I didn't want to put this in the McGrath tribute thread since it would seem inappropriate. I am a huge fan of Glenn McGrath and consider him one of the best I've seen. I enjoy his bowling and his best efforts against the likes of Brian Lara etc. Can't say enough of how much enjoyment he's given me as a cricket fan.
That said, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think he was a tiny bit overrated these days. Recently CW conducted a poll asking who the greatest fast bowler ever was, and McGrath IIRC was 2nd on that poll behind Malcolm Marshall. That sort of suprised me since I don't think McGrath has done anything someone like Richard Hadlee couldn't have done.
And while it doesn't occur often, McGrath did have times where his limitations prevented him from taking crucial wickets. By limitations I mean the things McGrath himself mentioned when he retired - a lack of pace, inability to get the ball swinging much etc. Don't get me wrong, these things were 9/10 offset by his incredible accuracy, ability to read batsmen and the ability to seam the ball both ways. Believe me, I know this is a picky excercise to single out one of two flaws which are borderline insignificant.
But there have been times when I've seen McGrath on poor pitches (hey every bowler in history had done poorly on unreceptive wickets from time to time) and thought, "if he had a bouncer like Wasim Akram, and could extract bounce off the wicket like Dennis Lillee, he might be able to unsettle the batsman and better work out his technique. Right now his line and length isn't quite enough." And trust me, I rarely thought that - it only happened rarely.
And for all his strengths:
Was he really anymore accurate that someone like Richard Hadlee?
Did he really read batsmen any better than Marcolm Marshall?
Did he take wickets faster than most fast bowling greats?
I'm far from being someone who likes to use stats - in fact I hate them. But if you are a stats man, then his strike-rate, average etc really aren't that better than say, Allan Donald. McGrath went for longer of course... but just regular stats indicate he wasn't a standout from other great. If you are a stats man (and like I said, I'm not) then you can look at his stats and say, "yep, one of the best ever." But could you say, "definitely the best ever"?
The crux of my argument is this:
McGrath has done things that only the best ever have done. Making him one of the best ever. But there are a good number of "greats" like Allan Donald, Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan etc with exactly that same looking stats. Some with better strike-rates, others with slightly worse averages (honestly, 1 or two runs per wicket mean nothing). So how can anybody be confident he's one of the five best bowlers ever, let alone the best bowler ever, which many of you think he is.
No less, in my experience in seeing him bowl, he'd rarely but occasionally, have a bad day because he lacked certain aspects of fast bowling which could have been useful. He didn't have a scary bouncer or great pace, and he couldn't swing the ball both ways like many others could. He rarely incorporated cutters etc. And rarely did he need to. However, the fact is I could see someone like Akram coming and taking the vital wicket McGrath desperately needed during some vital games.
I'd like to say I rate McGrath one of the five best bowlers ever. That I don't feel confident in stating because my number 6, Wasim Akram, could very well have been better. But it's important for me to say I think McGrath is a freak, one of the 20 best cricketers ever IMO, and someone I'm very thankful for having seen.