Glenn McGrath, the top wicket-taker in World Cups

Glenn McGrath played an important role in Australia's success in World Cups
Glenn McGrath played an important role in Australia's success in World Cups

If you were looking for precision and reliability, rather than raw speed and flamboyance, Glenn McGrath was the man. Perhaps the modern-day Brian Statham, McGrath was trusted paceman for a succession of Australian captains from Allan Border to Ricky Ponting. He bowled wicket-to-wicket, not just from close to the stumps but from almost in front of them. Keeping a steady line on or around the off-stump, bringing the ball in or moving it away just enough - and late - he kept the batsman guessing all the time. He could bowl a sizzling bouncer too, as readily as he could give a mouthful to the batsman. McGrath was a mean character with the ball.

Wickets in the sub-continent during the 1996 ICC World Cup were obviously not to his liking. He struggled generally but rose to the occasion when it really mattered. The Zimbabweans found him difficult to get away. He dismissed opener Grant Flower early and conceded just 12 runs off 8 overs. In the high-scoring quarter-final, he had Stephen Fleming caught by Steve Waugh, as the New Zealand top-order struggled. Then after skipper Lee Germon and Chris Harris had put on a splendid 168 for the fourth wicket, McGrath returned to dismiss the former.

It was in the semi-final under lights at Mohali that McGrath made vital breakthroughs when the West Indies seemed to be running away with the match. With Shivnarine Chanderpaul and captain Richie Richardson in charge, West Indies were 165 for two, needing just 208 to win. McGrath got a cramping Chanderpaul to hole out to Damien Fleming. Soon thereafter he trapped Roger Harper leg-before. The West Indies were pushed on the back foot, setting the stage for Shane Warne to strike his winning blows. McGrath finished with two for 30 off 10 overs.

He was unable to similarly lift his team in the final as Sri Lanka registered a glorious win. McGrath was not really in his elements in the 1996 World Cup.

Glenn McGrath celebrating a wicket
Glenn McGrath celebrating a wicket

Conditions were just right for McGrath’s bowling in 1999 and he revelled in them, though not initially. He was unusually innocuous in the round-robin matches, only causing an early flutter in the Bangladesh camp. That was until the last league game in which it was vital to defeat the West Indies.

McGrath struck like a whirlwind, crippling the top-order and ensuring that the innings did not take wing. On a seaming track, he had Sherwin Campbell edging, to be taken brilliantly by Mark Waugh at second slip. Next ball he trapped Jimmy Adams leg-before, not offering a stroke. It was 7 for two. Brian Lara tried to battle it out but McGrath hit his off stump. The West Indies never recovered from these blows. He returned later to knock off the tail in tandem with Shane Warne. McGrath captured five for 14 off 8.4 overs and took away the man-of-the-match prize.

In order to wrest the title, Australia still had to win virtually every match. McGrath halted India’s super-six chase right at the start. He drew Sachin Tendulkar forward and induced an edge into Gilchrist’s gloves. The maestro returned for a duck in the first over. McGrath exclaimed later: “I have always enjoyed bowling to Sachin and getting his wicket is always special.” McGrath duplicated the effort with India’s most successful batsman of the tournament, Rahul Dravid. Damien Fleming dismissed Sourav Ganguly. Soon after, McGrath had skipper Mohammad Azharuddin playing with the leading edge into the hands of Steve Waugh. McGrath had taken three of the four wickets to fall for 17. The target of 283 became a distant mirage for India. McGrath secured his second man-of-the-match award in succession, having bagged three for 34 off 10 overs.

With eight wickets in two crucial successive wins, McGrath had put the Australian campaign back on track. He had a quiet time in the other two super-six matches and the nail-biting semi-final, taking a wicket apiece in each of these games.

In the one-sided final, he removed Wajahatullah Wasti early, and then came back to dismiss Saqlain Mushtaq, rounding off the Pakistan innings. McGrath finished with two for 13 off 9 overs. His bag of 18 wickets in the tournament was second behind Shane Warne and Geoff Allott, both of whom took 20.  

