Continuing with our series on the greatest cricketers of all time, here’s No. 13 on our list.
No. 13 – Glenn McGrath
Ever imagined what the life of a bird would be like? Soaring from wire to wire, tree to tree, before ending up in its own nest. This is a story of a very special bird – the Pigeon. Born on February 9, 1970, in Dubbo, New South Wales, Pigeon was a keen basketball player. ‘Shooting hoops’ and ‘slamming dunks’ were the two things he enjoyed more than anything else. One day, another little birdie, Bruce Gainsford, told Pigeon about the game of cricket. Once he learned everything he could about the sport, Pigeon embarked on a journey that would eventually make him perhaps the most famous bird in the whole world.
For Glenn McGrath, nicknamed ‘Pigeon’ because of his frail, thin legs, the beginning was a huge struggle. Though talented, his bowling was still very raw. His under-16 captain refused to let him bowl. In those early days, McGrath used to bowl with plenty of gusto, but all the batsmen had to reach for his deliveries. However, Pigeon was nothing if not determined. He placed a 44-gallon drum behind the shed on his family property, using it as a stump, and began bowling day in and day out. Soon, thanks to Doug Walters, Pigeon was on his way to Sydney to play cricket. He stayed alone in a caravan, worked in a bank and played cricket. Pigeon had to tough it out, but found humour in asking girls to keep the withdrawal slips signed by him as they would be famous one day. Lucky were they, who paid heed!
4 years later, in 1992, Pigeon began playing for the New South Wales team. In November 1993, he donned the baggy green cap for the first time. In November 1993, he debuted for Australia against the New Zealand cricket team, when the world was introduced to his unique bowling ability for the first time. He picked up 3 wickets in his first Test, and as it turns out, those were the first 3 of the 563 wickets he would eventually go on to take. His one-day international debut came in December of the same year. Though he didn’t take any wickets in that match against South Africa, he conceded only 28 runs in the 8.4 overs that he bowled. And in a way, McGrath gave us the definition of his bowling in that very first match: economical. Everything about his bowling – the run-up, the delivery action, the bowling style, the spells, were all…economical. Not an express bowler, McGrath believed in hitting the right areas consistently. One look at his career stats and the idea doesn’t seem bad at all. With a haul of 381 wickets in ODIs in addition to being the leading wicket-taker among fast bowlers in Tests, McGrath was truly one of the all-time greats of fast bowling.
The opponents’ best batsmen generally ended up being Glenn’s bunnies. A Test series involving Australia always began with McGrath getting under the skin of and playing mind games with the opposition, by publicly proclaiming how he was going to target the best player in the side. The great Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed 6 times by McGrath in the 9 Test matches they both featured in. McGrath shared several battles with the great Brian Charles Lara as well: in the 24 Test matches he played against him, McGrath dismissed Lara 15 times. But McGrath’s favorite batsman was probably Michael Atherton, who he dismissed 19 times in 17 Tests. This is the most number of times ever that a bowler has dismissed a single batsman. When he was up against the best, McGrath invariably came up with the goods.
Before he took all those wickets, way back in 1995, Glenn was in Hong Kong. At a club named Joe Bananas, Glenn met the girl he would later go bananas over. After only a few months, this girl came to Sydney to live with McGrath. But when she arrived, Glenn was not there to pick her up. He was on tour. He had, of course, informed her that he wouldn’t be there, but she decided to come anyway. It was as if she knew that very soon she would go from being Jane Louise Steele to Mrs. Jane McGrath. But there was tragedy in store for the couple: Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. After several sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she was initially deemed cancer-free in ’98. In 2002, Glenn and Jane started the McGrath Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to raising funds to treat breast cancer patients and raise awareness. In the meantime, Glenn and Jane also had two beautiful children, Holly and James. But in 2006, Jane was diagnosed with cancer again, and on the morning of 22nd June 2008, she lost the fight against the disease. Jane’s death came as a crushing blow to Glenn, but he regrouped and recovered, the way he always had when faced with adversity in his career.
McGrath retired from one-dayers after the 2007 World Cup, in which he not only helped Australia bring the cup home, but also became the all-time highest wicket taker in World Cup history. Fittingly, he won the Player of the Series award in the tournament. The script of his Test retirement was written by destiny herself. Taking a wicket off his final delivery and completing his prediction of a 5-0 whitewash against England in the 2007 Ashes series, McGrath walked into the sunset a prophet – the man who came, played and conquered. However, just like the IPL has done for many other players, the cash-rich league prolonged McGrath’s career for 3 more years. Bought by the Delhi Daredevils, he didn’t get to actually play many games, and his contract was terminated on 5th Jan 2010.
From a boy who couldn’t bowl to save his life, to a bowler who could bowl on the same spot ball after ball, Glenn McGrath is the perfect example of what hard work and determination can achieve. On his ‘pigeon’ legs, he stands among the greats of cricket. This is the story of a bird that soared. This is the story of Glenn Donald McGrath.
The video below shows, in several variants, the quintessential McGrath wicket – short of a length ball, a hint of away swing, caught by the wicket-keeper or slips fielder. Take a look for yourself!
These are the other players who have made it so far:
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: