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McGrath's success a victory for hard work
Julian Linden | December 23, 2006 10:37 IST
Australia's Glenn McGrath made fast bowling look so simple it was easy forget how hard he worked to get to the top.
McGrath, who is retiring after the 2007 World Cup, was not the quickest pace bowler the world has ever seen, but he was the most successful with 555 Test wickets.
His recipe for success was simple: unerring accuracy, subtle movement off the seam and sharply rising bouncers only a man of 1.95m (6ft 5in) could generate.
His stock delivery was the ball that pitched on a length and was aimed just outside the off bail, in the so-called "corridor of uncertainty".
While other fast bowlers tried to intimidate their opponents with blistering speed, McGrath played with their minds, moving the ball away from batsmen who dared to hit him and cutting the ball back at those who dared not.
He often made batsmen look like fools as they shouldered arms to a ball that suddenly darted back and crashed into their stumps or nicked a ball that moved away off the seam and could have been left alone.
McGrath's simple approach to the game belied the fact that he was one of the hardest working fast bowlers Australia ever produced and few people gave him any hope of ever making a career out of it.
He grew up in Narromine, a dusty outback town in western New South Wales, and was a slow starter. He never played junior representative matches and by the time he was 16, his own team mates were telling him he would never make it as a bowler.
When he finished school, a career as a professional cricketer was the last thing on McGrath's mind, so he spent the next few years in a variety of jobs, including working as carpenter, in a bank and at local farms harvesting cotton.
But by 19, the ambitious McGrath was dreaming of greater things so he packed his bags and headed to Sydney. He spent the next 13 months living in a caravan while playing club cricket, before he caught the eye of eye of former test players Jeff Thompson and Rod Marsh.
Both saw something in the wafer-thin paceman that others had missed and pushed for his promotion. He made his first-class debut for New South Wales in 1992 and a year later, aged 23, he made his test debut, as a replacement for Merv Hughes.
It was not long before McGrath began to stamp himself as one of test cricket's great seamers and to antagonise the world's best batsmen by publicly naming his favourite targets. He dismissed England opener Michael Atherton 19 times and West Indian world record holder Brian Lara on 15 occasions.
McGrath's greatness was there for all to see when he took the astonishing figures of eight for 38 in the second Test at Lord's on his first Ashes tour in England in 1999 and was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1998.
He won his first World Cup in 1999, was awarded the Allan Border Medal as Australia's best player for 2000 and took a test hat-trick against West Indies in Perth later that year.
McGrath won a second World Cup in 2003, taking career-best one-day figures seven for 15 in a pool match against Namibia, but injured his ankle the following year.
Despite his advancing years and claims his best days were behind him, McGrath returned in 2004 better than ever. He scored his first and only Test half-century with the bat when he made 61 against New Zealand and took eight for 24, the second-best figures by an Australian in test cricket, against Pakistan.
He became only the fourth bowler to capture 500 Test wickets when he dismissed Marcus Trescothick in the first Ashes Test at Lord's in 2005 and was named man of the match after steering Australia to victory.
However, he stepped on a ball on the morning of the second Test and missed the match as Australia went on to lose the series 2-1 and the Ashes for the first time in 16 years.
McGrath took an eight-month break from international cricket in 2006 to care for his wife Jane after she was diagnosed with cancer for the third time but made another comeback in September.
He helped Australia win the Champions Trophy for the first time and regain the Ashes from England to complete all his unfinished business before announcing he would retire after the 2007 World Cup, bringing to a close one of the finest careers in the history of the game.