McGrath relished the South African tracks in 2003. Economical rather than penetrative in the early matches, he tore through the amateur line-up from Namibia. The newest African entrants to the international stage found, to their acute discomfiture, how difficult it is at the highest level. After Australia had rattled up more than 300, McGrath reduced the Namibian batting to shambles. He had Andries Jan-Berry Burger caught by Ricky Ponting in the first over. Brett Lee having accounted for the other opener Stephen Swanepoel in the same manner, McGrath took six wickets in a flurry. He had Morne Karg, Daniel Keulder, Louis Burger and skipper Deon Kotze snapped up behind the stumps by Adam Gilchrist, trapped Bryan Murgatroyd leg-before and castled Bjorn Kotze. 

McGrath finished with an analysis of 7-4-15-7, the best-ever in the World Cup, and second after Chaminda Vaas’ eight for 19 in all One-day Internationals. Gilchrist took two more catches off Andy Bichel, his six dismissals being a record in the premier event, also equalling the best in One-day history. Namibia crashed to 45 all out in 14 overs, and McGrath was man-of-the-match. 

Kiwi speedster Shane Bond shook up the kangaroos. McGrath, on his part, began the New Zealand slide, having makeshift opener Daniel Vettori caught by Gilchrist. He dismissed Nathan Astle for a duck, taken by Ponting, and had Scott Styris leg-before. The compliment repaid, McGrath had pushed the Antipodean rivals on the back foot at 33 for three. Lee returned to decimate the lower half in a matter of 25 deliveries. McGrath finished with three for 29 off 6 overs.

The final had been won even before India batted, courtesy Ponting’s blitzkrieg. Sachin Tendulkar tried desperate methods in a lost cause, slamming McGrath for a boundary and then giving a steepling return catch in the very first over. McGrath sent back Mohammad Kaif for a blob, and later wound up the match, dismissing Zaheer Khan. He took 21 wickets in this tournament, second-highest for Australia behind Lee’s 22 in a single World Cup. Only Chaminda Vaas, with 23 scalps, bagged more.

The innocents from Scotland could hardly decipher his nagging deliveries in 2007. McGrath came on first change and took wickets in quick succession. The Scots slumped to 42 for five and were finally dismissed for 131 runs. McGrath bagged three for 14 in 6 overs as Australia sailed to a 203-run win. The Dutch part-timers too were unable to fathom the Australian bowling. McGrath bagged two wickets in the middle, giving away 33 runs off 8 overs. South Africa did make a valiant effort to chase a huge target, and McGrath managed to pick up a solitary wicket, conceding 62 runs in 9 overs.

Hosts West Indies were chasing a score well in excess of 300 in the super-eight. McGrath dropped his second delivery short and Chris Gayle top-edged the pull shot into the hands of Shane Watson at mid-on. In his next over Marlon Samuels tried to give him the charge and only succeeded in holing out to Andrew Symonds in the covers. The scoreboard read 20 for three in the 10th over. McGrath returned later to the bowling crease and Dwayne Bravo too tried something fancy over cover, hitting the ball straight into the hands of Ponting. This time McGrath took three for 31 off 8 overs.  

McGrath took the new ball against surprise qualifiers Bangladesh. He effected dismissals off three consecutive overs. He yorked opener Shahriar Nafees in his second over to equal Wasim Akram’s record haul of 55 wickets in the World Cup. In his next over Aftab Ahmed attempted to drive him over mid-off only to see Nathan Bracken take a well-judged catch. McGrath now became the highest wicket-taker in the premier event. Mohammad Ashraful tried to attack but skied the ball to Ponting. Bangladesh were now 37 for four and were able to score just 104 for six in the 22-over innings. McGrath’s analysis was three for 16 off 5 overs, good enough for him to secure the man-of-the-match prize.

