Cricket: Dale does his best to match heroes

Glenn McGrath's one-day partner is a late developer with the World Cup in his sights.
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THAT MAN at the other end from Glenn McGrath is Adam Dale. It is as well to remember this now, because when the World Cup is played in May he is likely to have a profound influence on Australia's destiny. He has spent the past month forging a formidably mean one-day new-ball partnership with the world's leading speed merchant.

They complement each other wonderfully. McGrath is the type of fast bowler who comes battering on the front door, forcing his credentials under your nose so you cannot help but stand up and take notice. Dale is the sidekick who sneaks in the side entrance, gives you the once over and gradually makes you feel distinctly uneasy.

From the opening match of the Carlton & United Series in Brisbane he has been relentlessly accurate, keeping the ball up to the bat, swinging it a little, hitting the seam, inviting the error. Only last Sunday, when Sanath Jayasuriya entered full destructive mode in Perth, has he been treated with anything less than forelock tugging, forward defensive respect.

"That was some way to go, and he's some batsman," said Dale. "I didn't think I was doing anything other than normal and he was just blasting me round the place. I asked somebody what I should do and was told there was nothing you can do."

Dale conceded 51 runs in six overs, the consolation being that he was not the first bowler to be Sanathed. That mauling apart (and it was splendid to watch, no matter what it did for the bowler's trust in the dictum that line and length bring their own reward) his bowling has yielded fewer than three runs an over throughout the triangular tournament.

"I'm trying to make the batsman think all then time, giving him nothing that he might take a fancy to," he said. "I just keep it there. I know I'm not the quickest bowler around so I have to use other weapons."

Dale's action is polished and fluid and he is lovely to watch with the white new ball. He is 29 and provides convincing evidence that not every Australian international cricketer was discovered in the cradle and had his name put down for Adelaide Academy before learning to walk.

Born and brought up in Victoria, he was overlooked for all the state age-group sides and was never assumed to be Sheffield Shield material. On moving to Queensland - "for work reasons, not cricketing ones" - the opposition was similarly stiff, but his accuracy earned him a place in the state squad. There he came under the influence of John Buchanan, whose services were dispensed with by Middlesex after only one summer in 1998, but who is still considered a guru in northern Australia.

"He has the ability to speak to players as individuals, to bring out the best of them, to express what they can and can't do well and how they might improve," said Dale. "He surrounded himself with exceptionally good coaching staff and I learned a lot there. I don't know if I'd have got as far as this without their help, but everything just fell into place with moving jobs and getting that sort of encouragement."

Dale broke into the Queensland side and at the end of his first full season took nine wickets in the Sheffield Shield final against Western Australia in Perth. He was just thinking what a pretty good effort that was when he was told he was on the Australian tour of South Africa.

"I hadn't thought a thing about it. It's still a matter of wonder to me that I'm bowling in the same side as Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. These guys are heroes to me. I'm still full of nerves whenever I play for Australia. You ought to see me in my room beforehand."

Dale has played one Test match, on the tour of India last winter, notable for being a series that Australia actually lost under Mark Taylor's captaincy. They were already 2-0 down when Dale was selected for the final match, and although they won he has not been picked again.

The chances are that his relative lack of penetration in the longer game make him easier to overlook, and he is probably likely to remain a one- day specialist. "Of course the fundamental skills are the same, but they are evolving differently. There are things I do as a bowler in the longer game that I just wouldn't do in the one-day game."

He is still so in awe of it all that he would not be drawn on his chances of being in England for the World Cup. He toured Scotland and Ireland last summer with Australia A and suspects, no more, that the pitches might suit him. It was important not to encourage him too much in this regard but the vision of him making the ball hit the seam and moving it laterally next spring is not easily dismissed.

In common with most Australian cricketers, his international duties do not prevent him holding down a full-time job. True, his promotions post with the rugby shirt makers, Canterbury, means he can have time off when he wants but he still has to return between matches. He not only still plays for Queensland when available but also for his club, Wynum Manly, where one of his team-mates is Stuart Law.

"I enjoy playing, but the standard is so high that if I didn't play and somebody else did well in my place then I might not get back. There's real competition." So said the man who partners Glenn McGrath.