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Calm amongst the chaos: McDonald’s meteoric rise

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Expert
20th February, 2019
5

While some of his contemporaries are still donning the whites, Andrew McDonald has achieved in four years what few coaches boast in an entire career.

At just 37, McDonald’s CV is staggering. He has transformed a struggling English county club, won the Sheffield Shield, the JLT one-day cup, and now claimed a BBL title. There’s little wonder former England captain Michael Vaughan has dubbed him an international coach in waiting.

It’s a success story we should celebrate as energetically as Dan Christian’s.

McDonald began his coaching badges at just 27 while still playing, with one eye always on the future. As it happened, the future crept up sooner than even he thought and injury forced an early retirement.

In his first stint as coach at the age of 33, the former all-rounder wasn’t so much thrown in the deep-end as sent overboard with ankle weights. Appointed head coach of Leicestershire, McDonald took over a side that hadn’t won a four-day match in over two seasons. In addition to a despondent playing list, the club was riddled with debt.

But he began to turn things around. Six games into the 2015 season, Leicestershire broke their staggering 992-day drought without a win – the longest in post-war county cricket. McDonald’s mark on the club was immediate.

Andrew McDonald during his playing days

Australia’s Andrew McDonald on debut. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

He spoke of ensuring the club became “somewhere to call home”, nurturing a team environment that “brought values to life through behaviour”.

It was a similar culture that Jason Gillespie implemented so successfully during the same period for Yorkshire, leading them to back-to-back County Championship titles.

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The pair’s ability to stay level-headed in almost all situations noticeably transferred to the playing group.

McDonald’s cool, calm nature was noted throughout his playing days, too. During Australian cricket’s most infamous dressing room spat – the Michael Clarke vs Simon Katich dustup – it was McDonald who eased the considerable tension in the room.

The oft-repeated scuffle took place when the Australian team were celebrating a win on what was the Victorian’s Test debut in 2009. “Kato was saying to each of them (McDonald and fellow debutant Doug Bollinger), ‘I’m really sorry for what happened. I just want you to enjoy this win, I’m really sorry, I don’t want to ruin your first Test match’,” Mike Hussey recalled in his book Underneath the Southern Cross.

“Andrew McDonald broke the ice beautifully. He said, ‘Don’t worry, mate, this happens all the time in Victoria’. Everyone burst out laughing and cheering. We all started drinking again and didn’t think about it.”

It’s a minor detail, perhaps an unbefitting anecdote of a 37-year-old coach who has just lifted the BBL trophy, but one that reflects wider industry praise of a man who maintains a calm exterior, no matter the scenario.

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And it’s a quality that cannot be understated in cricket. McDonald, like any good coach, places a heavy emphasis on mental application during both pressurised match moments, and form fluctuations.

“As a player the one thing I learned is, if you stay as level as you can through the ups and the downs, it holds you in better stead,” he said in 2016. “As a young player I probably didn’t get the balance right.”

This played out several times in BBL08. With a seemingly insurmountable task in certain games – most notably in the final, semi-final and against the Strikers at Adelaide Oval – his players backed themselves to get over the line, irrespective of the situation.

Sam Harper’s self-belief in BBL08, for example, was in no small part due to McDonald’s faith put in him. Christian’s experience, on the other hand, was to thank in many of those tight situations. It comes as no surprise that McDonald made it his personal mission to secure the all-rounder’s signing. “I was very keen on that skillset,” he confirmed on Monday.

Some may put a disclaimer on his achievements for Victoria, in that he inherited an already successful side. The same can’t be said, however, for the Renegades. Like at Leicestershire, McDonald took over a playing squad low on confidence, who had finished in the bottom four for three consecutive seasons.

In his first season at the helm they missed out on the finals by percentage, and the following two seasons comfortably made the top four. Now they are the champions.

But perhaps it was his handling of the Aaron Finch controversy earlier this summer that best typified McDonald’s qualities. Under significant pressure to open Victoria’s batting with Finch, who was set to open for Australia in the first test against India, McDonald stood firm and opted for go-to partners Marcus Harris and Travis Dean.

As the summer wore on, it became apparent that McDonald’d reluctance to use Finch as an opener was valid after all.

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Not that he said anything – he just got on with the job. A job he’s doing extremely well.

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