Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Down Memory Lane: Aussie legend McGrath would be big hit in Twenty20

Twenty20 cricket. Viv Richards would have loved it. So too Ian Botham, Gary Sobers and Don Bradman. I can imagine all four smacking balls to the boundary in the new format of the game.

At their bewildering best they would have taken the World Cup, currently being played in the West Indies, to a different level.

And in my view Glenn McGrath would also have been a huge hit in this exciting form of a sport I love.

Surprising choice perhaps, but as a fast bowler, capable of keeping it tight and claiming crucial wickets at vital times, McGrath has had no equals in the past decade.

It’s now just three years since Glenn Donald McGrath played his last one-day international for his beloved Australia.

They still miss him.

And Shane Warne, who so often worked in tandem with McGrath, for that matter.

Known as Pigeon to team-mates, 6ft 5ins McGrath is recognised as one of the most highly-rated fast-medium bowlers in the history of cricket. He holds the world record for the highest number of Test wickets by a fast bowler.

His story is a fascinating one told brilliantly in his book ‘Line and Strength’, one of the finest sporting autobiographies that I have read in recent times.

Life in many ways has been hard for McGrath, born on February 9, 1970 in Dubbo, New South Wales, where his father was a share cropper at nearby Narromine. He didn’t start playing cricket until he was in his teens although for hours, as a boy imagining he was opening the Aussie attack, he practiced bowling at a 40-gallon oil drum behind a machinery shed on the farm in outback Narromine.

There were major doubts he would make the grade when he joined his local junior club, a view expressed by Dennis Lillee after watching him as a schoolboy in the nets at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but aged 19 Doug Walters spotted the youngster’s potential — the door was opened and he grasped the opportunity.

In many ways he was a child of Australia’s last great cricketing depression after the retirement of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Lillee had left a void which has since been more than adequately filled.

McGrath, a sledger supreme, made his Test debut against New Zealand in Perth in 1993-94, and in the 1995 series against West Indies established himself as world-class.

Ricky Ponting recalls: “His decision to take on the West Indies sent out a positive message that the Aussies were really up for it. McGrath showed them what he was all about. His body language and the way he looked at their batsmen — the wry smile — sent a signal to opponents and team-mates.”

During the first Test at Lord’s in the 2005 Ashes series he became the fourth bowler in Test match history to take 500 wickets.

Three times a World Cup winner, McGrath announced his Test retirement in 2007, then opted out of all internationals, and a year later signed for Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament.

While he portrayed fantastic courage and determination on the pitch it was nothing compared with that off it as he stood by his British-born wife Jane in her battle against breast and bone cancer. She was an airline flight attendant when he met her in the Joe Bananas Club, Hong Kong in 1995. They married and had two children, James and Holly, but she tragically died, aged 42, in June 2008 from complications after surgery. He had lost his soul mate but she lives on everyday in her husband’s thoughts.

Her passing inspired Glenn to establish the McGrath Foundation, a charitable organisation dedicated to fund breast care nurses in rural and regional Australia and to educate woman to take breast care. It has raised more than 12m Australian Dollars and much awareness.

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