This is my sequel to Sehwag's analysis ( maybe i should analyse all players piece by piece but then i would fail all my courses). because i feel that it has to be addressed.
When i first laid eyes on McGrath, it was 1994 i think involving OZ and RSA in RSA...
i was but 13 years old then and only beginning to appreciate the finer points of the game.
Up until that point, my bowling hero had been Curtley Ambrose, catching the west indian at his furious best while i was actively watching cricket.
First thing that struck to me was "he is the white ambrose, albeit a vastly inferior copy".
Vastly i say, at that time, because McGrath wasnt that metronomically consistent with his line and length.
But certain similarities were evident right away. Both employed the same bowling principles- moving the ball came secondary to them in light to the priority of capturing the 'corridor of uncertainty'.
From then on, mcGrath improved vastly and in a matter of couple of seasons i saw a great improvement in line and length. Now he stands as a giant of the game who has been at worst even terms with the best of the best batsmen.
Much is said of McGrath recently, with some even insinuating that he is lucky.
Well i thikn he constructs his own luck really by his fanatic dedication to the corridor of uncertainty.
So what is the corridor of uncertainty ? its this belt of region that is half a foot or so outside the offstump with a width of few inches...
As a young upstart pace bowler, i came to appreciate the importance of that region very quickly.
For it is one region where the batsman can never be sure whether to leave or play consistently. A ball with a slight inswing can crash into your off stump and another with a slight outswing can kiss the edge and go to the slips.
As a batsman, i was always forced to play the ball ultra late when pitching on this zone- later than i would've liked, since one needs to really really judge it carefully.
With the ball pitching on stumps or with you you guage a ball easier. Simply because in a batsman's mind, protecting his wicket is the top priority(in most test match scenarios) and with a ball pitching on stumps, your immediate concern is to protect the wicket and its only the length and the swing that makes the determination whether to attack or defend.
When you pitch in on the corridor of uncertainty, the stakes are raised far higher for now you gotto really think about the line as well.
It is no mean feat either, given the nature of the corridor- too much swing either way and the ball moves into the comfort zone of the batsmen...too much outswing and it ends up a foot outside the offstump, ripe into the driving range. too much inswing and it gets into the pull/flick/leg drive' zone.
Indeed, the corridor of uncertainty is made for the type of bowlers who arnt big movers of the ball(that is, after pitching). The only bowlers i saw who consistently owned the corridor of uncertainty but were big swingers of the ball are Akram, Marshall and Hadlee.
I've often notice the batsmen being hurried for shots against mcGrath but far less often hurrying for shots against someone like say Gillespie/Walsh.... why is it so when Gillespie /Walsh are usually considerably faster than McGrath ?
Its because where the ball pitches - the corridor of uncertainty. Which makes the batsman hesitate an extra millisecond.
Another thing McGrath has is the ability to control his swing. That is one of the hardest abilities to master in all of cricket....to give a bit more swing than the last delivrey or a bit less swing.
You essentially do this by gripping the ball closer/further away from the base of your palm.
Swing is imparted by your hand rolling over the ball at the point of release. More surface to roll over( holding it deeper in your palm) often results in more torque generated and thus more swing and vice versa.
People who think this is easy should try it out on their backyards, where you are holding the ball closer to your palm yet making it come out from the tip of your fingers.
I've seen McGrath swing the ball decent amounts quiete a lot of times but he uses it extremely wisely. His stock delivery is the one that moves a little bit either way but every once in a while he throws in the one that swings half a foot or more.
Essentially that creates much more doubt for the batsmen.
In a sense, he is the Clarrie Grimmett/Anil Kumble of pace bowling, alongside Ambrose. Extravagant movement is irrelevant if you cannot use it wisely and minimal movement is extremely potent if you can control it and use it wisely.
Its essentially a mind job. With a standard swinger, i can guage the 'swing' of the ball after an over or two on a particular pitch and play accordingly. its like a mental calculation : " if he swings it in, it will move in about half a feet, if he swings it out, it will move about half a feet out. Gotcha'.
With McGrath, there is no 'Gotcha'. You have to be far more watchful because he varies his swing very efficiently. Perhaps the best exponent of this art was Akram but in my opinion, in the ability to vary the swing, McGrath isnt far behind.
Years earlier, when i took Kung Fu, i learnt that the easiest opponent is one who is confused. He is easier than someone far less competent but more confident. And essentially the fundamental philosophy of Kung Fu is to kill you or maim you. Then why do they have such elaborate hand and foot movements ? well one of the main reasons is to confuse the opponent. McGrath operates in a similar way. His objective is to confuse you and then land the killer blow. So yes, he profits predominantly from batsmen's indescritions. but he is manufacturing that indescrition by his elaborate and cunning bowling plan. McGrath is one of the exponents of mental warfare. His objective is to dismantle you by probing you and making you steadily unsure of yourself and represents a shining example of where mind can trump over sheer natural talent of blitzing past the batsmen through extravagent swing or pace ( not to say proponents of that kind of bowling wernt thinking bowlers mind you). Which is why there is only one way you can succeed against the likes of McGrath or Ambrose- you have to back yourself 110% and make yourself completely immune to their elaborate plans. That is unnatural to most human beings- to throw caution to the wind and go by instincts 100%. Which is why only the best of the best or the utterly reckless have had some success against these kind of bowlers.
Afridi has had some success against McGrath- far more often than players who are far better products than him. Why is that? because he backs himself 100% and takes the attack to McGrath come what may. The likes of Tendulkar and Lara have had up and down battles with McGrath and they've predominantly succeeded by playing aggressively. You cannot negotiate with McGrath on his terms. You are doomed if you do. You will have to negotiate on your terms. Indeed, one of the very few players i saw that had the measure of Ambrose was one Basit Ali.....another one, who backed himself 100% come what may.
That approach may backfire against others but against McGrath, that is the only way to go.
Some might ask 'well if Afridi or Basit Ali can deal with McGrath or Ambrose better than most, why arnt they as good as the tendulkars or the laras ?' that question deserves a thread of its own but one of the biggest answers is adaptability. You cannot play someone like mcGrath and Akram by the same philosophy. you will have to adapt. Essentially, this is the quality that the likes of Afridi and Basit Ali have little of.
Ally all this to McGrath's height and excellent bounce and you got a very potent bowler in the Curtley Ambrose mould. Which is why it always makes me smile when somoene calls harmison the white ambrose. The 'white ambrose' is none other than McGrath ! or perhaps Ambrose is the black McGrath- for their bowling styles are very similar- much more similar than Ambrose and Harmison for example.They both have similar stranglehold over the corridor of uncertainty, both rely predominantly on subtle variations and utmost of all, a relentless barrage by building pressure- they give you one bad ball every spell or so to punish and really make you earn your kudos instead of handing out a freebie here or there.
Another thing McGrath is excellent in, is wrist positioning. Essential goal is to have a good and neutral wrist position. This is the 'tennis toss/racket swing' analogy. The best servers are one who have the same toss/racket swing for the a number of different serves. McGrath has the same wrist positioning for his outswinger or his inswinger and essentially, you are pushed out of your comfort zone- its extremely hard to read someone like McGrath from his hand and you will have to base it completely from after the ball is released.
McGrath is a master of pushing you out of your zone and make you second guess.
That is his forte and given his expertise in it, i can almsot garantee that it will work in any era and any condition and against any batsmen more often than not.