Up against England, he was back at first change. He broke the 140-run third-wicket stand as Ian Bell, who had clattered McGrath for a few boundaries, holed out to Michael Hussey in the covers. Wicketkeeper Paul Nixon lofted him over long-on for a six and then trying to repeat the shot hit it straight into the hands of Brad Hodge in the same direction. Three deliveries later, last-man James Anderson was completely flummoxed and plumb leg-before-wicket. England were dismissed for 247 and McGrath returned with a bag of three for 62 off 9.5 overs.

No-hopers Ireland found themselves in a pitiable state as McGrath sent down the opening over. Off the last delivery, he clipped left-handed opener Jeremy Bray’s off-stump. While speedster Shaun Tait took two wickets in the fourth over, McGrath had Eoin Morgan edging to Matthew Hayden in the slips in the next. Later Andrew White was foxed by a slower one and Brad Hogg took a brilliant catch behind the bowler. Ireland were 32 for five in the 11th over and collapsed to 91 all out in 30 overs. McGrath returned with three for 17 in 7 overs. He was man-of-the-match for the second time in the tournament. 

Once again back to first change as they took on Sri Lanka, McGrath struck a mortal blow, trapping Kumar Sangakkara leg-before for a duck. He took a late wicket to finish with two for 48 off 9 overs.

New Zealand too found themselves in a hopeless situation. McGrath banged his first delivery short, and Ross Taylor pulled it straight into the hands of Michael Hussey at mid-wicket. Later Scott Styris tried desperate measures but hit a simple catch to Hayden at short mid-wicket. McGrath’s return was two for 25 off 4 overs.

In the semi-final, McGrath again shared the new ball with Bracken. He yorked Kallis early. In his fifth over, he angled one wide of the left-handed Ashwell Prince who chased it only to tickle it to Gilchrist and was gone for a duck. McGrath had now taken the highest number of wickets in a single World Cup, beating Chaminda Vaas’ record of 23 in the previous tournament. Mark Boucher edged the very next delivery to Hayden at first slip to complete the celebrations. The Proteas were now 27 for five in the 10th over, and finally capsized for a mere 149 runs. McGrath not only bagged three for 18 off 8 overs but also his third man-of-the-match award of this event.

As the Sri Lankan challenge petered out in the final, McGrath picked up a wicket. He had not gone wicketless in any of the 11 matches. It was a tremendous tournament for him: 26 wickets at an average of 13.73 and an economy-rate of 4.41. He was steady throughout, taking vital wickets without running through line-ups. There was no need to, with the balanced attack at the disposal of the Aussies. Shaun Tait, Brad Hogg and Nathan Bracken were also prolific wicket-takers, with the spoils being shared.

What a colossus Glenn McGrath has been in the World Cup too! He has the best analysis of seven for 15 against Namibia in 2003, the highest wickets with 26 scalps in a single tournament in 2007, and the highest wickets ever, 71 at an average of 18.19 and an economy-rate of 3.96. He has represented Cup-winning teams a record three times along with Ponting and Gilchrist, in that hat-trick from 1999 to 2007

With five man-of-the-match awards, McGrath is joint second along with five others, behind the inimitable Tendulkar who has nine. It will be hard to emulate McGrath.

Along with Warne, McGrath formed a lethal combination that the opposition found impossible to annihilate. One of the finest pacemen in the world, with accuracy and movement his hallmark, Glenn McGrath posed a constant threat. Lean and lanky, his measured run-up and delivery from right beside the stumps presented a sight quite distinct from other fast bowlers. He was indeed a vital element in the unprecedented success of Australian sides since the mid-1990s. Invariably, when his team needed a special effort, McGrath struck to pave the way for yet more triumphs in that long-running saga.

World Cup bowling record of Glenn McGrath

Matches 39, Wickets 71, Average 18.19, Best 7/15, Economy 3.96

Also read - Most centuries in world cup

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Edited by Satvik Pandey
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