For Australia’s newly appointed men’s cricket head coach Andrew McDonald, it’s been an incredible journey to now be sitting in one of the most coveted seats in world cricket. However, the Victorian’s recent appointment is no surprise to a former teammate Rob Quiney.
Having made his first-class debut for Victoria during the 2001/02 season, McDonald carved out an impressive playing career, winning the Sheffield Shield with Victoria in 2009/10 where he claimed 29 wickets and scored 433 runs for the campaign.
His impressive performances at a domestic level saw him earn his Test debut for Australia against South Africa in the 2009 summer, becoming the 406th player to don the baggy green. McDonald would go on to represent Australia another three times in the test arena, finishing with nine wickets to his name.
However, in the midst of his playing days, McDonald was simultaneously forging a reputation as one of the great thinkers of the game.
“What I worked out with ‘Ronnie’ [Andrew McDonald] throughout my time and our time playing together was he was probably someone who epitomised learning the game whilst he was playing,” former Victorian teammate Rob Quiney told The Inner Sanctum.
“More importantly, as time went on, he would be speaking to our coaches Greg Shipperd and Simon Helmot when he was our one-day coach, and mostly trying to be a sponge but also at times challenging those coaches and trying to find a little bit more about them and himself.
“I said to him at one stage, ‘You’re definitely going to coach mate, it’s a no-brainer’ and everyone would have said that.”
Reflecting on the tactical nous of his ex-Victorian teammate, a one-day game against NSW at the MCG in 2007 stands out to Quiney.
With it traditionally difficult to chase at the MCG in 50-over cricket, a relatively raw Quiney was promoted up the order, blasting his way to a match-winning 89 off 57 balls.
Yet despite Shipperd holding the mantle as Victorian coach, the idea in fact originated from within the playing group.
“It was Ronnie who threw up the idea of me going in and just slogging, taking the game on to get the run rate in a position knowing that himself and David Hussey could bat properly to get us over the line,” Quiney said.
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But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the all-rounder during his playing days. Injury struggles at the back end of his career meant that he was forced to spend significant time away from the field. However, a silver lining emerged from this hardship.
“I think what that gave him was another string to his bow. He was already very good technically and strategically when it came to cricket, but also from getting to know people and understanding the other side of the fence,” Quiney said.
A testament to McDonald’s drive and ambition, his first official coaching position at Division Two County Championship side Leicestershire, saw him rebuild the culture of a team that hadn’t won a game in two years. Entering a club embroiled in on-field and off-field turmoil, the then 33-year-old has been credited with changing the narrative at Leicestershire, culminating in them winning their first game in 992 days against Essex in 2015.
Following his stint abroad, McDonald returned home to lead both Victoria and the Melbourne Renegades, delivering success for both teams.
Arriving at Victoria having already secured back-to-back Sheffield Shield titles, McDonald built upon the foundations laid by outgoing coach Greg Shipperd, leading the team to their third title in a row against South Australia in 2016-17.
Victoria’s success also meant that McDonald became the first Victorian to both play in and coach a Sheffield Shield winning side.
Meanwhile, in 2018-19, he masterminded the Renegades’ first BBL title, where his side produced a memorable performance against cross-town rivals the Melbourne Stars to snatch victory in the final.
In light of all this success, someone would be hard-pressed to consider it a coincidence. Quiney, who was coached by McDonald in his final season for Victoria in 2016-17, believes his balanced approach to coaching holds him in good stead to succeed in the national coaching chair.
“I think he delves into people more than just the cricketer. It means that if there’s someone that needs extra throwdowns or attention, he’ll give it to them, but if someone doesn’t need it, he won’t worry about it, he’ll just let that player be,” he said.
In 2019, McDonald joined the Australian coaching set-up as an assistant and began working closely with many of the players that he will now lead in a head coaching capacity. Receiving a strong public endorsement from Australian captains Pat Cummins and Aaron Finch in recent times, McDonald’s influence on the playing group thus far has been well documented.
“It sounds like that Ron’s had a really good impact within that team already and it might have been him, Di Venuto, and Langer as a combination that helped the players on their journey to success in the last 12 months,” Quiney believes.
Following the highly debated resignation of Justin Langer, McDonald was named interim Australian coach prior to the team’s T20I series against Sri Lanka in February this year. A historic tour of Pakistan would ensue thereafter. Headlined by a hard-fought 1-0 test series victory, the tour reinforced McDonald’s coaching credentials.
“He’s already done the Pakistan tour and come away from that with success which would’ve been bloody hard work, and from all reports kept a really calm, level head, and looked at the bigger picture as opposed to trying to win each test,” Quiney said.
Now having inked a permanent four-year deal as Australia’s head coach, McDonald has a long-term opportunity to mould the Australian men’s cricket team in the years ahead.
Notably, the 40-year-old’s appointment also signifies the first time a Victorian has become the head coach of the Australian men’s cricket team, bearing in mind that Australia didn’t appoint official coaches prior to 1986.
At this stage, McDonald’s four years at the helm will see Australia play host to a T20I World Cup, partake in an Ashes series in England, embark on tours of Sri Lanka and India, compete in an ODI World Cup and receive visits from multiple touring nations during the upcoming Australian summer.
With a busy schedule looming, the coaching caper will no doubt have its challenges. However, Quiney believes that McDonald is acutely aware of what lies ahead.
“I think Ron’s biggest challenge, which has been with every Australian coach, is finding the balance and stepping away at times.”
“I think he wants to be in a position to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do as much as I can, but I’m not doing it all.”
In what has largely been a tumultuous past few months for the Australian men’s cricket team in terms of public scrutiny, Australia seems to have not let outside noise affect their performance.
Quiney has been impressed with the resolve of the playing group and is optimistic about the current and future state of Australian cricket.
“I guess for them to go through that period of time and have success on the field, shows a fair bit about the character and resilience of the players at the moment.”
McDonald’s first official game in charge will be on June 7 when Australia begins their tour of Sri Lanka with three T20I’s.
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