McGrath to retire after World Cup
A day after refusing to confirm his retirement, Glenn McGrath has decided to walk away after the World Cup. McGrath will join Shane Warne in playing his final Test at his SCG home ground starting on January 2 to end a spectacular career that has been crucial in pushing Australia to the top of the Test and one-day trees.
McGrath, the leading Test fast bowler with 555 wickets, has endured a week of speculation that he will step down and he made it official at the MCG after Australia's training session and team meeting for the Boxing Day Test. The scene was not as hectic or dramatic as it was for Warne on Thursday, but he will also be sorely missed.
"The plan I had come up with Shane was he would go before Melbourne and me before Sydney, but with the hearsay and the scrutiny we wanted to get it out of the way," he said at the MCG's indoor nets. "Trying to deny about retiring is a bit tough, I've always been honest."
McGrath will step down from all forms of cricket and came to the conclusion it was time to go during the Ashes series. "It's the perfect or fitting ending to play my last Test at Sydney, my favourite ground in the world," he said. "It's only in the last couple of games I made the decision to hang up my boots. It's been a tough decision and an easy decision. The body feels great and I couldn't be happier with my bowling, but it's made by easier by all the training and the travel, especially with Jane and the kids growing up."
In two weeks Australia will have lost two bowlers with more than 1250 wickets between them. Regaining the Ashes at Perth on Monday has meant a number of Australia's senior players have achieved a significant goal after they were responsible for handing over the urn at The Oval in 2005. McGrath was injured in both the matches that were lost, but he has gained revenge over the past month.
McGrath will now aim to reach the World Cup and collect his third consecutive trophy after being part of the 1999 and 2003 successes. In South Africa he earned a career-high 7 for 15 against Namibia and he has appeared in 230 matches. His 342 wickets are the most by any Australian bowler and he is sixth on the overall list.
"I still place more importance on Test matches, but I still enjoy one-dayers," he said. "It would have been tough to have walked away mid-season. To win the World Cup for the third time would be amazing. I intend to finish my duties under the current contract, purely because I enjoy it."
Having returned from an 11-month Test lay-off to start the current series, McGrath opened with 6 for 50 at the Gabba, but even though he has produced some important spells he has been below his best. Aged 36, McGrath has spent 13 years in the Test set-up after making his debut as a stringbean fast man against New Zealand at Perth.
He started with match figures of 3 for 142 and was immediately dropped and it wasn't until he was part of Australia's first series victory in the West Indies for 32 years that he became an essential team member. In the 1994-95 Caribbean campaign he refused to be intimidated by the home side's bowlers and fearlessly bounced them despite his limited ability with the bat. Australia sealed the series and McGrath's reputation continued to be enhanced.
Employing a simple action and applying regular check-ups, he was able to nag away with an unrelenting line and pick up kitbags full of wickets with movement off the seam. A shy and calm man off the field, he had no problem firing up when bowling and his behaviour often came under scrutiny. In the West Indies in 2002-03, when he arrived mid-tour after his wife Jane was diagnosed with cancer, he had an angry, finger pointing exchange with Ramnaresh Sarwan. He admitted to "carrying on like a pork chop" at times but Australia would not have changed anything about their long-term spearhead.
McGrath passed Dennis Lillee's 355 Test wickets - it was the most famous Australian bowling milestone until Shane Warne overtook it - at The Oval in 2001 and became the country's first fast man to play 100 Tests when he achieved the mark at Nagpur in 2004. It was a particularly satisfying record as he was out for a year with a serious ankle problem requiring two bouts of surgery. He briefly considered retiring and there were questions over whether he could return to his best. It became a repeated theme during the past couple of years.
Following his long break to care for his family when his wife experienced another relapse of the disease in January, McGrath's comeback ability was doubted again. He started slowly in the Malaysia tri-series and was part of Australia's first Champions Trophy victory in India before re-setting his sights on England.
Supporters in the United Kingdom did not understand the McGrath fuss when he first toured England in 1997 and Australia lost the opening Test at Edgbaston. He stepped in quickly to assure them he was a player of the highest quality. In the rain-ruined second Test at Lord's he was responsible for knocking England over for 77 with his incredible 8 for 38.
Michael Atherton was a victim, one of 19 times in his career, and they were McGrath's best figures until he produced 8 for 34, the second-best haul by an Australian, against Pakistan at the WACA in 2004-05. When it comes to wickets he has an almost photographic memory and his removal of the opposition's best players are recalled proudly. Brian Lara was taken 15 times in Tests while Alec Stewart was also high on the list at 10. His comedic 61 against New Zealand two years ago also showed the hours of work he put into his often-ridiculed batting.
McGrath beat Courtney Walsh's fast-bowling world record of 519 wickets during the one-off Super Test against the World XI in 2005-06. It was suitable company for such a wonderful competitor. A country boy from central New South Wales, McGrath has grown from a spindly adolescent who was told he couldn't bowl into one of the most durable men in Test history. His record over 122 matches is amazing and will always be treasured.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo