How good is McGrath?
Glenn McGrath has gone out in style; he has become the leading wicket-taker in World Cup cricket and performed so well that people are now asking, “Why is he retiring?”
Typical of McGrath, he has performed brilliantly in a tournament that just a few months ago many Australians were suggesting he should miss. There were whispers, as there have been a few times in his career, that he was past his best and didn't deserve a place that would be better given to a younger bowler who would be around to play in the 2011 tournament. At the time, Brett Lee was fit and the player who would most likely have benefited from McGrath's absence would have been tearaway quickie Shaun Tait.
As it turned out, Lee was injured and McGrath and Tait have combined perfectly to destroy the dreams of many batsmen and the hopes of a few teams in this tournament. The older bowler did most of his damage with brains while Tait relied heavily on brawn but between them they've acted as the battering ram of the Australian attack.
Many times in the tournament McGrath has taken a wicket at the start of his spell but there was no dismissal that more typified his career than the dismissal of Jacques Kallis in the semifinal. Kallis was one of the main hopes in the opposition batting line-up, a species McGrath seems to want to make extinct.
Kallis, trying to be more assertive early in his innings, advanced to McGrath and smacked him through the covers with a classical drive. Buoyed by the success of that shot Kallis made the mistake of trying exactly the same ploy next ball and McGrath countered with a perfectly pitched yorker that uprooted his stumps. McGrath might not be fast but he's also never been predictable and he's earned a glowing reputation as a bowler who outsmarted batsmen.
How good was McGrath?
In Australian fast bowling folklore, there are three names that are always placed at the top of the list — Dennis Lillee, Ray Lindwall and McGrath. I'd put them in that order for the simple reason that the first two had all McGrath's deliveries but both were around fifteen kilometres an hour faster. All three had longevity; Lindwall overcame the handicap of missing seven prime years because of war, Lillee an assortment of back problems and McGrath the agony of helping a young wife battle cancer.
All three stamped themselves as champions because they overcame adversity to produce a long and successful career. And they all seemed to thrive on proving the pundits wrong whenever they predicted the end was nigh.
Lindwall bowled a marathon spell to claim a bundle of South Australian wickets on a murderously hot day in Adelaide to force his way back into the Test side in his late thirties. As a young fan I listened spellbound as I was told that “Lindy” had fuelled his marathon performance with a heavy-handed helping of scotch at each drinks break.
Lillee wasn't a man who took kindly to being written off. When he asked me to shake his hand at the end of his first injury-ruined season of World Series Cricket [WSC] it sounded too much like a retirement speech to me. I replied “I only shake hands with fast bowlers not medium-pacers.”
Lillee punched me in the stomach three times before he realised I wasn't going to shake his hand and then said; “Well @%&* you. I'll take more wickets next season than anyone in WSC.”
He was true to his word and went on to take many more in Test cricket.
McGrath has heard the same mutterings throughout his career and he's coped with humour and determination. When he was referred to as part of “Dad's Army” attack in the build up to the last Ashes series he responded by taking a bag of wickets in the first innings at the Gabba. He then walked off the ground acknowledging the applause with one hand and clutching his back with the other in a mock reference to his aging body.
He followed that up by quieting the mutterings that preceded this Cup with a bowling performance that would have satisfied any young bowler.
In going out on top he's not only quietened the critics but also lived up to the words of another great Australian fast bowler, Keith Miller. When Keith was asked about retirement he said; “I wanted to go when they were asking why did you, rather than why don't you?”
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