Graham 'Garth' McKenzie, Australia's most successful fast bowler on Indian soil, is someone Starc & Co can emulate on their current tour
Australian fast bowler Graham McKenzie with Indian stalwarts Chandu Borde and Bapu Nadkarni at a party in Perth during the 1967-68 series. Pic/mid-day archives
How can Australia earn a rare Test series victory in India? Yes, big scores by their batsmen, splendid slow bowling in the land of spin, but also some pace. Their three-man pace pack comprises Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird. Former fast bowler and Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson is convinced pace will show the tourists the way.
“Australia should be concentrating on its fast bowlers. We've got some world-class guys; we've got Hazlewood and Starc who are as good as anybody,” said Lawson in the Sydney Morning Herald recently.
Lawson makes a good point because none of the two wins (2004-05 and 1969-70) in the last 47 years was achieved without pace playing a good part.
In 2004-05, it was Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz who did it for Australia. In 1969-70, while off-spinner Ashley Mallett was wrecker-in-chief with 28 wickets, it was opening bowler Graham McKenzie who also caused serious damage with 21 wickets.
McKenzie (born 1941) seems to be a forgotten hero in Australia vs India cricket. Australia's most successful fast bowler on Indian soil (34 wickets in eight Tests across two tours) made his first visit here in 1964-65 under Bob Simpson. Nicknamed 'Garth' after the comic strip character, he claimed 10 wickets in the opening Test at Chennai where Simpson's team won by 139 runs.
Chandu Borde, who got out to McKenzie in both innings of that contest, felt the Western Australian was the Glenn McGrath of the 1960s. “McKenzie was a complete package - pace, swing and accuracy. And you couldn't stop admiring his broad frame,” Borde said from Pune yesterday. Three years later, McKenzie was in the forefront against the Indians again in the 1967-68 series Down Under. He played the first two Tests in Adelaide (where Borde led India in place of the injured MAK Pataudi) and Melbourne, claimed 10 wickets at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and was out of the side because the administrators reportedly felt he would make the rest of the series too
one-sided. How bizarre!
Pataudi's men hadn't seen the last of him. McKenzie was part of Bill Lawry's touring party to India in 1969-70 and he seemed to relish the challenge of bowling on spin-friendly decks. Armed with a win each and a draw in Kanpur, both teams headed to Kolkata for the fourth Test. Lawry sent India in on a misty morning at the Eden Gardens and McKenzie struck in the first over. Farokh Engineer's “forward defensive prod at a gentle outswinger,” according to writer Rajan Bala in his book Kiwis and Kangaroos, resulted in a catch for Keith Stackpole at second slip before one-drop Ajit Wadekar flicked one into the hands of Eric Freeman at short fine leg. India 0-2 and in came Gundappa Viswanath to do battle against the rampaging Australians in his third Test. What was it like to walk into bat with no runs on the board in a jam-packed Eden Gardens, I asked the master craftsman on Tuesday. “You always have butterflies while walking in, but there were more because of the atmosphere (which suited swing bowling) and the ball moves around there. It was also the first morning of the Test,” he said.
Viswanath scored 54. His square and cover drives off McKenzie were described by Bala as “whiffs of oxygen in an atmosphere of carbon monoxide” while celebrated Australian writer Ray Robinson reckoned Viswanath looked like a “prep among prefects” when he walked into battle amidst a crowd that was stunned by McKenzie's two blows.
“I enjoyed that duel against McKenzie and it gave me a lot of confidence for my future. He was one of the best fast bowlers I faced- not express pace - but fast enough. His massive shoulders helped him generate pace and what a lovely, smooth action he had,” recalled Viswanath.
After Engineer and Wadekar, opener Ashok Mankad made his way back to the pavilion. Ambar Roy, Eknath Solkar and Subrata Guha fell to McKenzie as his 6 for 67 helped Australia bowl out India for 212. As expected, the hosts lost and McKenzie added five wickets to his kitty in Chennai where Australia sealed the series 3-1.
From India, Australia flew out to South Africa where McKenzie could claim only one wicket for 333 runs in three Tests. His solitary victim was opposition captain Ali Bacher who was out hit wicket in Port Elizabeth. Teammate Mallett reckoned McKenzie contracted hepatitis and that took a toll on him in South Africa. After playing three Tests of the 1970-71 Ashes, McKenzie was not considered for Australia, but he continued to play county cricket for Leicestershire.
Until Dennis Lillee became Australia's leading wicket-taker with 355 wickets, McKenzie's 246 scalps were next best to Richie Benaud's 248. While celebrating his cricketing deeds, the Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket praised him for becoming, “one of Australia's greatest wicket-takers, while at the same time earning a reputation as one of the most gentle-natured men ever to play Test cricket.”
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org