Methodical & meticulous

Glenn Mcgrath served with distinction, and almost always with honour.-AP

Glenn McGrath offered the pleasure to be gained from following a plan, from conception to execution. Ruthless and unrelenting, he did not intimidate batsmen but took their most precious possession, their wicket, writes Peter Roebuck.

Glenn McGrath has been the outstanding pace bowler of his generation and amongst the best the game has known. Ask any modern batsman to name the bowler he least liked facing and chances are that McGrath will be mentioned early in the proceedings.

Some bowlers strike terror in the heart. Others dazzle. This blighter just took your wicket. Cheaply. He was fast enough to stop batsmen adjusting their stroke and accurate enough to pin them down. When he moved the ball, it hurt.

McGrath counts amongst the most cerebral of pace bowlers. Off the field he may have rejoiced in the shooing of wild pigs. On it he was refined, preferring skill to swagger, persuasion to bluster. From the start he understood that his strength lay not in the extent of his abilities but in their unerring application. Nature prevented him bowling fast. Try as he might he could not deliver the ball at the speed required to make batsmen hop. He did try. Pace bowlers like to create fear in the neighbourhood. But facts had to be faced. McGrath turned them to his advantage, concentrating on mastering his craft. He became the most sophisticated of operators. All things considered, it was a remarkable achievement.

McGrath was an acquired taste. Every ball needed to be seen in its context. He offered the pleasure to be gained from following a plan, from conception to execution. Ruthless and unrelenting, he did not intimidate batsmen but took their most precious possession, their wicket. Often they do not quite know how. His assets included long limbs that allowed him to make his deliveries jump like startled cats. His wrist work was also outstanding, and improved as the years passed until he could bowl the off-cutter and leg-cutter at will and without any discernible change of action. He made the ball respond to his desires by ripping his fingers across the stitches. It is a devilishly hard skill to execute, let alone precisely and at pace.

He has also been the most consistent of pace bowlers. Whenever Australia has been in trouble, the captain could throw him the ball, confident that calm would soon be restored. McGrath has also been a fierce competitor blessed with the confidence needed to pit himself against the best batsman around. Usually he prevailed. His records against Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Mike Atherton speak for themselves. Likewise he has taken wickets in every cricketing continent and on all sorts of pitches and in both forms of the game. Greatness demands nothing less.

If a statement of McGrath's excellence is needed then it came in the spell of three balls during the Perth Test match against the West Indies. First McGrath exploited Sherwin Campbell's habit of shuffling across his crease with an out-swinger pitched to a fuller length than usual. Brian Lara appeared. McGrath adjusted his line, slightly reduced his length and cut the ball across the left-hander. Lara disappeared. Jimmy Adams came next. It must have been tempting to try the same ball. After all he was on a hat-trick and it had been good enough for Lara. But Adams was a different case. McGrath knew that he squared up against lifting deliveries directed at his body. The deed was done. It was a brilliant combination of deliveries. Every ball was superbly conceived and executed.

McGrath's partnership with Shane Warne has been fascinating and mutually advantageous. Here was a contrasting and complementary pair, the spinner with his theatricality, the paceman with his understatement. Warne did everything on the grand scale, McGrath was a quiet executioner. Warne bowled aggressively and passionately whilst his partner remained methodical and meticulous. The Victorian engaged opponents in armed combat, McGrath uprooted them with surgical skill. Warne looked like a lair, McGrath resembled a monk.

But the pair also had much in common, including exceptional mastery of their craft, acute brains and more patience than might have been guessed from their conduct off the field. Apart they were superb. United they were the greatest combination of pace and spin the game has known. Now they wave good-bye at the same time, leaving a thousand memories and a hole to be filled.

It is time to go. McGrath has served with distinction, and almost always with honour. Moreover he has matured impressively. Putting aside the eternal youth of sport, he has become a family man and a father. He will be fondly remembered, for those wickets, for his cheerful 50 in Brisbane, for a catch in Adelaide and for so many stunning performances with the ball, not least at Lord's, a ground this shooter of wild pigs, this bushie who came to the big smoke, turned into a home from home.