As Dennis Lillee hands over the Chennai-based MRF Pace Foundation to Glenn McGrath after 25 years in charge, one thing is for sure—he couldn’t have asked for a better successor. The two former Australian fast bowlers speak of their bowling philosophy, and what it means to coach upcoming bowlers. Edited excerpts:

How difficult was the job when you started?

Lillee: When I arrived here in 1987 to start work at the MRF Pace Foundation, not many gave me a chance. I remember one of those nights, I was sitting with one of the Indian coaches having a drink, and he said, “You’re going to have a big challenge here because historically, fast bowlers in India are like ribbon cutters". I asked him “what’s a ribbon cutter?" “They cut the ribbon to start the event, and then on come the spinners." That’s changed now.

How did you change these perceptions?

Lillee: There was no thought about aerobic fitness when we started. It

New ground: Glenn McGrath (left), who takes over from Dennis Lillee (in white), being introduced to trainees. PTI

It must be exciting to step into Lillee’s shoes.

McGrath: It’s been five years since I retired and there’s a lot that has happened in those years. After getting remarried, there’s a lot of stability, which puts me in a good spot. I’m now ready to get back in this great game. What Dennis has started is incredible and now that I have been handed the baton to continue that legacy, I’m really looking forward to it.

You were here 20 years ago for training. What was it like?

McGrath: I have worked with Dennis a few times and other coaches around the world. Dennis is easily top of the pile. If I could do half as good a job then I would be successful. This academy is the only one of its kind in the world, predominantly for fast bowlers. To have an effect on young guys coming through, the attitude and the work ethic, skills and lead them in the right direction is a great opportunity.

Who’s your favourite Indian fast bowler?

Lillee: Zaheer (Khan). He wasn’t a complete bowler when he started, but he has now turned a full circle. He’s a complete bowler. You must have longevity, you must be able to reinvent yourself—that’s the key to being a good bowler over a long period of time. Zaheer has all of that.

Who do you think will take over from Zaheer?

McGrath: There is a lot of talent around—Umesh Yadav and Varun (Aaron) look promising. But the big issue is nurturing. They’ve got their basics right, now they must be well managed.

Are fast bowlers being over-coached in India? Irfan Pathan started as a promising talent, but his career didn’t go according to plan.

Lillee: I have no doubt at all that it had nothing to do with Irfan’s fitness or strength training. It had a lot to do with technique. He didn’t change the technical problems. Now he’s put in a lot of work and made a comeback, but it’s taken a long time for the penny to drop. Sometimes, when you’re doing really well, you don’t want to listen to anyone. Then you hit the bottom, rock bottom.

Len Pascoe once said that it is hard to explain fast bowling to someone who can’t do it. Have you found this to be true?

Lillee: Yes, even when you’re coaching young children, it isn’t easy. You don’t want to overawe them, complicate their thinking and actions. You work with them. You may see a child with plenty of pace, raw pace, but he’s all over the place. The challenge then is to sit him down and explain the mechanics of fast bowling. You’ve got to get him sorted in the head. It’s interesting to hear McGrath point out that what I was doing with fast bowlers around Australia 20 years ago, is the same today. We’ve hardly ever changed an action unless it’s a train smash.

What was your philosophy towards fast bowling?

Lillee: You need to have a never-say-die attitude. You need to realize that you will not get wickets by bowling three or four amazing balls in an over. You’re going to get wickets by out-thinking a batsman, changing your pace, your angles. I had a philosophy which a lot of people laughed at—I was prepared to die on the pitch to take a wicket.

Sanjeeb Mukherjea is the chief cricket correspondent for CNN-IBN.

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