Calcutta: In the mid-1990s, Glenn McGrath enrolled for lessons in flying helicopters. One isn’t sure whether he managed a license, but no copter could have taken him to the heights he reached as Australia’s premier new ball-operator.
McGrath will bow out as the third most successful bowler (combining Tests and ODIs), but many regard him as the greatest, more so after his awesome performance once it got confirmed that wife Jane is battling cancer.
If anything, ‘The Pigeon’ emerged as a bigger role model in the past year and it’s almost surreal that a 37-year-old pushed youngsters, instead of the script following a conventional pattern.
Just the other day, after knocking the South Africans for a six, McGrath revealed he’d been bowling without fear or pressure in the last few months. Fact is, throughout his 13-plus years as an Australia cricketer, it’s the batsmen who developed fear and succumbed to pressure.
McGrath sledged, yes, but nobody dared retaliate. The consequences, after all, could be nasty.
It was only very early in the New South Welshman’s career that pace was as much a weapon as choking line and length. For years, he actually terrorised through consistency, proving that one didn’t have to bowl at 90mph and beyond to make an impact.
Along the way, amazing mental toughness helped in no small manner and idol Dennis Lillee remained a major influence.
Unusually, it was as late as 15 that McGrath took to cricket with “dead seriousness,” moving away from basketball and tennis. The then Academy in Adelaide got him on the right track, as did his stint with the MRF Pace Foundation (Chennai), in 1992.
It’s ironical that an Indian facility helped sharpen McGrath’s claws, so to say, as he enjoyed feasting on the Sachin Tendulkars. Fiftyone of his Test wickets came against India, with Sachin falling on six occasions. In ODIs, the number stands at 44 (Sachin being a victim no less than seven times).
Over the years, McGrath often took time off to interact with The Telegraph, the last instance being in Nagpur on the eve of his 100th Test. Incidentally, he’s the lone Australian new ball-bowler to get that far.
With McGrath about to “get away from it all,” excerpts from that interview (published on 27 October, 2004) won’t be out of place:
On the qualities needed by a fast bowler
Skill, obviously, and the body to stand up to the demands of quick bowling. For me, though, attitude is most important… One must be aggressive.
On what has ‘carried’ him to 100 Tests
An easy action — I’ve stuck to what came naturally — and being able to bowl pretty much where I want. The key to wickets is having the ability to bowl 99 out of 100 balls in the area of choice… I’ve given the job everything I could.
On his attitude
I don’t look for easy options and, if possible, would bowl every second over of the match… I’m definitely aggressive, but try not to cross the line.
Luckily, I’ve only had two major injuries — a stomach muscle tear in 1998 and last season’s surgery on the left ankle… Looking back, it helped that I didn’t play much cricket when I was young. That allowed my body to grow. Ideally, the action should be stress-free without putting pressure on one part of the body.
On his five favourites (alphabetically)
Wasim Akram, Curtley Ambrose, Michael Holding, Lillee and (the late) Malcolm Marshall.
On whether, given the chance, he would do something differently
No… It’s important to learn from mistakes and, if you don’t make them, what do you learn'
Finally, on tips for emerging quicks
Enjoy… If the enjoyment isn’t there, no matter how good, you won’t be successful…
In an earlier one-on-one, McGrath spoke about the pressure of bowling in the subcontinent: “It’s largely physical… It’s so different from home, even from England and South Africa… But, yes, it’s a challenge and, at the end of the day, one would like to be remembered as a bowler who could bowl on all wickets…”
Remembering McGrath won’t be a struggle for anybody.
Footnote: The focus, with good reasons, has been on McGrath. However, coach John Buchanan too won’t be in the Australian dressing room after the World Cup final. Clearly, his (over seven years) innings has been another remarkable story.