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World Cup Heroes (West Indies, 2007): Glenn McGrath, the ultra-tuned bowling machine

Krish Sripada
3.07K   //    17 Jan 2015, 14:45 IST
Glenn McGrath

There was a certain certainty about the way Glenn McGrath attacked the corridor of uncertainty. There was a certain genius in the way he operated like a mundane machine, day after day, match after match, World Cup after World Cup. The man who holds the record for the best bowling figures in a World Cup, 7/15, didn’t become the most successful bowler at cricket’s premier competition by being skillful. He didn’t have a searing pace. He didn’t have the natural swing. He did what any normal human could do with the cricket ball, if one tried. In a way, McGrath achieved perfection in performing the mundane. He made monotony an art and then carved a career out of it.

While cricket is a fickle game and destinies meander along with their whims, Pigeon made sure his swansong wouldn’t be tainted. He finished on a high, the kind of high greats dream of: winning the Man-of-the-Tournament award for grabbing 26 wickets in 11 World Cup 2007 matches, the most by any bowler in one World Cup. 

Highest wicket-taker in World Cup history

McGrath bowled like he scoffed at the idea of bowling fast. McGrath bowled like his life was on the line, one stump outside the off-stump and he would lose it. But did he ever miss? 71 wickets in 4 World Cup campaigns, which included one final loss and three championships, bear testimony to his consistency. Brett Lee is Australia’s next best, with 35 scalps, not even half of his tally. Only Muttiah Muralitharan came any close, bagging 68 wickets. The great Wasim Akram has 16 fewer.

McGrath’s 71 wickets came at an average of 18.19 and an economy of 3.96. There is a reason why Australia won the World Cup thrice in three campaigns. A big portion of the reason could be found in McGrath’s impeccable figures. The statistical awesomeness prevailed in 2007, when McGrath went the entire distance without returning wicketless even in a single match.

Consistent – Like an ultra-tuned, well-oiled machine

What made McGrath special in 2007 was not his mere consistency, but the fire that ensured he kept coming back. He didn’t have the best of starts, returning 1/62 against South Africa, in the group stage. McGrath went for 62 against England later as well, even though this time he had picked up 3 wickets. However, towards the later part of the tournament, he was unstoppable. He exorcised his ghosts by returning with match figures of 3/18 against South Africa in the semis, picking two in successive balls to break the Proteas’ back, having already picked a couple each in the previous matches, against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Such was McGrath’s brilliance in 2007 that there were just two matches, out of the 11, where he picked less than 2 wickets He started the tournament with a bang against minnows Scotland, picking 3 wickets and conceding a meagre 14 runs in 3 overs. He continued with 2/33, the lowest economy for an Aussie bowler against Netherlands, another minnow team.

McGrath in action in the group stage match against South Africa

On a flat wicket at St.Kitts, against South Africa, McGrath went for 1/62 in his 9 overs. He was Australia’s second most expensive bowler, bearing the brunt of a team chasing 378 and falling short. However, Shaun Pollock, a South African great, went for 83 in the same match, offering perspective on the nature of the pitch. The legend got his act right again in the next match, at Antigua, where he returned with match figures of 3/31 against West Indies, the only bowler in the match with an economy of less than 4.

McGrath continued to be ruthless against the lesser players, picking up 3/16 and 3/17 against Bangladesh and Ireland in the Super Eights. Against England, McGrath went for runs, but didn’t fail to pick wickets adding 3 more to his tally. It was an interesting match, with a contest within a contest. Ian Bell got stuck into McGrath, smashing him for several boundaries, 3 in one over, in fact. McGrath, though, had the last laugh getting Bell with a slightly short of a length delivery.

At Grenada, McGrath helped in carrying out the demolition job against New Zealand. In many matches in 2007, McGrath had played second fiddle, this time for Hogg, who returned figures of 4/29. Against Sri Lanka, McGrath’s 2/48 was a good supporting foil for Nathan Bracken, who returned exceptional figures of 4/19. McGrath came into his own in the semi-finals against South Africa, with figures of 3/18, getting Jacques Kallis with a yorker and then picking Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher off successive deliveries to break the spine of the South African batting.

Only bowler to win the Man-of-the-Tournament award in World Cups

He was declared as the Man-of-the-Match ahead of Shaun Tait who had 4 scalps to his name. Off the 11 matches, such was his consistency that he conceded over 40 runs in just 3 matches, 2 of which were played on excellent batting strips. In a majority of the matches, he managed to pick a wicket in his first spell. Antigua was probably his favourite ground of that World Cup, where he picked 9 wickets in 3 matches. McGrath won 3 Man-of-the-Match awards in 2007, finally picking the Man of the Series as well. He is the only pure bowler in the history of the tournament to pick the prestigious award, defying the batsman’s game.

It is amazing how stats tell you some things and hide some, in case of most cricketers. That is because most cricketers have some great days and quite a few average days. Most cricketers don’t weave magic all the time. They can’t be as consistent.  But, amazingly for McGrath, stats tell the whole story. That is because the greatness of a machine can always be identified from its parameters, numbers. The same holds true for McGrath. McGrath was the one constant. What an amazing constant that turned out to be to script Australia’s constant invincibility. Consistent. Like an ultra-tuned, well-oiled machine!

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Krish Sripada
And I prayed when Sachin bowled the final over against SA. And I smiled when Goran finally won the Wimbledon. And I wept when Zidane had to walk out. And I jumped when Bryant dunked. And I..and I..and I...sports..and I live to feel what they go through on the field.
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