A history of blazing guns repeats under Billy the Kid

Craig McDermott at the peak of his powers

With much 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 some of the plaudits regarding the meteoric rise of an inexperienced bowling attack be given to the bowling coach, Craig ‘Billy’ McDermott.

Since his retirement forced through chronic injuries back in 1996, the former fast bowler’s life after cricket has been in the press for all the wrong reasons through stories regarding bankruptcy, failure to pay child support and being extorted by a former employee who threatened to put a home made sex video that McDermott made with his wife on the internet. An act that would have no doubt put to rest any arguments about how fast Billy actually was.

Having taken the reins of the Australian bowling coach in the wake of a demoralising home Ashes defeat, it was always going to be a challenging task for the former quick to turn things around with the speed and endeavour with which he trundled.

Losing two of the best bowlers the game has ever seen left a gaping vortex in the Australian bowling stocks and many thought it would be some time before the baggy green was once again associated with fire and venom with the cherry in hand.

There is a sense of irony that the Australians are now losing Tests off the back of meagre batting displays, an area thought to be the brace to hold the team up while a new crop of bowlers found their stride in the test cricket arena. But McDermott has managed to blood the youngsters and get the most out players who routinely rely more on determination than sheer talent. Even more impressive is the problems that the bowling coach has had to overcome 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.

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 ageing swing-king Terry Alderman was no longer in the mix, and although Shane Warne was soon to make his debut in Sydney, it was some time before he spun himself into Australian sporting folklore. This was McDermott’s time to lead this pack of inexperienced and overachieving misfits, in much the same manner that 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.

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 Tests, 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 who was in the same team 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 team with an inspirational leader, and all the quicks gave significant contributions throughout the series.

Fast forward 20 years and Craig McDermott influence is just as prominent as he has managed to morph a youthful attack into a well oiled unit. The general public are once again excited about Australian cricket and in particular fast bowling. The players themselves are also willing to sing the praises of their coach, with the new kid on the block Pattinson saying after his recent run of astonishing form “It has been a credit to Craig McDermott over the last six months that I’ve worked with him day in, day out, it is great I can work hard with him and see the results.” In many aspects the current crop also resembles the bowling line-up from two decades back, with a lack of  established stars, big egos and a no top-quality tweaker (no disrespect to Nathan who on occasions does take the Lyon share of wickets), but hunger and determination to burn.

To you Billy McDermott, I take my hat off. Over recent tests I am just as curious to see how our fast bowlers perform as I am to see your home videos, and that’s saying something.

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Posted on January 6, 2012, in cricket and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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