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Jack McNamara Interview

Cricket Web forum member Jack McNamara was part of the Australian Under 19 squad that visited Sri Lanka for February’s Under 19 World Cup. Whilst the side reached the Semi Final, before going down to the eventual winners, Pakistan, McNamara himself had a mixed tournament.

Here, he talks to fellow forum member Pratyush Khaitan about his experiences growing up, the tournament itself and his hopes for the future.

PK: Not since Ray Bright has a specialist left arm orthodox spinner represented Australia at the senior level. Some recent non-specialists to do it include former Australian captain Allan Border and Michael Clarke. Jack McNamara is the latest of a rare Australian breed. He has already toured India and Sri Lanka as part of the Australian under-19 team.

How did you take to cricket? Tell us a bit about your progress to an Australia under-19 cricketer.

JM: My father, like a lot of people who grew up in rural Australia, subscribed to the stereotypically Australian ‘Football in winter, cricket in Summer’ theory, so I guess a bit of that caught onto me. I was always a bit better at cricket, and since we live so close to a park, I ended up heading to train with the Under 12s when I was seven. I bowled medium pace (well, I thought it was quick) until I was 12, when the coach of the local U14 representative team saw my left arm spinners and told me I’d have a better chance of making the side bowling spin.

Since then it’s been a pretty good ride – Victorian U17s and U19s, and was fortunate enough to be selected for the Australian side on my performances at the most recent U19 National Carnival, in combination with my results for the Camberwell Magpies in Melbourne’s Premier Cricket.

PK: Who are your heroes, or idols?

JM: Daniel Vettori is probably the guy who I most enjoy watching. I guess being left arm, and having played a number of times – and bowled extremely well – in Australia, means that he’s someone I can watch and learn off, more so than a right arm off-spinner. His lines are always pretty good, but it’s his length that I most enjoy, and his willingness to get hit to take a wicket. That’s something that I think he’s more prepared to do than any other spinner in the world.

Also, Ray Bright – the ex-Australian and Victorian spinner – has been a mentor of sorts since I was about 14. He’s heavily involved in Victorian cricket as a selector, but is often there at the youth programs working with us young spinners. He’s taken his own time to conduct a few one-on-one sessions and has been a great sounding board to bounce ideas off, having so much experience himself.

PK: How does it feel to be representing your country at such a young age?

JM: Lucky. Not many people ever get to represent their country, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to do so before I’m out of my teens.

PK: What did you learn from the Under-19 World Cup experience?

JM: I don’t think I learnt anything from about my bowling that I didn’t already know. I need to ensure that my stock ball becomes more potent and threatening, something that’s more important in Australian conditions where there isn’t the turn that you see in Sri Lanka. More directly from the WC, I guess I learnt that as I play higher levels of cricket – especially one day cricket – then I probably have to accept that 4 an over is more “par for the course”, whereas in cricket back home, that means I’ve bowled poorly.

Also, in combination with my experiences from an earlier U19 tour, I’ve learn that against the subcontinent sides, it’s generally harder to bowl the 10 overs straight – because they get so used to you towards the end of your spell. Often, I had bowled five overs for less than 18 or so, but ended up going for more than 40.

PK: You only took three wickets from five matches, but you did finish with a satisfactory economy rate of around four an over. How is bowling in the subcontinent different from bowling in Australia? What changes did you have to make?

JM: I guess the main adjustment I had to make – and I didn’t really do it all that well in the end – was that I had to be more of a strike bowler for the side on pitches that aren’t going to give much help to the pace bowlers. As you said, three wickets in five games shows that it wasn’t a role I performed that successfully.

Bowling in the subcontinent is different simply because you get rewarded a lot more for the amount of revolutions you put on the ball. In Australia, if you try to spin one hard, it’s pot luck as to whether it will spin or not, but in the subcontinent it seemed to spin, and bounce, a lot more when you put in that extra effort. The only real change I made was that I had to bowl a little bit “straighter” – pitching more around leg rather than off stump like I usually do. This was due to a combination of the extra turn and the team’s focus on bowling really tight lines, restricting the width that the other sides take toll of very well. In the end, this resulted in me bowling a lot more wides down leg side than I usually would, which was a bit disappointing.

