Accuracy is his hallmark

Published : Jan 01, 2005 00:00 IST

On less conducive surfaces, he can frustrate and deny the batsmen with the discipline in his bowling and force them into committing mistakes as they try to break the shackles. His economical ways provide an additional dimension to his bowling, writes S. DINAKAR.

GLENN MCGRATH cuts like knife. The other day, he sliced through a hapless Pakistani line-up in Perth.

For the men facing him, he is mean and relentless. Any chink in their technique would be ruthlessly exposed by this Australian predator. He probes them with deliveries of laser-guided precision. His intensity is all consuming.

At 34, he retains the hunger, the desire, and the fitness. The lean and raw-boned McGrath's physical strength is matched by mental attributes. He would roar in with greater resolve at the fag end of a strenuous day.

And technically, he is hard to match. The greatest `corridor' bowlers of our times, McGrath gets the batsmen to jab at shoulder high deliveries around the off-stump. He is dangerous since he makes the batsmen play almost every delivery.

His movement is succinct. McGrath gets the ball to deviate just a shade to find the edge. It is indeed hard for the batsmen to `leave,' because he delivers from so close to the stumps. Any error in judgment could prove fatal.

In the land of the great speed merchants, he tops with 472 wickets in 104 Tests; McGrath has been a solid, reliable factor in the Australian attack. He is incisive, can bowl for long periods, and keeps coming at the batsmen; for them the pressure seldom ceases.

Even after a century of Tests, he shows no signs of tiring. In Australia's near invincible side, he is the sword arm in pace. For The Terminator, the batsmen are the marked men. He has been running hot this year with 42 scalps in nine Tests.

The Pakistanis were simply blown away by the McGrath blitz (eight for 24) in the first Test. It was a day when McGrath would have made deep inroads into any line-up. The serious ankle injury that bothered him last season — his resilience is evident in his comeback — appears a mirage now.

McGrath's compelling run-up, where he gathers momentum with every stride, is followed by a smooth, high-arm action that complements his height. No wonder, McGrath extracts bounce out of most surfaces.

Recent bio-mechanical findings have revealed that McGrath, along with some of the other illustrious bowlers, has sent down a few illegal deliveries, but no umpire has ever found fault with the Aussie's methods. To the naked eye, his action appears fine.

There is so much that is correct about his upright wrist position at the point of delivery. He invariably lands the ball on the seam — the critical element in his bowling. As the ball jags around, the heat is on the batsmen.

The use of the non-bowling arm is perhaps best illustrated in McGrath. His left arm acts as a strong lever as he releases with his right. In other words, he ekes the maximum out of his action.

Essentially a front-on bowler, his away going delivery is not easy to pick. And when the batsmen get tuned in to deliveries leaving them, McGrath can either breach the defence or win a leg-before verdict with his stinging off-cutter.

The man with the moniker Pigeon is not quick, but does send down a `heavy ball,' with the sphere, laced with vertical elevation, gaining momentum off the pitch, and striking the willow or the glove hard. His ability to hit the deck is a factor here.

There is none in present-day cricket, who is more lethal with the new ball. McGrath's amalgam of pace, off-stump line, away movement, and lift make him hard to match. His three-quarters length blends seamlessly with his tactics.

If the leg-cutter is his principal weapon when the cherry retains shine, McGrath can, as he revealed on the recent tour of India, achieve reverse swing with the old ball. The Australian has an effective yorker in his pocket.

McGrath has a mind that is ticking. He can push the batsman on to his back-foot with a well-directed short-pitched delivery and then unleash a fuller length ball to nail him. He is also the kind who leaves psychological scars on the batsmen.

On less conducive surfaces, he can frustrate and deny the batsmen with the discipline in his bowling and force them into committing mistakes as they attempt to break the shackles. His economical ways provide an additional dimension to his craft.

He is a fierce competitor who can send a shiver down a batsman's spine with his glare. There have been times though when his aggression has crossed the line. Lately, he appears to have put a lid on his temper, without losing his competitive edge.

The Australian has this habit of naming his targets ahead of the series — they are invariably, a Brian Lara, a Sachin Tendulkar, or a Michael Atherton — and hunting them. This is quite the hallmark of a bowler bristling with confidence and self-belief.

