“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.”
Bruce Lee’s immortal words spring to life when one closely observes former Australian bowling legend Glenn McGrath’s career. Born on February 9, 1970, in New South Wales, McGrath was a man of perseverance who didn’t let his lack of pace or athleticism bog him down. Instead, he took refuge in the practice of hitting the same length and the off-stump line a million times without his temperament getting affected.
Spotted by Doug Walters during a New South Wales game, McGrath was pushed into the national team after just eight first-class matches, but the mental monster remained unmoved. While he remained more economical than lethal in ODIs in the initial stages, it was in the Tests that McGrath started leading Australia’s bowling attack.
After a few four and five-wicket hauls in the initial two years, McGrath’s abilities came to the fore during Australia’s tour of the West Indies in 1995 when the bowler ended up taking 17 wickets in four games as the Kangaroos defeated Cuirtney Walsh’s men 3-2.
His first five-wicket haul in ODIs also came around this time, when McGrath took wickets of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Ijaz Ahmed, Basit Ali, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed in Lahore to help Australia beat Pakistan by 64 runs. However, all these feats had one thing missing for McGrath - a proven performance in the Ashes. That came in 1997 at the Lord’s where McGrath’s 8/38, which was his first-ever Test match in England, was a sign of things to come.
Over the years, McGrath became an Ashes legend, a series where he has taken 10 of his 29 five-wicket hauls with the red ball. Australia’s singular loss to England in Ashes 2005, which was a rare occurrence back then, was largely due to the absence of injured Glenn McGrath who had taken his 500th Test wicket in that series in the first Test match.
England were, in fact, McGrath’s favourite opponent in Test cricket against whom he took 157 wickets in just 30 matches, with the West Indies being the second one. The trend was similar in ODIs as well where McGrath’s loved preying on the likes of New Zealand (59 wickets), South Africa (58), Pakistan (57), and England (53).
Staying at the top of the game of the game for 14 years wasn’t easy and McGrath’s non-athletic body had to bear the brunt of it. Apart from the ankle and arm injuries that forced him to miss games, he also had to take a sabbatical in 2006 to take care of his wife, who was suffering from breast cancer.
However, a legend like him could never just go out like a whimper. McGrath returned to international cricket, stronger than ever, to avenge the 2-1 Ashes loss in 2005 as Australia swapped away England 5-0 on home soil. McGrath retired from Tests after taking a wicket on the very last ball he would ever bowl in the longest format and halted his Test wicket tally at 563.
Having already won the 1999 and the 2003 ODI World Cups, an ageing McGrath had nothing to prove. But, his discipline and willingness to hit the right lengths and line at all times, saw him ending up as the highest wicket-taker (26 wickets) in the 2007 World Cup - which was then a tournament record.
McGrath changed the way a fast bowler was perceived in cricket until then and inspired millions to strengthen the basics of fast bowling over strength and speed. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in January 2013.
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