Heeding father's advice pays off for Mitchell

MARK GEENTY IN PORT ELIZABETH
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2013
Mitchell McClenaghan
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INTIMIDATING: Mitchell McClenaghan is a big man who likes to make his presence felt on the field. He says if a batsman can be made to have a mental lapse ‘‘you’re one step ahead of them already’’.

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In terms of fatherly advice, the little gem dished out by Mitchell McClenaghan's old man when he was 19 takes some beating.

Young Mitchell was just trundling along, rolling his left arm over and struggling to break into the Howick-Pakuranga premier team. Father Dennis had seen enough. Something had to change if he was going to crack the cricketing big time.

"Growing up in New Zealand, on our wickets, during my teens I was just doing little medium swingers and that's how you were taking wickets," McClenaghan recalled this week, ahead of the one-day series against South Africa starting tomorrow night.

"One day my dad just says ‘mate, the niche in New Zealand is to bowl quick, so why don't you just run in and bowl quick'. It just went from there. I didn't worry about accuracy too much but that's come along as my career has progressed. I went out there initially to want to be the quickest bowler in the country."

A lot has changed in the past seven years, and not just 26-year-old McClenaghan's pace. He went from Howick second grader to strike weapon in the national Twenty20 team against South Africa on his first tour, and a call-up to the test squad.

He graduated from Auckland University with a commerce degree in marketing and accounting, but work was hard to find. He did some part-time modelling, featured in advertisements for The Warehouse then got a television role as an extra on the series Spartacus. "It was good fun; I got to dress up every day," he said.

He wasn't quite a cricketing gladiator yet, either.

Born in Hastings, he moved back to his home province to join Central Districts at the recommendation of then-New Zealand bowling coach Vaughn Johnson.

He bowled fast, made his first-class debut in 2008-09 but didn't feel ready. Injuries plagued him and he struggled to stay on the park. He later required three operations to cure a problem in both hips, where bone was, in his words, "ripping up the cartilage".

"I was a real mimic and I used to have an action like Mitchell Johnson. I looked at him and I thought ‘he bowls quick'. I'd run in and have the front arm low but I found that didn't work,. Then Dayle Hadlee [former New Zealand Cricket high performance coach] changed my action a bit just to get a bit more whip and I got even quicker from there."

Injuries and homesickness got to McClenaghan, and he returned to Auckland with CD's blessing.

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Things started happening back in Auckland. With no ill-effects from the surgery, McClenaghan just bowled quick and intimidated people.

A big unit, he admits he has to watch what he eats. But it works in his favour on the pitch, combined with a mean streak.

"I always like to have a presence. Cricket is still quite a psychological game. You can intimidate, if you've got someone trying to predict the ball you're going to bowl they're already in one mindset and that's when they make a mental error.

"If you can be as big a presence and get into their head a little bit, whether it's through size, intimidation or just bowling bouncers, if you can make them have a mental lapse then you're one step ahead of them already. It's a lot harder with better batsmen, they take longer to have those mental lapses."

He's had good mentoring along the way, from former internationals Kerry Walmsley, Dion Nash and his Auckland team-mate Andre Adams. Nash and Adams' technical advice works a treat, while Walmsley, his Howick clubmate, is his go-to man off the park. "He's my main mentor in life outside cricket and with cricketing decisions."

McClenaghan's domestic Twenty20 career took off. In 11 games he's taken 15 wickets at 16.40, an economy rate of 7.06. He was one of few quicks to dismiss Jesse Ryder cheaply, this summer, for nine at Westpac Stadium.

He got the summons to South Africa and took 3-19 in his first bowl in black, a warmup game in Pietermaritzburg. The tidy start continued with 1-20 in Durban, 1-32 in East London (which New Zealand won) and 2-24 in Port Elizabeth.

A thumb injury to Tim Southee saw McClenaghan retained for the test series and a few South Africans were wondering how he wasn't in the test 11, such was his presence and impact in the T20s.

"I've been champing at the bit for the last couple of weeks. We've been back into the white ball stuff for a few days and I'm really excited to take on some of the world's best batsmen," he said.

McClenaghan will likely get a run in Paarl tomorrow alongside Trent Boult and Kyle Mills. South Africa boast their test batting lineup, minus the rested Jacques Kallis. It doesn't get much better and McClenaghan will be fizzing, hoping to push up near 140kmh again, even if it might be a slow surface. Any particular targets?

"All of them. Is that an answer?"

Safely through this tour McClenaghan, with just 26 first-class games to his name, will push hard for a spot against England. Then the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia will be less than two years away.

Amid an exciting crop of pace bowlers, McClenaghan doesn't have tickets on himself just yet, though. "That [World Cup] is thinking a little bit far ahead. It's the first time that's come into my mind.

"These guys are still young, [Trent] Boulty and Dougy [Bracewell] are still filling into their bodies and you'll find by the time we get to the World Cup we're going to have an incredibly solid bowling lineup. Add [Tim] Southee and [Adam] Milne to the mix too.

"Hopefully, I get another two years experience but I'm really focusing on the tour now and going really well just to cement myself for the next tour. And just focusing on winning games for New Zealand and try to walk away from South Africa with a series win."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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