McGrath has been engaged in some famous duels with Tendulkar, reduced the technically accomplished Atherton to being his bunny, and scalped the left-handed Lara with deliveries leaving him; McGrath can shift his line adeptly to the southpaws since he uses the crease well.

Given McGrath's astonishing control, his team's game-plans have often revolved around him. If strategies are drawn up at the team meetings, McGrath is quite the perfect man to execute them. A natural leader of the pace attack, he certainly is.

The tour of the West Indies in '95 where the Australians, after several heartbreaks, finally conquered in the Caribbean, led to a significant shift in the balance of power in World cricket. In the Aussie surge, McGrath was the Hit Man.

Over the years, he has teamed up with several prominent pacemen, but none deadlier than Jason `Dizzy' Gillespie. McGrath's new ball association with Gillespie is also the most successful in Australian history.

Gillespie is a different bowler from McGrath. Dizzy often gains exaggerated seam movement, and his length is a touch shorter than that of McGrath. Like Pigeon, Dizzy smells wickets, and the pressure builds up from both ends — it is not easy for the men in the middle.

In his tactics and style, McGrath is closest to Curtly Ambrose, that awesome former Caribbean batsman gobbler. Beanpole Ambrose too would give little away, gain steeping bounce, and keep the 'keeper and the slip cordon busy. Ambrose perhaps had a nastier yorker, while McGrath's leg-cutter is more effective.

Only Ambrose's pace partner Courtney Walsh has more Test wickets (519 in 132 matches) than the Aussie. McGrath's strike rate of 51.5 is superior to the Jamaican's 57.8. He has been more economical too (2.49 to 2.53). Both are great bowlers, but an area where the Aussie scores is his consistency of line.

McGrath has followed in the footsteps of the legendary Australians Dennis Lillee (355 wickets in 70 Tests) and Ray Lindwall (228 in 61 Tests). In his early days, Lillee was quick and fearsome. Once he returned from a back injury, he was quite the complete bowler with his variations compensating for the drop in speed.

The wickets have slowed down over the last 20 years, but there was more depth in the field during the days of Lillee and before him the versatile Lindwall. McGrath has an edge over Lillee (s.r. 52.00) and Lindwall (s.r. 59.8) in strike rates.

The man whom Lillee rates as the `complete' paceman, Andy Roberts of the West Indies (202 scalps in 47 Tests), has a strike-rate of 55.1, that is lower than McGrath's, but those were the days when the West Indies pace quartet cut into each other. Comparisons are impossible.

Among the pacemen with over 200 Test wickets, Waqar Younis (373 wickets in 87 Tests) has the most devastating strike rate of 43.4. The Pakistani deserves much credit for he has taken a bulk of these wickets in the sub-continent, his vicious reverse swing bamboozling many a batsman.

McGrath might lack the firepower and hostility of someone like Waqar, but would rank with the best simply because of his ability to land the ball in the right areas; his strongest flank is his accuracy and an unflinching off-stump line enhanced by bounce and movement.

In the domain of the present-day pacemen, McGrath is the king. His great South African rival Shaun Pollock (356 wickets in 88 Tests at s.r. 56.00) is at that stage of his career, where, due to a slump in his pace, he requires a little assistance from the wicket.

As a youngster growing up in the New South Wales outback, McGrath chased a cricketing dream by living and travelling in a caravan. His passion still burns bright. And the sunset's not in sight yet.

On top now

AUSTRALIAN paceman Glenn McGrath has ousted England's Steve Harmison as world cricket's top-ranked bowler.

McGrath leapt from third to first on the Pricewaterhouse Coopers rankings for the first time in two years after his career-best 8-24 against Pakistan in Perth.

Harmison's ranking slipped three places to fourth. Muralitharan remains at No.2.

Full Name: Glenn Donald McGrath. Born: February 9, 1970, Dubbo, New South Wales. Major teams: Australia, New South Wales, Worcestershire, Middlesex. Pronounced: Glen Magraa. Batting style: Right Hand. Bowling style: Right Arm Fast Medium. Test debut: Australia v New Zealand at Perth, 1st Test, 1993/94.

Bowling record (after the Perth Test)O M R W Ave. BBI 5i 10m S/R E/R

4053.1 1221 10117 472 21.43 8-24 25 3 51.5 2.49

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