­merce. I en­joyed that and then I turned around and thought, you know, I quite en­joyed the law side of it. My marks were good enough to get my­self into the law pro­gram at Univer­sity of Syd­ney. Once I was in, I be­came im­mersed in it and away I went. I got my teeth into it and started to en­joy it.

Was it a ca­reer as­pi­ra­tion to be­come in­volved in sports ad­min­is­tra­tion? I don’t know. It is fun, I’ve got to say. When I was do­ing the Syd­ney Six­ers stuff for a li‡le while for the cou­ple of years I did it, I re­ally en­joyed it and then went and worked as a lawyer for a cou­ple of years. While that was a great ex­pe­ri­ence, I’m not sure I was ever go­ing to be a part­ner in a law firm; I just didn’t have the “want” to do that. So from my point of view, I think sports ad­min, what­ever the sport may be, I think I would have en­joyed it. I thought maybe this is the call­ing I’ve been look­ing for.

As you just men­tioned, you were a player/ ad­min­is­tra­tor back in the ini­tial days of the BBL for the Six­ers. Did you ever hon­estly in your wildest dreams think the BBL would ex­plode into what it has, and so quickly?

I was at a func­tion to­day and they were talk­ing about the BBL. Now, I went and played in the first T20 World Cup back in 2007 in South Africa. We thought it was just a bit of a joke; we were hav­ing a good laugh. Blokes were miss­ing train­ing to go surf­ing – no one thought this thing was ever go­ing to kick off. Next thing you know the IPL started, all the mega-con­tracts were com­ing out ... peo­ple started tak­ing it a bit more se­ri­ously.

To the credit of Cricket Aus­tralia, they cre­ated the BBL. We all thought “this might work a li‡le bit” and, you know, it was all a bit of fun, as long as it didn’t di­min­ish from the other forms of the game, and didn’t take them over. But it’s a jug­ger­naut now, T20 cricket and ge‡ing stronger and stronger. Not in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be ge‡ing huge au­di­ences on free-to-air TV and 20-30,000 peo­ple turn­ing up. One of the Mel­bourne games a‡racted 70-80,000 peo­ple. That was just un­heard of in do­mes­tic cricket.

You rose up through the Syd­ney grade cricket ranks be­hind Glenn McGrath. You have been de­scribed as su­per-con­sis­tent with your line and length, just like McGrath. Did that come from learn­ing from him, or was that just a co­in­ci­dence that you were sim­i­lar?

I think it was prob­a­bly a li le bit of both.

We are phys­i­cally and ge­net­i­cally very sim­i­lar: tall, skinny and all the rest of it. Nei­ther of us were ever go­ing to bowl as fast as Bre Lee or Shaun Tait – it’s just not in us. So you end up hav­ing to work with what you have.

Glenn cre­ated this suc­cess­ful way of bowl­ing, which was nice and sim­ple, no need to bowl overly fast – you’d still be hi ing around the 130km/h mark. Bowl as many balls as you can at a good length, bounc­ing and hi ing the top of off stump. Whether con­sciously or sub­con­sciously, I must’ve thought, well, if I do the same thing, it might work.

We both played 60-odd games of Sh­effield Shield cricket be­fore ge ing a game for Aus­tralia. He had some un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances with his first wife Jane be­ing ill. He couldn’t go to South Africa. I sup­pose the se­lec­tors said, "Oh well, we want some­one to do some­thing sim­i­lar." I was sort-of there or there­abouts and, next thing you know, I’m play­ing Test cricket.

You fin­ished with 5/55 and 4/34 in your Test de­but against South Africa in 2006. These were the third-best match fig­ures by an Aussie debu­tant be­hind Bob Massie and Clar­rie Grimme­. Did that mean much to you back then? Were you a stats-fo­cussed player at all?

Nah! I knew about it by the end of the game be­cause every­one was say­ing it; it was on TV the whole time. But if you’d asked me be­fore the game “do you know what the best de­but bowl­ing fig­ures are for a Test match?” I couldn’t have told you. Ac­tu­ally, I had known about Massey’s 16 wick­ets – it was in the back of my head be­cause I’d seen footage of it, but apart from that ... It’s not some­thing you par­tic­u­larly think about. To get one game for Aus­tralia and to get a wicket would have been a high­light. I look back now and think, wow, what hap­pened?

What was your great­est strength as a bowler? How was it that you were able to main­tain such a con­sis­tent line across your 24 Tests? Were you just a good trainer ... good lis­tener?

I had a coach when I was com­ing through NSW called Steve Rixon. He used to, not hound us, but he’d be stand­ing at the back of the net with a bit of pa­per. Every time you bowled one down leg side he’d make a note of it. AŠer bowl­ing ten overs and think­ing you’d fin­ished, he’d say, “You bowled 15 balls down the leg side – what are you do­ing? Come back." Some­times as a bowler you start al­most sec­ond-guess­ing your­self. Some­times when you’re not ge“ing any­one out, you start to re­ally hone in on ge“ing a wicket. It’s al­most a ba“le within your­self not to try to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. You fight with your­self to try some­thing when you don’t need to. You’re not back­ing what you’ve done for a long pe­riod of time. You will be suc­cess­ful over time, but you’re liv­ing in the mo­ment rather than in the en­tire space and dis­tance of the game.

