Former Australia leg-spinner Stuart MacGill felt India's performance here in 2003-04 when Sourav Ganguly's men squared the four-Test series at one win apiece was thanks to docile pitches. MacGill, who played all four Tests of that series, finished with a haul of 14 wickets.
Got him: Stuart MacGill celebrates the wicket of VVS Laxman during
the Melbourne Test in 2003. Pic/Getty Images
The likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman consider that tour as India's finest showing overseas. Australia, at the time, were the undisputed champions, though they fielded a side minus Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne But, MacGill felt it was "ridiculous" for Australia to play on slow and low pitches that helped the visiting Indians.
MacGill, who recently came out of retirement to play the Big Bash T20 League, visited his beloved Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) yesterday to watch Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke pummel the Indian bowlers on Day Two of the ongoing second Test match.
Excerpts from an interview:
How does it feel to be back at the ground where you took 53 wickets from eight Tests at 24.00?
You know, part of the reason for me to play T20 again is the motivation to play at the SCG. The minute I knew there was a team from Sydney, I told myself I could do it. When I came back here, my family was there to watch me. My children don't even remember me playing. I am a much better player than a spectator. I was getting bored just watching games. When I look down there, I still want to bowl. I would happily play for India (laughs), I don't care. I am really enjoying playing again. It's given me a whole new lease of life.
Any spinner in the world that impresses you?
Not even Graeme Swann? What about R Ashwin?
I don't think there's any way you can be disrespectful of Swann's record. He's done really well for England. He's just not my kind of spin bowler. I like to see lots of work on it (the ball). I like to see batsmen made to look silly. I rarely see that today. Bowlers depend on drift, or on the pitch. I really love watching Harbhajan Singh bowl because he gets a lot of revs on the ball. It's unfortunate that he's out of the side. I want him to start putting that effort again. India are missing his skill and effort.
Is T20 the sort of format which allows one to make a comeback?
The thing for me physically is there's no doubt I am not at my peak. The expectations I have of my bowling are the same. For me, playing cricket was all about beating the batsmen. I don't want to bowl at someone and let them think they are better than me. If I don't, then I don't want to play. It's quite exciting for me (to be back) because I am bowling really well. I am turning it both ways. I am going to play till I can't. I love beating a batsman. In the real world, you cannot make someone feel bad about him or herself. In cricket, I can. That's why I miss playing (laughs).
You never performed that well against India. You averaged 50.78 in that 2003-04 series...
I had a great game against India at Melbourne (third Test). I got VVS Laxman out in both innings - caught at slip both times. I felt really great. Then we came here (to Sydney), and Sachin (Tendulkar) made lots of runs, everyone did. That was a big disappointment. More disappointing was that I never played in India. I travelled for the 2000-01 series but they (management) never played me. It was perhaps because they didn't want two leg-spinners. But, both Shane and I believed that we should have played together. We would have taken so many wickets together. It was funny because the game when we played against the Rest of the World (the Super Test in October 2005 versus Rest of the World), everyone said that the opposition wasn't good enough. But, the truth was that Shane and I together were too good for them. We took 15 of the 20 wickets (MacGill 9-82 and Warne 6-71).
Your thoughts on India's performance here in Australia in 2003-04...
You know before this (ongoing) series started, I felt that if Australia prepared fast wickets, we would be very competitive, if not win because I knew that our young quickies would trouble their batsmen. I knew if you bowl good balls to the Indian batsmen on a testing surface, they would be found out. The thing that I hated about the 2003-04 series was that the pitches were so docile. If we had prepared slow pitches like then, we'd have got crushed. The wickets in that series were really slow. It was ridiculous. I remember Rahul Dravid nicked one off me (at Adelaide) - and the ball bounced twice before reaching first slip. It was ridiculous. How on earth were we expected to play on pitches that favoured the visitors? But, I don't want to take too much credit away from the Indians. It's okay. They are great batsmen. But, you have to learn how to play on all sort of wickets. I don't care how great a batsman you are.
Could you talk about your abrupt retirement in the middle of a Test series in West Indies in 2008? There were so many theories surrounding it...
I've been having a lot trouble with my hand. I couldn't get the grip with my fingers. I had a significant knee injury on my back leg. My pivot at the time of delivery wasn't strong enough. I was just using my upper body. It felt like I was cold all the time. The reason I retired midway through that series was because I was bowling to guys that I knew I was better than, but who were still hitting me. It was not just myself that I was letting down. My hand is feeling better now. It's a shame I am not 30. I could've played on despite losing that sting in bowling. I was the No 1 spinner since Shane Warne had retired. But I couldn't live with myself when I couldn't do what I wanted to. I have nothing against anyone who tries to hang on past their prime. But, I am not the sort of guy.
Bishan Singh Bedi said that your action was one the most beautiful he had ever seen for a spinner. Who do you credit for it?
My father (Terry MacGill) was a leggie too. He coached me for the majority of my childhood. Funny thing is that he didn't turn the ball. I think I copied his action. Because, when is started playing, nobody walked in to bowl - that's something Shane (Warne) introduced. But, it's (the action) something I came up with myself. I thought a lot about my action. I knew that I wanted to use as much of my body as I could. I always wanted to get as much on it (the ball) as I could. That was the main part of my action. And also the other thing I tried to do with my action is repetition. I always started in the same spot, drew a right angle on the ground, and tried to again. These days, young bowlers don't do that. They don't have the strength of Warne. They are trying to walk in to the crease and just suddenly bowling. You need to gather momentum going into the crease. It's flattering that Bishan said something like that, considering that he had a beautiful action himself.
You never smiled while playing. What was that about?
In the dressing room, I did. Test cricket was hard. I was playing against very skilful batsmen. It was like meditation. I was like 'just let me bowl, leave me alone'. I even found that if I got a wicket, I would explode. But I would immediately bring it back together. If my heartbeat would rise again, I would bowl bad balls. I always wanted to keep it in zone, and keep bringing it back to the same spot. That's why I never sledged batsmen. When I bowled, I would curse myself. I never wanted to get happy about anything because I wanted to keep getting back to square one, focus on the next ball.
Despite doing so well, you were often dropped when Warne returned from injury. Did that ever annoy you?
To be honest, that didn't bother me. I always looked at it as an advantage. It was always my first Test. I was coming back into the side, sometimes played one Test a year. There was always the excitement I felt of playing 'my first Test'. But, I was comfortable with my position. I wanted everyone to know that I could do what I could.