Australia in India 2000-01 March 26, 2013

When McGrath mastered the Master

After two consecutive whitewashes, it's worth reflecting on some of the great passages of play between India and Australia - my favourite of which was the four-ball spell by Glenn McGrath to Sachin Tendulkar at Eden Gardens a dozen years ago

Glenn McGrath celebrates Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal on the second day at Eden Gardens in 2001 © Getty Images

After two consecutive whitewashes, it's hard to resist the temptation to go all nostalgic about the great India-Australia contests of the past. I'll partly resist that temptation and pick my favourite passage of play between the two teams instead: the best four-ball spell ever. If cricket was an individual sport, the Tendulkar-McGrath rivalry in the 2001 series would have ranked right up with the Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon final of 1980, and the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal.

In the first Test in Mumbai, Sachin Tendulkar walked in two balls after Glenn McGrath had finished his spell, and got off to a cracking start with a flurry of stunning boundaries against Jason Gillespie and Damien Fleming. When McGrath came back with his probing line and disconcerting bounce, Tendulkar went through half an hour without scoring a run, played him out and continued his stellar show against the rest. In his next spell, McGrath resumed where he left off earlier, luring Tendulkar to play the drive on the rise, only for him to edge it through to Adam Gilchrist.

When Tendulkar came out to bat in the second innings, there was a distinct change in his stance. From his usual leg stump guard, he had changed to a middle stump guard to counter McGrath's metronomic ability to hit the corridor of uncertainty. By getting himself closer to the line, driving McGrath would be a less risky venture. As if to demonstrate the rationale for the change, Tendulkar opened his account with two delightful, starchy-crisp off-drives against McGrath. He continued to be cautious against McGrath after that but was a lot more decisive throughout this innings than he was in the first ... only to eventually get out in the most bizarre fashion, when a full-blooded pull shot off Mark Waugh ricocheted off Justin Langer's shoulder at short leg for Ricky Ponting to scamper across and complete a spectacular diving catch.

The teams then moved to Kolkata. With the score 34 for 2, Tendulkar walks out to join Dravid in the middle. McGrath has three slips and a gully in place - you wouldn't expect anything less with India still trailing 411 runs. And then you notice something unusual. McGrath, at the top of his run up, purposefully works on the shine of the ball. For someone primarily relying on seam movement, McGrath usually goes about shining the ball in a Pavlovian way, but never with so much intent. The first ball is yet to be bowled, but you can already see the contest shaping up. Tendulkar marks out the middle stump guard again; McGrath is constantly rubbing the ball against his trouser.

"McGrath bowled all of four balls to Tendulkar in this innings, out of which three could have got him, and one eventually did. Brilliant conception and masterly execution"

McGrath runs in to the rhythm of the Kolkata crowd - the rhythm which is partly fuelled by anticipation and partly by nerves. It reaches the crescendo at the point of delivery and beautifully fades out between the ball leaving McGrath's hand and Sachin reacting to it. But when the ball leaves McGrath's hand, it doesn't head to the usual destination of the corridor outside off. This was a sharp, precise, venomous inswinger on its way to Tendulkar's pads ... but Tendulkar just about manages to bring the bat down and flicks it, unconvincingly, to square leg for a couple.

Is that the cunning plan? Bowl it fuller, closer to the stumps, swinging in for Tendulkar to fall over and trap him in front? Is this a response to Tendulkar's change of guard which makes him more vulnerable to the lbw? Is Tendulkar so preoccupied with negating McGrath's corridor line that he wouldn't be prepared for this?

As if he had made it too evident with the first ball, McGrath follows up with a dummy short ball outside the off stump. Next comes the sucker ball again, nearly identical to the first one - a full, sharp, inswinger that catches Tendulkar unaware and offering no shot. McGrath appeals, nearly celebrates … but Tendulkar survives by the thinnest of margins.

End of over.

Six overs later, Dravid picks up a single to get Tendulkar back on strike to face McGrath for the first time since the lbw appeal. Again, McGrath working on the shine of the ball at the top of his run-up … he runs in and bowls the inevitable inswinger on a length, pitches just a tad outside the off stump, moves just marginally enough to beat Tendulkar's bat, but not too much to drag down the leg side. Bull's eye. McGrath knew it the moment it hit the pad, umpire Peter Willey fulfilling the formality of raising his finger while McGrath was already on his celebratory run.

In all these years of watching Tendulkar bat, I have never seen a bowler so clearly outfoxing him. Some people have popped out vague theories on his weaknesses before but nothing so specific, and surely never so precisely exploited. McGrath bowled all of four balls to Tendulkar in this innings, out of which three could have got him, and one eventually did. Brilliant conception and masterly execution.

Glenn McGrath. Legend.

