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Sight Screen

Thursday, July 21, 2005

McGr-awe!

A panel comprising Allan Donald, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis deconstructed the two teams in print, just a day before the Ashes began -- and on the field, a day later, Steve Harmison and Glenn McGrath did it for real.
Thanks to my DC trip, ended up missing the first morning/afternoon of the first Test of the Ashes series -- but got back just in time to see Glenn McGrath produce an awesome display.
Awesome, not for having crossed the 500-wicket mark; not for being only the second fast bowler to a mark that demands incredible longevity from a tribe prone to breaking down under the stresses of bowling fast; but because he was probably the slowest of the bowlers on either side -- and easily the most lethal.
His bowling has been defined as monochromatic; spider-like in its approach: You select your lines, you spin a web of deliveries on those lines, and you sit back and wait for the batsmen to get bored/impatient and give you his wicket.
There's a bit more to it than that -- as evidenced by Flintoff's wicket. Flintoff faced two deliveries of the 14th over -- the one in which McGrath took Ian Bell out, and found both landing on that spot just outside off, just back of length, and seaming away late past the outer edge. First ball of the 16th over, same line, same length, same spot -- Flintoff was suckered into playing for the one leaving him. He got instead the one coming back in, through the gate and onto the stumps.
Classic McGrath -- one of these days, he should write a book on the art of doing more with less. Cricinfo celebrates him, with an extended interview and a Peter Roebuck column:
Yet he is feared because he lures batsmen into unanticipated self-examination. They walk to the crease as accomplished players and are suddenly made aware of cracks in the facade. They find themselves flirting and flicking when they want to play shots of substance. McGrath does not let them bat properly. His control is too tight, his bounce is too steep and his movement is too unpredictable. He might be kept out but he is seldom mastered. His control is so absolute that even the greatest of batsmen are forced to defend.

As an exhausted Indian batsman put it:"McGrath makes you play his game"; a sentiment that could have been voiced by Brian Lara and Michael Atherton, superb batsmen of contrasting temperament and style whose games were taken apart by this most probing of pace bowlers. Not bad for a supposed bonehead from the Australian bush. But, then, McGrath is a clever, brave bowler, and much underestimated.

Elsewhere, there is an equally illuminating interview in the Guardian, that underlines his relentless nature.
"But, I promise you, they're going to find that playing Australia in the Ashes is like nothing they've ever experienced before. We're going to exert immense pressure on them. We don't like releasing that pressure very often and, in this series, we're going to make sure it's bearing down on them ball after ball. It'll be interesting to see how they cope.

Also in awe of McGrath is Geoffrey Boycott, whose piece is titled 'Anything we can do, McGrath can do better'.
England's problem is that anything they can do, Glenn McGrath can do better. He's the best line-and-length bowler in the world and has been for 10 years. He loves bowling from the Pavilion End at Lord's because he uses the slope to bring the ball back at the right-hander.
He can pitch the ball eight or 10 inches outside off stump and the batsman has to play at it because he brings it back so far. He puts batsmen under so much pressure, by giving them nothing to hit and putting doubt into their mind as to what to play and what to leave that they get caught on the crease.

So is this guy the greatest fast bowler of all time, do you think? Or just one of the greatest? Actually, come to think of it, if you could pick five fast bowlers who, between them, epitomise the art, who would they be, and why?

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