McGrath enters Lillee territory

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The Independent Online

This summer's torment has laid bare the difference between talent and greatness. England have some talented cricketers, but the great players are on the Australian side. Steve Waugh is great, so is Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist. But the great player who set out his wares yesterday was Glenn McGrath, who took 7 for 76 and became the leading wicket-taker in the series so far with 24 at 15.45.

It is instructive to compare McGrath, who reached 350 Test wickets when he had Alan Mullally caught off his gloves, with Darren Gough, who has been struggling this summer. After Australia's first innings Gough had taken 14 wickets at 34.00. In the greatness stakes, Gough talks a good game and the Yorkshire loyalists in the new West Stand do their best to inflate his ego, but he is the pretender. McGrath is the real thing. His reaction to reaching the 350-wicket milestone was to say that is was a fine thing to get past it, but that he is more interested in getting the six more wickets that will put him ahead of Dennis Lillee in the all-time Australian list. That will be tangible evidence of greatness.

Darren Gough had run through the Australian tail on Friday morning and posted figures of 5 for 103. They flattered him, but when the day's play was over Gough told newspapermen: "I didn't think I bowled badly yesterday." He was the only person on the ground who did not think so. He bowled like a man who has spent far too much time at benefit functions this summer ­ this is his benefit year. Even his admirers admit that he is tired out and that his bowling has suffered.

We know that Nasser Hussain was displeased with Gough's bowling. "Goughie's been a bit below par," said his skipper. " I went and had a chat with him at the beginning of his run-up and he said as much. I didn't give him the new ball, which fired him up a bit. I think he'd admit he has bowled better for five wickets." He bowled with more fire at the start of Australia' second innings, forcing Michael Slater to play on and watching Atherton at first slip drop a routine catch off Ricky Ponting. But the bowling performance that will linger in the memory was McGrath's

McGrath may also have bowled better than he did yesterday, but that was deliberate. He said there was enough variation in the pitch which meant that he did not have try too hard. He concentrated on hitting the deck and on line and length. Both were impeccable. There is a metronomic quality about his work, interrupted by the odd, virtually unplayable ball that tucks up a good player like Hussain or draws Mike Atherton into making a pass at the ball and nicking a catch.

McGrath has been attending to his public image too. There is less sledging, and some evidence of good humour when he walks to his fielding position at long leg, where he doffs his baggy green at the louts who are booing him as well as the cricket-lovers who are applauding him. A faint smile played on his face as he led the Australian team off the field. He is a more modest man than Gough.

Incidentally we know that Hussain's intimate thoughts about Gough are accurate because he dictates them soon after close of play to a brand new website called Wisden.com. Hussain already writes a weekly column in a Sunday newspaper and his editors there are not at all pleased to know that they are being scooped by their own man working in another medium. The ECB are not pleased either. They operate a system of censorship. Each column that appears under the name of an England player ­and there are no fewer than nine of them besides our own Andrew Caddick ­ is read by Andrew Walpole, the press officer attached to the England team. He does not regard the system of censorship as voluntary. But Walpole did not know that the England captain was already delivering his thoughts daily during a Test to a web site. At least Walpole has the grace to admit that his system is illogical.

This begs another question, which is about the propriety of the captain of England's cricket team being free to sell his commentary (at £1,000 a pop according to this month's Wisden Cricket Monthly). The captain, unlike the players, is a kind of public property. Reading his thoughts about the teams plans and their performance in a newspaper, or even on a website is a bit like the Home Secretary selling exclusively to The Independent his policy plans about, say, prison reform. It does not feel right.

But it is a matter of judgement, and until it is questioned more seriously, Nasser's views are readily available at the end of the day's play on Wisden.com.

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