RETURN TO VACANT POST
McDermott refrained from “pointing a finger at anyone in particular” but did admit that the Aussie fast bowlers hadn’t “bowled at their best”. © Getty
On a day David Saker resigned with immediate effect as Australia’s assistant coach, the man he’d replaced three years earlier, Craig McDermott, has said a potential return to the position he vacated in 2016 was “open to discussion”. The former Australian fast bowler, who took 291 Test wickets, had two stints as part of the coaching staff-as bowling coach between 2011 and 2012 before taking over as assistant coach in late 2013 and continuing till the 2016 World T20 in India. Speaking exclusively to Cricbuzz, McDermott spoke about having followed the current team very closely during the summer and how guiding them again was “always something that you would look at”, especially during a year that’ll see the Australians defend their title at the World Cup in England before staying back to try and retain the Ashes.
“I follow the team. I still got my son playing the game and I follow the team closely. I certainly watch all the bowlers bowl all the time and everything else. And I also watch about every BBL game, so I’m aware of what goes on around the place. Everything is open to discussion at the end of the day, isn’t it? It’s something that you would always look at,” he said.
It was at the start of McDermott’s second tenure that Mitchell Johnson found his calling as a fast-bowling demolition man and terrorized the English batsmen during the 2013-14 Ashes that the hosts won 5-0. It was also under McDermott that Mitchell Starc transformed from a fast bowler who swung the ball at high speeds, but according to many-Shane Warne in particular-lacked the killer instinct to the most devastating ODI bowler in the world. And the former tearaway from Brisbane recalls his previous stints with great joy.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with all the young fast bowlers who are now all our premier fast bowlers of the Australian team. So, they are good young guys and very good bowlers,” he said, having also seen the rise of Josh Hazlewood among others.
McDermott revealed that he hadn’t been contacted by anyone within Cricket Australia (CA) and that he’d been unaware of Saker’s resignation till he was informed by Cricbuzz.
“I only heard about it when you texted me and then I googled it. I didn’t know before that. As I said, it’s always open to discussion,” he said. “I suspected that might happen sometime after what happened in South Africa, so it’s just one of those things,” McDermott added. Saker is the only long-term member from the coaching staff on that ill-fated tour who survived till the Aussie summer. While captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft received bans, coach Darren Lehmann stepped down as coach. There’s been a lot of speculation within the Aussie media about relations between Saker and head coach Justin Langer having broken down over the last few months. Langer didn’t help matters by revealing in a statement, “David and I have had ongoing discussions over the past nine months about his role with the team, and we agreed it’s the right time to head in a different direction in the best interests of the team.”
Though while some sources close to the team are surprised about the timing of Saker’s departure, especially with two back-to-back mega events in the offing, the disappointing returns of the Aussie pacers during the India series they believe was the final nail in the Victorian’s tenure.
At times, the bowling plans also left a lot to be desired, while the execution for major parts of the four Tests against Virat Kohli & Co was rather below par. While Starc struggled throughout the series and took his poor form into the pink-ball Test against Sri Lanka, Hazlewood was a shadow of himself following a decent start to the summer in Adelaide. Pat Cummins was the only consistent member of the attack and starred against a hapless Sri Lankan team, while Starc regained some of his form during the final Test of the summer in Canberra.
McDermott refrained from “pointing a finger at anyone in particular” but did admit that the Aussie fast bowlers hadn’t “bowled at their best” and didn’t want to see too much into their performances against the Lankans.
“It was a tough summer. We probably didn’t bowl our best. I thought our lengths were a bit out. We weren’t moving the ball around like the Indians were, were we? Didn’t have the right seam shape, things like that. There’s a bit there to work on. They obviously also improved against Sri Lanka, but they are probably not a team you want to really measure yourself against totally after not going so well against India,” he said.
During his time at the helm, McDermott was credited with having collectively improved the lengths that the Australian fast bowlers were hitting. He focused on getting them to bowl fuller and get the batsmen to drive a lot more. He even managed to get a back-of-a-length exponent like Peter Siddle to bowl slightly closer to the batsmen and saw the hard-working Victorian turn into a wicket-taker. And it’s understandable that McDermott wasn’t impressed with the lengths that the Australian pace-attack bowled at collectively, especially against India. It showed too as it was the first season Down Under since 1886, where none of their fast bowlers managed to get an lbw.
“I thought we were bowling a bit too short during the summer. A lot of balls, if they were aimed at the stumps, missed the stumps. I think we did a bit better in the Brisbane Test to a degree with the pink ball, and got it fairly right at Manuka too. We got a lot of catches behind the wicket, which was always a good sign of that, and a number of clean-bowleds which is another sign. We need to continue to do that game after game,” said McDermott.
He also recalled the “great work” that Starc had put in four years ago in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup where he finished with 22 wickets at an average of 10 apiece, and helped Australia win their fifth title. Like many other experts over the summer, he too admitted that a lot of things, including confidence, hadn’t worked too well for the left-arm tearaway before he recorded a 10-wicket haul at the Manuka Oval.
“Confidence is a big part of anybody’s bowling. So you’ve got to feel happy with your run-up, you have got to feel balanced and your seam position is right, there are a lot of things that need to be right to be bowling well. It just hasn’t been sort of happening for Mitchell. But he obviously bowled at Manuka and hopefully he can build on that. (Four years ago) He did a lot of great work himself. Certainly I helped him along that way. Ultimately, the bowler’s got to put in some work too to do what he’s been coached. He did the work and became the best ODI bowler in the world during that period. He’s probably still one of the best,” said McDermott.
One of the key factors attributed to Starc’s inability to swing the Kookaburra against the Indians, like the world is used to see him do, was his seam position. Referring to seam position and lengths that fast bowlers target as “basics of fast bowling”, McDermott felt that there was “work to be done”.
“Anyway that’s up to the next bowling coach or assistant coach or whatever his title is to start working with the guys on that. I’m sure they’re already concentrating on things like that because they are the basics of fast bowling,” he said. Whether that’ll be him in his third stint, like McDermott said, remains “open to discussion”.