Cricketers pick their favourites

'A very clever bowler who never got bored'

Part four: Alec Stewart on the best bowlers he faced; this time, Glenn McGrath (00:00)

Producer: Ranjit Shinde

November 6, 2012


Glenn McGrath

'A very clever bowler who never got bored'

November 6, 2012

Glenn McGrath salutes the SCG crowd at the end of his final Test, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, January 5, 2007
McGrath: how many poor deliveries did he bowl? © Getty Images

Glenn McGrath, tremendous bowler. His record speaks for itself. He was very much a part of that fantastic Australian side that would probably rival Clive Lloyd's West Indies side for quality and longevity of success - and McGrath and Shane Warne were mainly responsible for it. Batsmen have to score the runs obviously, but to win Test matches you've got to take 20 wickets, and McGrath played a huge part in that.

He wasn't particularly quick; he was lively enough. When he first started, he was quicker, actually. When I first played against him, in Brisbane in the early nineties, he was raw, and he wasn't as finely tuned as he became. He had an action that was repeatable; he had a strong action; he had tremendous control. You literally could put a dinner plate on the pitch on a length and he would just run up and hit that area ball after ball after ball. The ball may nip back, may go away, but the length would always be the same.

Because of his pace, you wanted to try and get forward to him, but it was that in-between length that you can't get forward to - if you do, it might find your outside edge; if you hang back, he might nip it back and trap you lbw. He just had great control of both the new ball and the old ball, but the new ball especially. His record of getting out the openers was quite exceptional. I think he got Michael Atherton out maybe 20 times or something in his career. That speaks volumes of McGrath, because Atherton was a tremendous player.

You never felt as though you could get on top of McGrath. I've played against him a lot; he got me out on numerous occasions. He would bowl a ball - you could hit the ball, don't worry about that, it wasn't dot ball after dot ball, but you could never really get right on top of him.

You could try and pull him off his length, in 2002-03, Michael Vaughan had that tremendous series [in Australia] and he actually pulled McGrath off his natural length, because the pitches bounce that little bit more in Australia. That's probably the only time that I saw an international batsman take him on and win the battle, and credit to Vaughan for that. With me, if he bowled it short, I'd look to pull or hook him, and if he over-pitched, try and drive him. But those balls were few and far between. He got me out I remember, at Lord's [1997], in the second innings. I got out hooking, caught at fine leg. In the first innings, he used the slope very well - he use to bowl from the Pavilion End - at Lord's, so [he'd] pitch outside off stump and bring it back into you. I let balls go, let balls go, and then he bowled this one ball which I thought was as wide as the others, but obviously it was fractionally straight. I shouldered arms and it nipped back and knocked my off stump out without my playing a shot.

He was a very clever bowler. It was a fact that he never got bored, and the secret to cricket really, bat or bowl, is who is going to get bored first. If you don't get bored and you keep doing the same thing, you've got a chance of being successful. If you want to gamble a little bit, then you open up the risk of being beaten by the opposition.

When you play against any bowler - let's choose McGrath here as the example - as the batsman you always want to try and be in charge. You want to be the boss. That doesn't mean try and hit every ball for four or six, but you've got to make sure you're positive in defence and positive in attack. So you have clear-cut plans and ideas, but again, you've got to play each ball on its merit. You wouldn't say that it's Glenn McGrath, so let's all start panicking, or anything like that. Any bowler is entitled to bowl a good ball, any bowler is entitled to bowl a bad ball. But the very, very good bowlers, of which McGrath was one, bowl very few poor deliveries. So you knew that your scoring rate was going to be slightly different. It was a game of patience, as I mentioned earlier, and you just had to line the ball up.

Keeps coming back to that saying of mine that the game revolves around the top of off stump. When it's a bowler like McGrath at work at the top of off stump, you as a batsman have to defend the top of off stump and then look for scoring opportunities. But it was hard work because he would string the dot balls together, he would bowl wicket-taking deliveries, and you just hoped that your defence was good enough to see the good balls out. And if he bowled a bad ball, you had to make sure you punished him, because if you missed out, then you'd have to wait quite a few more before he bowled another loose one.

Posted by JamesTHEwalldravid on (November 6, 2012, 9:38 GMT)

McGrath was extremely succesful, but I always found it surprsing that more batsmen did not tackle him. In ODI's people took more chances and managed to score off him, especially towards the end of the innings. The assault by Moin Khan in 99 WC is a great example. Mcgrath was smashed to all parts of the ground & kept asking the umpire "how many balls left?" VVS Laxman also played him really well , in fact most wristy batsmen who relied on timing and/or shuffled towards the off to play him though the legside were the successful ones against him in tests. VVS Laxman, Saeed Anwer and Ijaz Ahmed. The 2 pak batsmen perhaps played him better than anyone. Ijaz often made McGrath frustrated as he repeatedly shuffled and smashed him through the legside, causing McGrath to bowl a little bit wider and Ijaz responding by square cutting him for 4. The key to playing McGrath apart from what I mentioned was to attack him. Play him like a spinner and don't let him settle. Too few attacked him & got out

Posted by Match_Referee on (November 6, 2012, 6:29 GMT)

Well... McGrath is the best pace bowler in 90s & 2000s after Wasim. During an era where you had more flat pitches, more fielding regulations, and as a result more attacking batsmen like Lara, Sachin, he was the only bowler who troubled almost every batsmen, every time in every format. What he did in his entire tenure was bowl perfect line & length (no express pace, no hiding the ball, no hiding behind the umpire, no reverse swing)...

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