Book Review: Line and Strength

(by Glenn McGrath and Daniel Lane, Yellow Jersey Press, pp432, £14.99, ISBN 978-0224082877)

An extraordinary paradox in the Australian character, and one that is very visibly present in the Australian cricketer, is the co-existence of a tough uncompromising psyche on the one hand with a sometimes cringe-making sentimentality on the other. As great Australian cricketers, from Bradman onwards, prepare to leave the stage for the final time there is an outpouring of emotion – often accompanied by more farewells than old Blue Eyes Sinatra himself. And so it has been with Glenn McGrath who despite emotional goodbyes to Test cricket (wicket with his final ball), One Day Internationals (wicket with his final ball) and the World Cup (a third successive trophy for Australia) plays on to earn some top-up dollars to his already substantial pile in the Indian Premier League. And none would begrudge him that nice little earner in the beyond-twilight years of his long career.

McGrath’s story is told exceptionally well by Daniel Lane in this intriguing biography. To his credit McGrath, although for promotional purposes sharing joint billing as author of the book, has allowed his tale to be told in the third person. This is not a ghosted memoir but a proper authorised biography – and we are therefore spared the faux-modesty of the “…and then I was lucky enough to take eight wickets in the Lord’s Test match” type. Which is not to say that Lane has been able to paint an entirely “warts and all” picture of a truly emblemic Aussie hero – but it is not a hagiography either. McGrath’s membership of the Aussie sledgers’ club is properly recorded – not least his foul-mouthed attack on Ramnaresh Sarwan in 2003. But although McGrath could be brutal on the field of play to his opponents you do not get the impression that he took this into any other area of his life. On the contrary he seems a gentle soul.

Glenn McGrath’s cricket career is arguably almost unrivalled by any other quick bowler in the modern era. His 560 wickets in 123 Test matches is impressive enough but when you realise that he took these wickets at an average of 21.60 you see his true strength – his unique bowling accuracy. Throughout his international career McGrath was burdened not only with the mental and physical challenge of modern cricket but by the fact that his much-loved wife Jane suffered from cancer – the disease that finally killed her not long after her husband retired. Understandably much of this book covers Jane’s illness and how she and McGrath battled it together. It is a moving story and one that is told here with great sensitivity. That said the book, whilst well written, is curiously structured and the non-chronological style can be confusing and at time repetitive. The highlights of McGrath’s career are told in anecdotes whilst much of the detail is omitted altogether – his time with Middlesex is not mentioned for example. There is no index in the book and the statistics are sketchy. Nevertheless this is a book which describes how a rough diamond from a hick country town who was certainly no child prodigy as a cricketer could achieve true greatness through hard work, mental strength, determination and inspired coaching and captaincy – and as such it is a must-read for any cricket lover.

Paddy Briggs – Verdict 7
Summer 2010


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