Glenn McGrath: Line and Length

Glenn McGrath (OAM) had the talent and consistency to become one of the most economical and dangerous fast bowlers of his time. No stranger to hard work or doing whatever it takes to succeed at the highest levels of your career, McGrath spoke exclusively to Elite Agent Editor Samantha McLean in 2014.

Many parallels have been drawn between the world of elite athletes and successful business people, centred around the themes of consistency, visualisation, mindset and peak performance.

But growing up in the bush, cricketing legend Glenn McGrath says he didn’t start with a goal of playing for Australia.

He just had a real passion for it and loved playing.

“I guess when I was younger, some people thought I couldn’t bowl; even when I was in the Under 16s I didn’t get much of a chance because our captain thought I wasn’t good enough to bowl in the team,” says McGrath.

“I didn’t play my first representative game of cricket until I was 17, so was a late starter.

“By the time I was 18 I only played Saturday afternoons in the bush and trained once a week.”

The decision to ‘go pro’ came with a move to Sydney where he started to focus hard on the goal of playing for Australia.

“In 1992, I attended the Australian Institute of Sport, and there you eat, breathe and live cricket 24/7.

“It showed me what sort of commitment I needed to make and what I had to do to become a successful first-class, and then international, cricketer.

“It was a big turning point for me, and four years after moving to Sydney, I was playing cricket for Australia.”

Overcoming setbacks

McGrath says he had his fair share of setbacks on the road to greatness.

He recalls his first game for NSW where he took a five-wicket haul and ended up with a serious injury at the end of that match.

“It was pretty tough.

“I remember sitting on the bench thinking that I had to do whatever it took to get back on the field as soon as possible.

“Sometimes it’s these little setbacks that make you think, appreciate things a bit more and are designed to make you work a little harder.”

McGrath eventually made it into the test squad but sustained another injury down his left side during the 1995 tour of the West Indies.

“It was an injury down my left side, which is where, as a fast bowler, you get all of your power from.

“At the end of that tour, I weighed 77kg and was injured again.

“I thought, if I don’t do something different to what I’ve been doing then I’m not going to have any longevity in the game.

“I realised I had to get stronger and tougher.”

McGrath says he asked around and found a guy by the name of Kevin Chevell, who is classed as one of the toughest trainers out there.

McGrath notes Chevell’s training matched his reputation, but he was also prepared to do whatever it took.

“I realised that I had to look at different and better ways of doing things if I wanted to stay at the top.

“I think making that decision and going out and tracking down a trainer who is classed as one of the best, one of the toughest, and having the right people around me, was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

“I worked with Kevin my whole career and I can easily thank him for a lot of my success.

“Sometimes we think we can do everything by ourselves, but that’s not what it’s about; it’s about having the right people around you, having a good team.”

Being prepared

I’d done my research on McGrath and read that he was always a believer in visualising the perfect ball, and that he had ‘never had a bad dream about cricket’.

I ask him about this and he laughs.

“Yes, I guess you call it positive reinforcement; I call it ‘preparing for success’.

“I always visualised bowling good deliveries and taking wickets, and I would watch video footage of myself taking good wickets.

“It’s as much a confidence thing as anything else: positive reinforcement, dreaming about it and how you want to go about it.

“Even during the game, at the top of my mark, I’ve already visualised what ball I want to bowl, where I see it landing and what I see it doing, so it’s already locked in.

“I think that this sort of positive reinforcement or visualisation is one of the key factors that set me up for success this far.”

McGrath also says he spent a lot of time on preparation.

“I always made sure that I prepared as well as I could; trained as well as I could – fitness work, more work in the gym – so that when I walked out on the field I knew I had prepared as well as I could.

“Then I could focus on exactly what I was looking to achieve in the field. Part of that was that visualisation, but it’s a whole package, really. If you are prepared for success then you are well on your way.”

There are no secrets – only consistency

One of the nicknames that McGrath picked up during his career was the ‘The Metronome’.

A metronome is the incredibly steady tick-tock that keeps musicians strictly in time.

