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Opinion

McDonald’s serving up humble pie to the critics but selfless coach refuses to dine out on World Cup glory

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Expert
23rd November, 2023
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Andrew McDonald enjoyed a fine playing career that took him all the way to a baggy green cap despite constantly being doubted. 

As unfashionable as they come but effective nonetheless, he was never the darling of the national selectors or pumped up in the media as an option to fill Australia’s obsession with finding a seam-bowling all-rounder. 

He’s now proving the doubters wrong again as Australia’s coach, delivering success in the post-Justin Langer period to virtually erase the lingering memory of his high-profile predecessor’s abrupt exit at the start of last year. 

It now feels like a lot longer ago but it was February of 2022 when Langer quit after the senior players told Cricket Australia they would prefer a coach who micromanaged less and trusted more. 

When McDonald was installed soon after, doubts were raised about his credentials given his coaching experience was solid but not world-class. 

He was seen as a puppet of new captain Pat Cummins who was too lenient on the players in the dressing room and at the selection table. 

Coaching, as the masochists who line up for the tumultuous task will tell you, is a results-driven business and McDonald has already filled his resume with more silverware (a World Test Championship trophy and an ODI World Cup) than Langer and Darren Lehmann each did during their much lengthier tenures while also recording similar results in the marquee contests of the Ashes and clashes with India. 

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This World Cup alone, there were so many tactical moves which looked like major risks at the time and they were right to be questioned but McDonald can feel vindicated because at the end of the six-week tournament, Cummins and his crew were the ones holding the trophy aloft on the podium at Ahmedabad in front of a near empty stadium vacated by crestfallen Indian fans. 

No.1 – Rolling with one frontline spinner: McDonald was lucky that Adam Zampa’s back problems early in the tournament didn’t worsen because when Ashton Agar was ruled out prior to the World Cup and an extra batter was selected in Marnus Labuschagne, it seemed bewildering to risk playing a six-week tournament in India with just one specialist tweaker.

All-rounder Glenn Maxwell is a virtual second frontliner in turning conditions for white-ball fixtures but the gamble could have backfired big time with a surfeit of seam all-rounders in the squad with Mitchell Marsh, Cameron Green, Sean Abbott and Marcus Stoinis at least one too many.

AHMEDABAD, INDIA - NOVEMBER 19: Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Mitch Marsh and Andrew McDonald, Head Coach of Australia poses with the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Trophy following the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 Final between India and Australia at Narendra Modi Stadium on November 19, 2023 in Ahmedabad, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Mitch Marsh and Andrew McDonald at Narendra Modi Stadium. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

No.2 – Head games: Waiting out the first five matches of the tournament without Travis Head as his broken hand recovered was another roll of the dice which paid handsome dividends when he eventually returned – two tons, including the match-winning masterpiece in the final.

But an already tired squad was made to work that extra bit harder early on as they tried to bounce back from an 0-2 start.

No.3 – Inglis for Carey: It was clear that Alex Carey had lost his mojo, whether it was the lingering effects of the hyperbolic attention he received after the Jonny Bairstow stumping incident in the Ashes, only he knows, but his form was well down.

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The Aussies brought in Inglis after the opening loss to India and although his batting didn’t hit any great heights (159 at 1987 with one half-century), his glovework was tidy enough and the team started winning following the South Africa defeat and never looked back so a winning combination was not changed.

No.4 – Sticking with a tired line-up: Of the 15 players selected, Carey played just that first match and Abbott was only used as a chair filler, Academy Awards style, for Mitchell Starc in the dead rubber final group game against Bangladesh. 

Apart from Cameron Green’s three matches, the same 12 players were used for the rest of the tournament and after a hectic schedule for the multi-format nucleus of the team involving the Border-Gavaskar Trophy tour, the IPL, World Test Championship final and Ashes, they looked like they were running on fumes early in the World Cup.

But they got their second wind and powered to the finish – makes Nasser Hussain’s claim that England bombed out in their title defence due to the Ashes campaign look kind of hollow.

Australian players celebrate after winning the 2023 World Cup.

Australian players celebrate after winning the 2023 World Cup. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

No.5 – Marcus or Marnus for semis and final: The middle-order batting was a problem throughout the tournament and Labuschagne carved a niche for himself as the safeguard if the top order failed to fire. 

Stoinis had the greater potential to blaze a game-turning innings but evidence of this ability has been thin on the ground in recent years. 

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The decision to go with Labuschagne proved a masterstroke in the final when his patient half-century and continual turning the strike over allowed Head to explode and the heads of many local fans in the stadium to do likewise.

No.6 – Bowling first in the decider: The conventional wisdom, particularly in matches when everything is on the line, in white-ball cricket is to bat first, put up a decent total and defend every run with gusto.

But the decision by the Australian brains trust to bowl first in Ahmedabad proved spot on – the pitch flattened out as the day progressed into the evening as the dew made it harder to bowl for India. 

Other coaches, both Australian and from other nations, would be dining out on the glory of such an unexpected World Cup win.

AHMEDABAD, INDIA - NOVEMBER 19: Pat Cummins of Australia lifts the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Trophy following the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 Final between India and Australia at Narendra Modi Stadium on November 19, 2023 in Ahmedabad, India. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

You had to look hard to find McDonald in the immediate aftermath of Maxwell hitting the winning runs.

He didn’t jump in the huddle that the players shared after sprinting to the middle, there was a polite handshake with opposing coach Rahul Dravid and McDonald returned to the background where he is most comfortable.

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Cummins had to yell out to McDonald and the support staff to come onto the stage a full minute after they had started hooting and hollering with the trophy.

McDonald is a little more than 18 months into a four-year contract and he seems tied to this group of players that will fade into retirement over the next few summers.

He was not the best credentialled coach on the market when Langer left, more the safest pick, but McDonald has proved he was the right person for the most-scrutinised job in Australian sport in the best way possible.

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