rāmāyaṇa & mahābhārata is the answer to the quiz question, "Which are the two longest epics from India?". rāmāyaṇa is a (mostly) straightforward story of the God-King śrī rāma. mahābhārata is an extremely complex story of our land, bhārata. rāmāyaṇa & mahābhārata differ from each other in one other aspect. vālmiki, the former thief-turned-ādi kavi*, was narrating the incidents live. Basically, he was to dāsarathī's adventures what Richie Benaud was to cricket. krishṇa dvaipāyana, on the other hand, wrote jaya after the events were over. He was what Neville Cardus was to cricket.

When B. R. Chopra made mahābhārat in 1988, he chose kāla (time), to be its narrator. It was only apposite. Time sees all. Time knows all. Time never forgets. Time never stops. Time is relentless. Time is metronomic. The only cricketer germane to be described as a metronome and is as relentless as time itself is the thin legged giant nicknamed Pigeon: Glenn Donald McGrath.

The 3 droughts of Australian cricket

After Craig McDermott was ruled out, an inexperienced Aussie pace attack (Reiffel, Julien & McGrath) pulled off an upset of sorts by beating West Indies in their Caribbean fortress. McGrath repeatedly mentions they specifically bounced the Windies pacemen just to show that they weren't intimidated by them. The Aussie pacers were so unnerving that the West Indies captain, Richie Richardson wore a helmet for the first time in his career.

The series ended 3 different streaks in one fell swoop:

  • First series defeat for West Indies in 15 years.
  • First series win against West Indies in 19 years.
  • First series win in the West Indies in 22 years.

Warne-less Australia were winless in their last 13 tests in the Land of the Pure. They had only ever won 2 tests in Pakistan which also gave them the series in 1959. MacGill, playing his 2nd test, spun out Pakistan for a sub par total and Tugga ground 'em down with a 392 minute 157. With a lead of 244, McGrath wore Pakistan down with figures of 15.5-6-24-2. Wisden's match report goes:
McGrath's opening spell to Anwar and Sohail was a fierce and brilliant sprint almost as significant as Waugh's marathon. Though he took only two wickets - Sohail at the start and Saqlain at the end - McGrath imposed his will on the match.
MacGill was the beneficiary of McGrath's unabated pressure as he picked up 4 wickets to clean up Pakistan for 145, giving them their first test win & eventually the series in Pakistan for 39 years.

Punter missed the 1st 3 tests but his absence was made up by dancing debutant Michael Clarke & the resplendently elegant Damien Martyn. McGrath took just 14 wickets but it was his meticulous bowling that crushed the Indians. In the series clinching win at Nagpur, McGrath's 4 spells read
  • 6-4-5-1
  • 6-3-6-0
  • 7-4-7-1
  • 6-2-9-1

His relentlessly accurate bowling gave the Ponting-less Australia the series 2-0 with 1 to play. India was conquered after 35 years.

Series-wise Break up

Glenn McGrath's 124 tests were spread over 42 series. Australia were victorious in 33 series, drew 4 and lost 5. A most remarkable record. Here's the list of 9 series that Australia failed to win.

McGrath played just 1 test, the 2nd of the series & his 3rd, that Australia lost by 5 runs to Fanie De Villiers 6/43.

McGrath was still the understudy to McDermott & Hughes. Though he wasn't among the wickets, he would show his trademark accuracy and the ability to bowl stingy spells. Figures of 41-11-78-0 in the 3rd test summed up his series.

Sans McDermott for the 1st test, McGrath was now the leader of the Aussie pace attack. They held the upper hand for all but the last 8 overs of test as Inzi & Mushi stole a last wicket win. McGrath was injured during the test and could bowl just 6 overs in the 2nd innings.

A one-off test. Australia were spun out by Kumble & worn down by a near 500 minute 152 by wicket-keeper & makeshift opener, Nayan Mongia. McGrath was characteristically parsimonious (29-10-56-1) but the weak spin trio (Hogg, McIntyre, Waugh) wasn't good enough to trouble the dust bowl tested Indian batting lineup. India comfortably won by 7 wickets inside 4 days.

Australia got off to a great start winning the Port-of-Spain test by 312 runs but Brian Lara, under monumental pressure, scripted a cricketing rāmāyaṇa mahābhārata of his own (213 & 153*) to give West Indies the lead. McGrath took a brace of 3 wickets in the final test to give Australia a share of the series.

Australia were reduced to 5/40 by the new ball pair of Vaas & Zoysa and there was only going to be one winner from then on. Australia were down to 9 men when Waugh & Gillespie collided. They collapsed to 140 in the 2nd innings and SL saw off the 95 run target with a few jitters. The 2nd & 3rd tests were nearly rained off and Sri Lanka had their first series win over Australia.

This series requires no summary. McGrath was probing & niggardly but Very Very Stale transmogrified into Very Very Special midway through the series and that, as they say was that.

Australia were dominant in the 1st test but heavy rains played spoilsport. The teams sportingly conjured an exciting day 5. A flurry of declarations gave the Kiwis a target of 284 in 57 overs. Kiwis almost got there but it was McGrath's full wide bowling that saved the day. Rest of the Aussie bowlers conceded 198 runs in 37 overs. Pigeon's miserly 66 runs in 20 overs saved the day. Rain prevented the completion of even 2 innings in the 2nd test.

4 Kiwi batsmen made 100s and piled up 534 runs on the WACA in the 3rd test. Bond got Hayden with his first delivery and the Kiwis were flying. Vettori took 6 wickets including Shane Warne for 99, the closest Warnie got to a test 100. NZ then gave Australia 440 runs to get in 107 overs. The Aussies survived 110 overs for the loss of 7 wickets 59 runs shy of victory.

England came with their tails up having been undefeated the previous year. They also shared the ODI series preceding the tests with an improbable tie in the final. McGrath failed to defend 10 runs in the last over. Come the Lord's test and Pigeon showed who's the boss. Then came the fatal slip in Edgbaston that caused McGrath to miss the most exciting match since the 1993 Adelaide test. McGrath was hurried into the Old Trafford test where Geraint Jones gave him the treatment but Ricky Ponting saved the test with an uncharacteristically patient 156. McGrath missed the 4th test that Australia duly lost. An unfit McGrath returned for the final test but Warne's drop proved costly and Australia surrendered the Ashes after 16 years.

If we count from the seismic 1995 series in the Caribbean where McGrath became the lead bowler, the series results read played 38, won 31, lost 4, drawn 2. One lost series was a one-off test. A barely believable record. Of the 9 series that Australia didn't win, McGrath was too inexperienced (vs SA home & away in 1994 & Pakistan away in 1994), the series was too short (vs India 1996), the series was heavily rain affected (vs SL 1999, NZ 2001), opposition batsmen were just improbably great (vs WI 1999, India 2001) and unfit (Ashes 2005). With just a little bit of luck going the Aussie way, the Baggy Greens could have presumably run the table!

We'll take a look at the effect McGrath had on star opposition batsmen in the next part of the post.

*ādi kavi - Literally means first poet.


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