In an era where most fast bowlers looked to dominate their opponents through pace and more flashy tactics, McGrath was well known for the type of consistency that was, to a batsman, like drops of sweat hitting the brow one after the other until a mistake was made, usually with the same ending back in the dressing room.

“I didn’t bowl at 160km/h like some of the others; I didn’t swing the ball a great deal, but I could land a ball pretty well and I’d get the bounce and a bit of seam and that was my strength.

“Even now when I talk to young bowlers, they want to know the secret to taking wickets.

“I tell them, ‘If you can bowl 99 balls out of a hundred where you want it, which is hitting the deck just outside of off stump, you’ll take wickets’.

“To be honest, I’m not sure that’s what they want to hear because they think it’s going to be some secret formula!

“It’s a lot of practise and also visualisation, but it was all a feel thing for me too, and it’s just about doing, repeating things.

“They say practise makes perfect, but actually that’s not quite true; you can practise the wrong way so you’re not going to get any better.

“It’s more ‘perfect practise’ makes perfect. That’s what I tried to do.

McGrath says he set himself extraordinarily high standards and focused on accuracy.

“I talked to the best bowlers and best batsmen in the world.

“They said it was always tougher meeting someone bowling around that 135 km/h mark who had good consistency, good control and a bit of bounce, rather than someone bowling high 140s, 150s that really skidded on.

“That was my strength and I worked on it, tried to hone it down and make that as consistent as I possibly could.”

Handling pressure

Big games and big pressure situations can cause even the bravest of us to break.

But McGrath says knowing that the crowd was watching, along with millions on TV in Australia and around the world, would fuel him.

“Well, that’s one of the reasons I played the game; I liked to test myself to see how good I really was.

“Pressure to me is something that only comes from within; nobody can put pressure on me except for myself.

“A lot of the preparation, having ‘been there and done that’ before, always backing yourself and having that self-belief, they all come into play.

“In those big moments, I loved it. That’s why you play; how you go against the best batsmen in the world, how you cope in those pressure situations. It’s probably what I miss more than anything now,” says McGrath.

“If you’ve prepared as well as you can and back yourself on the action you take and it works, great; if not, then you know next time what not to do!”

McGrath says it’s about experience as well.

“They say you can’t find experience on a shelf, nor should you be able to. It’s all these factors that go into it, but just really enjoying those moments, because that’s why we play.

“That’s where you see just how good you are.”

Lessons learned

McGrath says it’s tough to narrow down the most memorable moment of his career.

“I was involved in an era of Australian cricket that was so strong, it was brilliant.

“Every time you walked on the field you looked beside you: the calibre of the players I got to play with was pretty amazing.

“To be involved in that team; to win in the West Indies for the first time in a long time, in India, the first time in a long time to play in three and win three, to win three World Cup finals, they’re all pretty big things.

“Individually, to take my first test wicket, to score 61 with the bat (laughs), and taking my 500th test wicket at Lords was very special. ”

McGrath says he is looking forward to sharing some of these stories with Ideas Exchange attendees this year.

“I hope to share a few stories about some old teammates and a few other things that have happened, so hopefully it’ll be enjoyable! (laughs).

“Seriously, I guess there are a lot of things that helped me through my career; how I went about things including planning, preparation, being match aware.

“What to do and how to adjust when the plan you have doesn’t work, plus some other things that have been useful to me in my career.

“Preparing for success, I think, is always a good thing. Enjoying pressure, enjoying the big moments, because at the end of the day, if you really want to make it big and really want to be successful, you’ve got to enjoy those moments and do well under pressure.

“And also having no regrets.”

At the time of writing in 2014, Glenn McGrath held the world record for the highest number of Test wickets by a fast bowler, and the record for the most wickets in the cricket World Cup.

As well as ongoing duties as Chairman of the McGrath Foundation, which he founded with his late wife Jane in 2008, he is now the Director of the MRF Pace Foundation, taking over the position from fellow fast bowling great Dennis Lillee, selecting, nurturing and scientifically developing the cricketing skills of youngsters with promise.

He was awarded the Order of Australia in 2008 for his service to cricket as a player and for service to the community through the establishment of the McGrath Foundation.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.