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The Pigeon flies off in style
by Partab Ramchand
May 02, 2007
I do not want to take anything away from England on their unexpected triumph in the Ashes series in 2005. All the same I just cannot help feeling what might have been had Glenn McGrath been fit to play in the two Tests that he missed out. Interestingly enough these were the two matches that England won - and by margins of two runs and three wickets. It is justifiable to believe that the results might have been reversed had McGrath played.

Similarly I am convinced that India were distinctly fortunate in that McGrath missed the entire Test series `Down Under’ in 2003-04 through injury. With McGrath in the Aussie ranks it is likely that India would not have emerged with a drawn series.

I make a mention of these examples to emphasize the importance of McGrath to the Australian attack ever since he made his debut in 1993-94. He has been quite indispensable and whenever he has missed out on the action Australia have not found the going easy.

At an age when fast bowlers have long retired McGrath kept on going enjoying himself on the cricket field much in the same manner that he did in his youth. And he always was the man for the big occasion – taking his 500th Test wicket at Lord’s, taking a wicket with his last ball in Test cricket.

And of course he always targeted the big men - Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Atherton, Jacques Kallis - and won quite a few duels with them.

For almost 15 years `Big Glenn’ – big in size and heart and deeds – kept doing the same successful things – beating batsmen repeatedly outside the off stump by aiming the ball in the famed `corridor of uncertainty’, bowling them with wicked in cutters, having them caught by the wicket keeper or in the slip cordon with well directed away swingers. And just when he would least expect it came along an intelligent bouncer that had the hapless batsman caught in no man’s land. More often than not he would essay a desperate hook that saw the skier land safely in the hands of a well positioned deep square leg.

McGrath had so many ways to dismiss a batsman that there was never any respite for him. For long he was a tearaway one of the most feared fast bowlers on the international scene. Towards the end of a long and distinguished career he was still one of the feared bowlers but this was more because of his intelligence rather than pace, more for his brain than his brawn. Cricket history surely could have produced few more intelligent fast bowlers than McGrath. Batsmen looking to negotiate his infinite variety of deliveries look as helpless as a butterfly in a gale. Like good wine, he got better with age. Normally this is an adage truer of spin bowlers than of fast bowlers. But then McGrath was not your normal, ordinary, run of the mill fast bowler. Simply put he is one of the greatest fast bowlers in the game’s history.

Pure, unadulterated bowling skills. A great physique. Infinite variety. Deadly accuracy. A thinking man’s fast bowler. McGrath was all this and more. But then most important of all he had the one quality that should be uppermost in any fast bowler’s armoury – a big heart. Going by his deeds McGrath’s heart would appear to be outsize. He just never gave up. However strong the opposition and whatever the conditions or the surface McGrath was one bowler who could be counted upon to keep going. Even if the going was uphill McGrath’s spirit never flagged. As the standard bearer, as the spearhead he was aware of his responsibilities and captains from Allan Border to Ricky Ponting were aware that a wicket was imminent whenever the ball was in his massive hands. His teammates on their part knew that McGrath would never let them down.

Today’s young pacemen could learn a thing or two from McGrath about how to bowl on unhelpful surfaces. But then bowling with a big heart does not come naturally to everyone. After all it is when the pitch is unhelpful that a bowler’s ability is put to the test and McGrath was so great a bowler that he passed this exam time and again.

Indeed McGrath was nothing short of a marvel. An ankle injury threatened to derail his quest for 500 Test wickets and he even briefly contemplated retirement. But then McGrath was never one to give up and obviously went by the adage: ``A winner never quits, a quitter never wins.’’ On his last tour of India in 2004 he showed that he still had a lot of fire left and the fact that he became the first Australian fast bowler to play 100 Tests during the trip meant a lot to him. Honours like these and the continuous run of successes he had with the ball kept him going and his greatness was doubly confirmed at Perth in December the same year when he knocked down the Pakistanis with eight for 24 - the second best Test figures by an Australian behind Arthur Mailey’s nine for 121 registered 86 years ago.

McGrath’s superb physique and enduring enthusiasm were the two factors that saw him make light of heavy international schedules. He did not seek a rest from the one-day games and remained very much an integral member of the all-conquering Aussie squad in the shorter version of the game. In fact all the major World Cup records – best figures in a match (seven for 15), most wickets in the competition (71) and most wickets in one tournament (26) - all stand in his name. But however good he was as a bowler in limited overs cricket – his famed accuracy certified this – it was as a Test bowler that McGrath attracted more attention and fittingly enough he is Test cricket’s most successful fast bowler. No one could be more deserving of this Himalayan achievement.

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