With some of the flack from the recent batting debacles being flung in the direction of the Australian batting coach Justin ‘Play Your Natural Game’ Langer, it is only fair that the plaudits regarding the meteoric rise of an inexperienced bowling attack be given to the bowling coach, Craig McDermott.
Having taken the reins in the wake of the home Ashes defeat, it was always going to be a challenging task for the former fast bowler to turn things around at the speed at which he bowled.
Losing two of the best bowlers the game has ever seen didn’t leave a hole, but a vortex. It was safe to say that many thought it would be some time before the baggy green would be once again associated with fire and venom with the cherry in hand.
It is a huge positive for the game in this country that it has come around so quickly, with the bowlers functioning as a well-oiled unit.
There is a sense of irony that the Australians are losing Tests off the back of meagre batting displays, an area thought to be the brace to hold the team up while the bowling stocks were replenished. What is most impressive is what McDermott has had to deal with during his brief tenure; injuries aplenty, no recognised match-winner, the lack of a top-class spinner, and a Mitchell Johnson radar more prone to straying than Tiger Woods.
But to gauge an idea of how McDermott has helped the bowlers gel so quickly, one must rewind the clock precisely 20 years, to a time before the stellar careers of Pigeon McGrath and Plastic Keithy had even begun, when ‘Billy’ McDermott himself had the ball in hand as the spearhead of the Aussie attack.
The Indians were touring Australia and, much like this time around, they were packing some formidable talent in their kit bags. The likes of Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin, Ravi Shastri and a young Sachin Tendulkar all featured, but the Indians were dominated by the home side, who were lead by a blistering paceman from Ipswich.
McDermott had signalled his arrival some years earlier by taking 30 wickets in an Ashes series in England, but had since that time struggled with form and injuries. Against the Indians he hit the peak of his career, taking 31 wickets at 21.62 for the series. The Aussies prevailed 4-0 over the five-Test series, winning by margins of 10 wickets, 8 wickets, 38 runs and 300 runs in an extremely lopsided series.
McDermott headed a bowling attack directed by one of the most ruthless captains Australia has ever produced, Allan Border, but it featured no superstars, lacked a quality spinner, and included the best beer gut and tash combo the game has ever seen in Merv Hughes (mind you Boonie might have something to say about that).
Along with the larger-than-life Hughes and the firey McDermott, there were contributions from Beanpole Bruce Reid, Mike ‘Ganjaman’ Whitney, Paul ‘Not Out’ Reiffel and Peter ‘That Catch’ Taylor. Ambrose, Walsh, Patterson and Marshall they were not. But they bowled as a unit with an inspirational leader, and all the quicks gave significant contibutions throughout the series.
The ageing swing-king Terry Alderman was no longer in the mix, and although Shane Warne debuted in this series in Sydney, he was nothing more than an ineffective blob with a bad hairdo. This was McDermott’s time to lead this pack of inexperienced and overachieving misfits, much like he is doing today.
Having lost the previous series narrowly in the West Indies, but having won the previous two Ashes series (they would also win the next six), it was the beginning of the Wonder Years for Australian cricket, and Craig McDermott was taking Paul Pfeiffers like they were going out of fashion.
Fast forward 20 years and Craig McDermott has once again got people excited about Australian cricket, and in particular fast bowling. The current crop is young and hungry. Only lacking big egos and a top-quality tweaker (no disrespect to Nathan), it in some ways resembles the bowling line-up from two decades back.
It is worth noting that Australia not only won that series at a canter, but kept the one-day trophy as well. Let’s hope with McDermott pulling the strings, history repeats.