When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, Mahesh Sethuraman works in a bank in India to pay his bills. He tweets @cornerd

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jaya on March 29, 2013, 14:34 GMT

    I have made this observation since a very long time that if there is a bowler who would not accept from his heart that Tendulker is the greatest batsman,he would be Glen Magrath and Magrath would surly accept B.Lara as his greatest batsman.The reason being Tendulker never dominated Magrath bowling in one whole innings especially the last few series before Magrath's retirement ,the encounters between Magrath and Tendulker were onesided.On the contrary when Lara played a great knocks against Aussies,he spared no bowler including Magrath.I am an ardent fan of Tendulker but facts cannot b eoverlooked.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2013, 2:34 GMT

    somebody mentioned here that it is a "completely one sided story". that is the case with most discussions which praise tendulkar sky high. this article is good for a change.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2013, 1:08 GMT

    I can hardly remember Sachin dominating any great bowler like Akram, Mcgrath, Donald or Ambrose. Sachin is without any doubt great batsman but among the greats, he is surely overrated. I remember the final of World Cup in 2003 when India was chasing a big total and every body was relying on Tendulkar but I was sure that he will not survive the attack of Mcgrath and rest is history.

  • Cecil on March 28, 2013, 18:26 GMT

    When McGrath debuted Sachin brand was already a craze. Every bowler in the opposition wanted his wicket. The McGrath-Sachin battles were always a treat. McGrath is truly a legend.. he earns the tag of a legend more due to his duels with other legendary cricketrs namely Lara & Sachin than his impeccable test record. However as a simple sports lover i would go miles to watch a sachin bat at his prime when it comes to batting but when it comes to bowling there were so many other bowlers who entertained more in the mcgrath-sachin era than Mcgrath. (Wasim, Warne, Waqar, Walsh, Ambrose, Saqlain, Muralitharan, Donald, Bond)

  • Bhushan on March 28, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    A completely one sided story

  • Anish on March 28, 2013, 7:45 GMT

    @heat seeker,It proves the attack was good but not good enough for Sachin .With Warne Mgrath and Lee the attack were even to Sachin with a lot of classy battles. Other than that I agree with you

  • A on March 28, 2013, 6:15 GMT

    @UglyIndian - Mcgrath must then be a bit silly to name Tendulkar as the best or among the best he has played against. In ODIs Mcgrath did get Tendulkar often early because the openers have no option but to go for shots ...You can't see a bowler "off" in ODIs- no time. In the two full series Mcgrath and Tendulkar played things were fairly even. 6 50+ scores in 12 inn. In the first test they played Tendulkar came out chasing some 10 runs to win. In the 2004 series Tendulkar was literally forced to play inspite of recovering from Tennis elbow after India lost the first 2 tests of the series. So, in the only 2 full series they played against each other when both were fit Tendulkar has SIX scores of 50+ in 12 inn...And even in these 12 inn. there were wrong and freak dismissals ....Cheers.

  • Ian on March 28, 2013, 5:48 GMT be honest, McGrath has almost always had Tendullkar's number. Apart from a few wild slogs in an ODI in Nairobi, I can't recall Tendulkar dominating McGrath. If anything, McGrath has made Tendulkar look ordinary many a times. It's perhaps an inconvenient truth for many Tendulkar fanboys. The test series down-underin 1999-2000 where Tendulkar got a 100 at the MCG, but basically, couldn't get a run off McGrath. Similarly in the ODI tri-series that followed Tendulkar was completely owned by McGrath. Whats funnier, is that Tendulkar averages even worse in home Tests against GD McGrath than his 36.77. It's not when McGrath mastered the master. It has always been that McGrath was ther master.

  • Sudhakar on March 28, 2013, 5:31 GMT

    Brilliant recollection of that test match Mahesh. McGrath certainly got the better of Tendulkar. But the master hat he is, he came back strongly in the next test to score a century. I don't agree with some of the comments where people conclude that Sachin got the better of McGrath only on good batting conditions. It was 50-50. The 1999 series was a classic where Sachin scored a majestic century and averaged 45 - despite a couple of wrong decisions and an unfortunate "shoulder before wicket" and burdened by captaining one of the weakest team to tour Australia. Sachin was at the peak of his prowess then and he was extremely unfortunate in that series not to have scored more. Then the series in India in 2001 was played on GOOD test wickets - wickets that offered pace, bounce and spin on days 4/5 - and Sachin had a 50+ average. McGrath got the better of Sachin in good bowling conditions only in ODIs where there was also a pressure to score quick. Otherwise, my rating would be 50-50.

  • K. on March 28, 2013, 5:23 GMT

    So - to stress. Mcgrath was a great bowler. But once you got the hang of him - it was relatively easy to score. VVS, Lara, Pietersen, Vaughn, Adams, Dravid...In the Wisden top 100 bowling lists Mcgrath doesnt appear once...but innings AGAINST Mcgrath appear5 times in the top 50 Test innings alone !! 10% of the top 50 Test inn. have been played against Mcgrath...Surely, that tells you something.