A Test bowler in coloured clothing walks away April 28, 2007

Goodbye Glenn



Same old action, same old results © AFP

Australia are in danger of leaving the 1999 World Cup in the first round and Brian Lara has just taken guard at Old Trafford. Glenn McGrath has been waiting for him. Out of form and part of a side in a rare slump, McGrath hasn't bothered keeping quiet about his predicament. In his newspaper column he has written he will take down Lara and collect five wickets. Over the following years his crystal-ball gazing became part of a fast-bowling comedy routine, but back then it was in its infancy. It was also more predicable than a Steve Waugh rescue act.

McGrath is on a hat-trick when Lara enters and he reaches 9 before the New South Wales mountie gets his man. It's a wonderful ball than angles on middle: Lara plays, misses and it clips the top of off. It was where this Test bowler in coloured clothing always aimed.

The length of the match didn't confuse his direction and throughout 14 years he was rarely forced into deviating from his outlook. Robots cannot be built with greater accuracy, although McGrath also carried a clever brain that allowed him to adapt quickly and determined he would be a greater performer than his contemporary Shaun Pollock.

Some of the Sri Lankans circa 1996, particularly the smaller Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya, occasionally enjoyed getting under his extra bounce, and in the lead-up to this World Cup he was in danger of being reduced to a flopping medium pacer. Reinvention was never a method McGrath subscribed to and instead he preferred slight tinkering to his body, mind and flawless action to recover from seemingly career-ending developments.

The threat of exiting the international game as a shipwrecked veteran four months after taking a wicket with his final ball in Tests led to a more aggressive package in the Caribbean. It related mainly to his bowling - not his mouth, which softened on the field as he entered his mid-30s - and he knew it would end in more runs per over. He would also smile more, which was an improvement on his mood in the final stages of the CB Series when he was suited to a series of Grumpy Old Men. The upshot was McGrath became the most successful bowler at any World Cup with 26 wickets and finished with 381 victims in 250 ODI matches. He also picked up the Player-of-the-Tournament prize along with his third trophy in a row. It has been an amazing sign-off.



Old foes: Glenn McGrath and Brian Lara cross paths two months before their meeting in the 1999 World Cup © Getty Images

Batsmen saw him as an aging link coming into the tournament and tried unsuccessfully to attack him. No wicket seemed more satisfying than the one of Jacques Kallis, whose attempt to repeat an aggressive stepping-away boundary ended up in dismissal to a pin-point yorker. Big wickets were always McGrath's favoured currency.

Lara's removal in Manchester was one of only three times he was beaten by McGrath, but the cream of the world's modern batsmen are at the top of his list. Sachin Tendulkar, who was also taken spectacularly in 1999, sits with Jayasuriya, Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten on seven while Kallis and Marcus Trescothick are one further back.

Like Shane Warne in Tests, McGrath has been a luxury item for Ricky Ponting since he accepted the captaincy in the lead-up to the 2003 tournament. The view will change dramatically for Ponting when he can't throw the white ball to McGrath at the start of the innings or a subsequent crisis.

McGrath has been going so well he has been joking about ending his retirement. Unfortunately for Ponting it is just another light-hearted line to be binned with a reflective grin. In the West Indies the fear had gone from McGrath's mind and he was able to play with freedom that was restricted during his seasons of one-track focus. Family, hunting and helicopters will now lock his attention, which is a relief for the batsmen who suffered from his simple method that did not discriminate in either form of the game.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo