Cricket World Cup: McGrath back at full steam

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The Independent Online
GLENN McGRATH'S broad smile after he had taken two wickets in his second over against the West Indies was the World Cup image of the week. After a scratchy start, McGrath had redeemed himself. His rhythm was back; and the consequence of that was a bad case of the blues for Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar.

By the end of the week McGrath was sufficiently relaxed to compare these two crucial dismissals: "I probably enjoy getting Sachin out more than Brian these days. He's a class player." This is the whole team's view; Mark Waugh, for example, confessed on Friday that he does not regard himself as being in the same class as Tendulkar. McGrath is a class player, too, although you would never have known if you had seen him against Bangladesh and Scotland.

At The Oval last week I learned about this slow start from the horse's mouth. McGrath sat down, put up his long legs after practice and said it was significant that he had not bowled for three weeks before the World Cup: "My bowling's all down to rhythm, and it takes time to get the rhythm right." But bowling well is also a matter of focus and concentration, and all three needed topping up.

"I was not as patient as I should be early on. I suppose there is a difference between a No 1 side and one of the minnows. It's a different feeling. The West Indies is a big game and you approach it differently." His own indifferent form meant there seemed to be no pressing case for him to open the bowling. He didn't complain, but it does not take a master strategist to notice the difference between McGrath, the first change bowler, and McGrath the proud spearhead of the Australian attack - eight wickets for fewer than 50 runs against the West Indies and India. Both performances won matches.

The customary image is not the smile at Old Trafford, but the scowl - on show this summer at Chester-le-Street in the Bangladesh game. "A lot of the time, I'm having a go at myself, and the trouble is that when you lose control, you don't bowl as well," he says.

The red mist that descends when he is highly focused for a Test match gives a very partial portrait of this obliging man. His most memorable spat was when Alan Mullally twice hit him straight to the boundary in the Melbourne Test last Christmas. I asked what he had said to Mullally, but he can't remember. It's of no concern. The two are the best of friends, he says. They will exchange shirts at the end of the tournament.

If McGrath goes on bowling as he did last week, Mullally will have the best of the exchange.