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Peter English at Sydney
January 5, 2007
Kevin Pietersen was torn by the dilemma on the third ball of the day. McGrath's first effort from the Randwick End arrived on the ideal length and was allowed to rise past on the way to Adam Gilchrist. Pietersen patted the next one to cover and waited for what would be his final moment.
McGrath chugged in from 16 steps, jumped towards the stumps to start his delivery stride and produced a ball that was both perfect and seemingly innocuous. There was no danger to the batsman's body, but it was a severe test of his mind. The method made batsmen freeze in a way similar to their dealings with Shane Warne.
If Pietersen's eye was in he would have had a better idea whether to leave or follow through. The day was early and instead he flirted. He could have shouldered arms - we know that now - but as the ball arrived it convinced him to play. The fine edge went to Gilchrist and the team-mates who had huddled on the field before taking their positions raced to their fast-bowling champion.
Caught Marsh bowled Lillee was the famous dismissal of the 70s and 80s; McGrath and Gilchrist created a lasting modern mark. Pietersen's nick was the 90th take by Gilchrist off McGrath, five behind the collection of the two Western Australians.
Throughout his career McGrath fed the slips cordon and catches to Gilchrist, Healy, Warne, Ponting and Mark Waugh accounted for 235 of his 563 victims. Australia's wicketkeepers combined to accept 152 of his offerings. The men behind the wicket were his great allies and an unrelenting line and length his trademark.
McGrath was not a man for stinging toe-crushers or painful bouncers, although he could be uncomfortable when he wished. He snarled and he stamped, but it was through his immaculate accuracy that he became the master of batsmen interrogation. At the end of his first over today he was still smiling. His hair had been rubbed hard by his friends in white and he was being saluted by his home crowd.
A second wicket came when he bowled Sajid Mahmood off his pad and he ended the innings with James Anderson's bunt to Michael Hussey at mid-on. Mahmood's offstump was spectacularly toppled but it was not the dismissal that summed up McGrath. When Australia's greatest fast bowler is remembered it will be for the lifting length ball outside offstump. It would head towards the cordon, often with the batsman's edge.
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