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Updated: January 30, 2013 18:51 IST

Giving back to the game

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Glenn McGrath. Photo: K. Pichumani
The Hindu Glenn McGrath. Photo: K. Pichumani

The tale of Glenn McGrath the man is as fascinating as McGrath the cricketer. The new director of coaching at the MRF Pace Foundation takes time off to look back on the journey of life

The city train flashed past, its movement coalescing into a rhythmic beat as its wheels pounded the track. The circle of life and the journey were mirrored in that fleeting moment that appeared and disappeared leaving behind a trail of dust.

Glenn McGrath does not allow the moments to fly away. He, in fact, seizes them. The Australian pace legend caught a glimpse of the speeding locomotive from a corner of his eye. He smiled.

In his pursuit to make a mark as a world-class fast bowler, McGrath travelled and lived in a caravan after moving out of the tiny town of Dubbo, some 560 km away from bustling Sydney. His mother Beverley left him in this mobile home parked in a distant suburb of the New South Wales capital.

From there, McGrath, the country boy who grew up on expansive farms and played weekend cricket on little grounds and backyards, took his first steps on a career path that would eventually lead him to the highway of glory and beyond.

The tale of McGrath the man is as fascinating as McGrath the cricketer.

“I was alone but was tough and focussed. There were sacrifices to be made and I was prepared for them,” he says. McGrath chased dreams, climbed the acme.

Latest stop, Chennai

In his never-ending quest to cross miles and milestones, Chennai is his latest stop. “This is my chance to give something back to the game,” says the 42-year-old McGrath after taking over as the director of coaching at Chennai’s MRF Pace Foundation.

In his attitude, he is the archetypal Aussie pace predator — aggressive, incisive and relentless. McGrath’s gaunt visage goes through myriad emotions in the arena but retains an unmistakable sense of integrity. He has the honest face of a cricketer who gives the game his all, stretching every sinew.

Talk to him about corruption in cricket and the Aussie’s reply underlines his character. “I would not be too worried about being caught. But I would be disappointed with myself if I ever did that. I would not have been happy looking at myself in the mirror.” McGrath’s response is as telling as the astonishing precision of his corridor bowling with bounce and subtle movement.

Self introspective, the toughest questions are those he poses to himself. “I could look at my teammates in the eye,” he says.

But then, McGrath’s opponents were not always pleased with his on-field behaviour. The lanky paceman had his mood swings and his career was blotted by a few temperamental flare-ups. “Looking back, I, probably, should not have said some of the things I did,” McGrath admits.

His incredible career concluded amidst celebrations as the fragrance of a World ODI Cup triumph swirled around the Australian team in the Caribbean, 2007. Post retirement, he has no regrets about not extending his international tenure but does yearn for his teammates.

“I miss the bonding in the side. The team spirit was fantastic and we backed each other,” McGrath reveals.

The indomitable Steve Waugh was obviously an influence. “He not just wanted to win but also wanted to crush his opponents from the very first ball. The term ‘ruthless’ suited him fine. He was strong and resilient. And he was the ‘best man’ on my first wedding.”

McGrath greatly loved his first wife Jane, who, eventually, succumbed to cancer in 2008 after waging a long battle. The McGrath Cancer Foundation, the two set up, continues to inspire and give hope. “Losing her was a sad moment, sadder for my two kids. But the cancer foundation has been evoking a tremendous response. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction. This is real life.”

Fulfilling Jane’s dying wish, McGrath married again in 2010. “I was lucky to find love again in Sara (Leonardi). She has been a great mother to my children,” he says.

He is a cricket coach now — the MRF Pace Foundation built by his idol Dennis Lillee is a wonderful platform — and is also keen on a career as a commentator. “I want to try everything in life. I should not think 10 years from now that ‘Oh, I should have done that one.’”

A celebrity who reached dizzying heights and stared at the big, bold lights of the city, McGrath remains a charming country boy at heart.

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