DateLine: 13th February 2006
In replacing Andrew Flintoff, Anthony McGrath was given one the most daunting roles in international cricket on his Test debut. Englandís desire to field a good quality batsman at no.7 who could also be a credible fourth seamer suited McGrath perfectly, especially with Paul Collingwood also out injured. His Test debut went like a dream, with a 69 followed by 3-16 to help send a mediocre Zimbabwe side to an innings defeat. He cracked 81 in the equally one-sided Second Test, although his long term prospects didnít look good as Nasser Hussain insisted on bowling Mark Butcherís brand of medium paced wobble ahead of his own. When Flintoff returned, McGrath surprisingly retained his place for the First Test against the South Africans. The fact that he batted at no.5 and wasnít required to turn his arm over (despite the tourists racking up 594-5 declared) meant that he was now effectively being picked as one of the top six batsmen in the country. Two failures with the bat at Lords (with his first innings dismissal coming from a shot played across the line of the ball) ended his Test career, despite him showing his partnership breaking potential by clean bowling the centurion Gary Kirsten. His limited-overs career followed a similar trend, with Michael Vaughan often not calling on his bowling at all, although on the rare occasions he was allowed ten overs he put in an economical spell. The problem may have been that Vaughan was away with England when McGrath was making great strides in developing his bowling, and so he did underestimate his county colleague. He hasnít been seen in England colours since a desperate series with the bat against India in 2004.
Earlier in his career, he had been seen in some over-excited quarters as a batting colossus come to revive the flagging fortunes of both England and Yorkshire. He toured Pakistan with England A after just five First-class matches (where he recorded a maiden First-class century) and had built to his average to the early thirties. Both Geoffrey Boycott and Ian Chappell suggested he should be one of the young English players blooded in the bear-pit of the 1997 Ashes series. He wasnít, and seasons where he couldn't kick on from averaging in the twenties and thirties made it obvious that his early talent had either been misplaced or misleading. However, 2002 saw his bowling really come on, and his last three seasons have seen him finally be the heavy scoring batsman that Yorkshire always thought they had. In between his commitments with England in 2003 he captained the Tykes, although since then both Craig White and Matthew Wood have been preferred as skipper. If he hadnít played Test cricket many would have thought it was a waste of talent, although his eventual role at international level wasnít quite what had been predicted for him in the mid to late 1990ís. Although not a Flintoff, McGrath wasnít too far short of the standards needed to be a batting all-rounder, although his selection was rendered somewhat pointless by the lack of faith placed in his bowling by his England captains. In his last Test he was required to keep wicket for England after Alec Stewart collected a bruised eye socket as a punishment for a bungled stumping chance. However, thanks to his cheap runs and wickets against Zimbabwe, anyone studying his Test record out of context will erroneously think he was the most under-selected all-rounder in English Test history.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)