Having said all of that, I was pretty conscious of not trying to change too much and sticking to what I do well. You hear about spinners heading over to India and Sri Lanka and bowling a lot flatter, just trying to get the ball to turn. I know that’s not my strength ‘ so I tried to stick to what I do well, my flight and control, without altering too much of the make-up of my spinners that got me picked in the first place.

PK: What’s the intensity and standard like at the Under 19 level?

JM: The intensity and standard at U19 level is really hard to gauge. Being in a tough group [alongside South Africa and the West Indies], it was as though we were playing finals all the time. I’d probably compare both the standard and the intensity to that which I found in the Melbourne Grade Cricket finals last year, or maybe the Cricket Australia Cup game that I played (2nd XI State Competition).

The hardest thing about the games were that the opposition were so confident – and executed their cricket a lot better after that – once they got on top, but we always felt that if we gained control of the game, then the other sides didn’t have the fight that you’d expect. What makes the standard hard to gauge is the different conditions, playing on different pitches, in different weather and on different outfields. Nonetheless, it was high class competition, and a privilege to take part in.

PK: Which players impressed you during the tournament?

JM: Piyush Chawla is a real classy act, as indicated by the fact that he was chosen in the Test squad for India to play against England. He bowls leg spinners with a really high action, and almost ends past the perpendicular. He has a fantastic wrong’un, flights the ball really well and and is supremely accurate. He’s also very handy with the bat – a guy who could be a real pest with the bat for oppositions, making hundreds from number seven or eight.

South Africa’s Craig Alexander was probably the quickest bowler that we faced. He mainly bowled outswing, but because of his height he didn’t really extract that much bounce. He took a couple of early poles against us before ending up with four for 40. He seems to have watched a lot of Andre Nel’s antics and, if not for him getting frustrated over a few good shots, could have ended up with a much better end result.

Sri Lanka’s captain, Angelo Mathews, also showed a fair bit of talent. He injured himself in the game prior to playing us – and in the time honoured tradition of Sri Lankan captains, still managed to get a runner – but bowled at good nippy pace, as well as hitting a very clean ball. He seemed to be a much better batsman than a number 6, where he batted throughout the tournament ‘ he’s a batting all-rounder with a lot of ability.

India’s Rohit Sharma was technically the best batsmen I have ever seen. He had the most all-round game of any of the Indians – as well as eating up width and balls on the pads, he played a lot straighter than most, and had back foot strokes to die for. He looked to me to be the sub-continent batsman who is most likely to succeed in any conditions. Having seen him play a lot of games now, the only hurdle that he needs to overcome is to begin converting his starts. He’s made some of the best 30s a man could hope to see – once he starts making 100s in a similar vein, he’ll go a long way.

It might have been Anwar Ali who took all the wickets in the final, but considering that his action means he’ll probably be in a wheelchair at the age of 25, his opening partner Jamshaid Ahmed bowled beautifully in both the semi and final. Bowling left arm inswingers at a fantastic length, once he starts to move it both ways he’ll become a real problem for the best of batsmen. He even looks like Wasim Akram!

PK: In your short career you have played in quite a few grounds. Which hold special place in your heart?

JM: I guess my home ground in Melbourne, the Camberwell Sports Ground, simply because you get to know it so well. I really loved playing at Mohali in India, and the Sinhalese Sports Club’s ground in Colombo was very successful for us during the World Cup – prompting us to joke between ourselves about whether we could play our day/night semi final there, even though there weren’t any lights at the ground!

PK: Finally, are you Australia’s answer to Ashley Giles?

JM: Haha. Nah, I bowl around the wicket! Seriously, if I achieved a half of what Giles has managed to do, it’d be an honour. But I certainly won’t be basing my game on his – what I need to do is take more wickets to progress as a cricket player, and adopting Giles’ mentality – which, mind you, perfectly suits the needs of the English side – won’t help me.

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