Should we be co­on-wool­ing our bowlers, or le­ing them bowl as much as they like in an a­empt to build up their re­sis­tance to in­jury?

Oh look, we all got in­jured. I think there is grounds for the they’re-bowl­ing-too-much ar­gu­ment. There’s no ques­tion about that. But I’m at the stage now where I think we don’t bowl enough. I think there is a nice mid­dle ground there some­where; you don’t want to over-bowl your­self or un­der-bowl your­self. I think we’re re­sid­ing on the side of

“The big­gest price they’ll pay is they’ll have to live with this for the rest of their lives be­cause peo­ple will al­ways re­mem­ber it.”

cau­tion at the mo­ment rather than test­ing how far we can go.

Bowl­ing is such a nat­u­ral thing. We’re not all metronomes; not every­one can bowl the same. Some peo­ple are phys­i­cally or ge­net­i­cally able to bowl more balls than oth­ers. At the mo­ment, we’re al­most cookie-cuer ap­proach­ing it. There’s no real sci­ence to that, other than “this is what they think is go­ing to be the right an­swer”. My point is: guys are still geing in­jured. If all the in­juries had gone away, maybe there would be some sci­ence to say “well, that ad­vice was right”. We keep go­ing down a path of restric­tions in bowl­ing, and you know what, that’s good, but the out­come isn’t any dif­fer­ent. They’re still geing in­jured. So if we just keep do­ing that be­cause we think it’s right, but it’s not right ... then why? But in the same breath, I agree that too much bowl­ing .... if you’re bowl­ing a mil­lion balls every day, you are go­ing to get in­jured. We watched Sand­pa­per­gate play out with our mouths wide open in shock ear­lier this year: as a for­mer player how did you see it all? What were your dom­i­nant thoughts along the way as far the penal­ties were con­cerned, for ex­am­ple?

There’s no ques­tion they did the wrong thing and they needed to be given a pun­ish­ment. The ball­tam­per­ing pun­ish­ment by the ICC, if you think about it, was one match. In my opin­ion, the penal­ties they re­ceived from Cricket Aus­tralia are ridicu­lously ex­ces­sive. Yes, they’ve done the wrong thing, but yes, they’ve paid a high enough price.

The big­gest price they’ll pay is they’ll have to live with this for the rest of their lives be­cause peo­ple will al­ways re­mem­ber it, but if you want to talk about one of the most gut-wrench­ing and hor­ri­ble things that I’ve ever seen, that press con­fer­ence that Steve Smith did when he landed back in Aus­tralia ... I don’t think I’ve ever seen any­thing as hor­ri­ble as that in a crick­et­ing or sport­ing sense. It was un­watch­able. You felt like cry­ing your­self. All the rhetoric that’s gone around about why and how.

Teams gen­er­ally try to get the ball in a con­di­tion where it goes re­verse. Yes, what he did was stupid. Yes, he needed to be pun­ished, or they needed to be pun­ished, but a one-year ban? That’s mad­ness.

You were for­tu­nate or un­for­tu­nate enough to be a part of an­other “gate” game – Mon­key­gate back in 2008 in Syd­ney. With In­dia com­ing to these shores this sum­mer, what are your dom­i­nant mem­o­ries of that game?

I re­mem­ber we won ... An­drew Sy­monds baed re­ally well in the first in­nings and got 100-odd. I re­mem­ber we couldn’t get Sachin out in the first in­nings; I think we got every­one else and he was not out at the other end. We just couldn’t get him out: we tried and tried and tried. I re­mem­ber on day five

we were bowl­ing in those last two ses­sions, try­ing to bowl them out, and there’s this great big hole in the pitch which had just come through wear and tear. The In­di­ans were all look­ing at it and wor­ried about it. I don’t think the ball went any­where near it the whole game. It was just in your eye line and was quite off-puing when you when you were baing.

I ended up geing Sachin out; he chopped on. On the last day, Ishant Sharma walked out to bat. They were try­ing to, as all teams do, de­lay the game and slow it down ... He came out to bat with two leŽhanded gloves and then sort of half­way-out went: Oh, I’ve got the wrong glove!

We ended up geing the three wick­ets and there were the cel­e­bra­tions, but un­for­tu­nately they were marred a lile bit by what went on post-match with all the en­quiries and the hear­ing, but yeah, a fab­u­lous game of cricket, went right down to the fi­nal cou­ple of overs. Some of the greats of In­dian cricket were on the other end, as they’ve done to us over there nu­mer­ous times. They’re still just so good in their con­di­tions.

Ro­hit Sharma needs to over­come his five-day demons. Hardik Pandya's ab­sence will hurt In­dia.

Clark had a great time over in Cape Town in his de­but Test in 2006. He is still a Blue, but in rugby league these days.

In the nets for the Six­ers. This T20 thing is a joke, yeah?  With a bloke they call Pi­geon.

It­wa­s­painful­for every­one. ­€‚ƒNot a bad­bowlin­gat­tack, that. ­ƒ†€‡TheAussies just couldn'tgetSachin out attheSCG.

PatRafter­hasafew tales­fromtheClas­sic, as doesBobHawke[ ].

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