Before he played for England, Steven Finn wrote about his all-time hero, Glenn McGrath, and of a meeting with the Australian paceman in 2005 that didn’t happen.

Published in 2009

Published in 2009

With a Test career starting in 1993 and spanning 14 years, Glenn McGrath has always been regarded as a batsman’s worst nightmare, ever since he first graced the field against New Zealand all those years ago. Described as ‘Ambrose-thin’ before playing his first Test, he has come to epitomize the very essence of a ‘nasty fasty’.

On debut against the Black Caps at the WACA, he was out first ball to Murphy Su’a and finished with three wickets in a game that turned out to be a fairly low-key draw. Since then he has added a further 560 victims at an average of 21.64, including a Test-best of 8-24, in a mere 124 appearances. In ODIs his record is equally impressive, taking 381 wickets in 250 games at an average of 22.02 with best bowling of 7-15. The man is a machine in flesh and bone form.

During my youth, Glenn McGrath was the best fast bowler in the world. I clearly remember that in the build-up to every series McGrath would target an England batsman. First Michael Atherton, then Michael Vaughan were both on the receiving end of pre-Ashes sledging from McGrath. He saw off Atherton 19 times in his international career.

Not afraid of predicting how a series might turn out, as well as how a batsman might fare against him, before England’s Ashes win in 2005, he famously postured, “I think I was saying 3-0 or 4-0 about 12 months ago, thinking there might be a bit of rain around. But with the weather as it is at the moment, I have to say 5-0.”

A confident man. Blessed with unshakeable belief in his own ability and an unerring trust in his team-mates, he showed aggression in everything he did – even in his manipulation of the media. These are the reasons why this incredible fast bowler is my icon. The way this aggression manifested itself so potently on the field, coupled with the control and confidence in which he held himself off the pitch, makes Glenn McGrath, in my eyes, the role model every young fast bowler should aspire to emulate.

I have only ever seen McGrath bowl live once, at the Walker Ground in Southgate in 2004 against Yorkshire. McGrath donned the blues of Middlesex in three national league games that summer. I remember perambulating round the ground, taking in the performance of my idol from as many angles as possible. From side on, I could see the incredible carry that he was getting, sending the ball firing through to the wicketkeeper. From behind his arm I could see the ‘shape’ he was getting on the ball, taking it consistently away from the right-hander. The rhythmic run up and the unique and individual way he jumped in towards the stumps at release of the ball – just as every coaching manual says you shouldn’t! This all added to the magic of the moment I was caught in. It showed he did it his way and also gave me something to relate to as a cricketer. Because I was doing a similar thing when I was bowling.

In one of his final overs of that day at Southgate, he bowled a dreaded no-ball. In a close encounter, a free hit could prove one of the game’s turning points. However, his ability to hold his nerve in pressure situations shone through. He produced a perfect yorker that cartwheeled leg stump. The ball was a dot ball. The experience of watching a master in action strengthened my own passion to play professional cricket – and wanting to be a hero in a pressure situation now feeds my desire to succeed.

Another memory from that game in north London. Whilst fielding on the boundary, some rowdy Yorkshire supporters were laying some late afternoon abuse down in McGrath’s direction. He responded with a customary double teapot, hands on hips stance, followed by a wave. It was here that my admiration for the man rose even higher – here was a legend of cricket yet he was still playing up to opposition supporters on a Sunday afternoon at Southgate.

After the game, I asked former Middlesex and current Kent seamer Simon Cook to get his autograph for me, I was too much in awe of my hero to even attempt to speak to him.

However, the following summer, Toby Radford, the then Academy head coach at Middlesex, had tried to set up a meeting for me with McGrath. Unfortunately this never happened because of the ‘freak’ injury he sustained during the Ashes series of 2005. I daren’t force the issue either, because what Australian would want to speak to a young Pom when they’d been beaten in the Ashes? But it would have been a great opportunity to pick the brains of someone who has played at the highest level of the sport for so long – although I fear I would have struggled to control my excitement and anticipation at being able to ask Glenn McGrath about bowling.

McGrath holds many records, ones that may never be broken, most notably being the highest wicket-taking fast bowler, ever. It was fitting that he retired from Test cricket at the end of the 2006/07 Ashes whitewash, and from ODIs after playing a major part in Australia winning the 2007 World Cup. Two pinnacles of a cricketer’s career. A career like few others.