An Interview with Anthony McGrath

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anthony mcgrath yorkshire cricket captain

Anthony McGrath Interview

Captain Slog

by Duncan Thorne

Cast your mind back to spring 1992… Leeds United fans will recall it with ease. Led by the inspirational Gordon Strachan, they overhauled an imploding Manchester United side to clinch the First Division title. I too remember it well, but for slightly different reasons – it was the first time I witnessed the batting colossus that is new Yorkshire Captain Anthony McGrath.

As a young teenager I lined up against a 16-year-old McGrath playing for the Bradford League Joe Lumb side and, needless to say, he was head and shoulders above anyone I had shared a cricket pitch with as he moved serenely on to one of his many effortless centuries. From that day on I took a distinct interest in his career and I’ve been able to take consolation from the knowledge that I’m not the only one to have suffered at his hands.

In fact, I always have a little laugh to myself every time I visit Headingley or Scarborough or watch him on television and see him dispatch professionals to all corners with his trademark drives and pulls. I particularly enjoyed watching him make his England debut and take solace from the fact that he has an international average a fraction over 40 from his four matches, which in Geoffrey Boycott’s book ranks him as a ‘good’ Test player. He even has a beer named after him thanks to Old Spot Brewery creating a tipple called Captain’s Ale for his benefit year with the proceeds going to McGrath’s chosen charities.

“Goughie’s a good mate and has been a great support for me”

Luckily our first encounter is not something he remembers when we meet for the interview at a Headingley ground that looks more like a building site due to a new pitch being laid and the winter shed stand being demolished as the ground undergoes major regeneration. After all, this is a man who has scored over 11,000 first-class runs and nearly 8,000 in one-day games. Few bowlers up and down the land have been spared over the years.

anthony mcgrathSo with this pedigree it’s refreshing to come across a sportsman who is so down to earth, friendly and approachable. McGrath was appointed Yorkshire Captain in the close season and it’s also his benefit year in recognition of the fine service he has given the Club he joined as a schoolboy. The day we meet marks the first event of his benefit season – ‘A night with Darren Gough. ’

“I’m just glad Goughie’s managed to find time in his busy schedule in between his radio, TV and skiing,” jokes McGrath. “He’s a good mate and has been a great support for me all my career so I thought it would be fitting for him to kick-off the year. I’ve got a lot of events throughout the season running through until December so it’s going to be really hectic especially once we are in full swing of the season with all the games and travelling, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Yorkshire’s in my heart and that won’t change”

Receiving a benefit year and becoming Captain of the country’s most famous county looked an unlikely scenario a few years ago when McGrath begrudgingly handed in a transfer request. “I hadn’t been enjoying my cricket for the previous two years and from the plans I’d heard about, I didn’t think the Club was moving in the right direction,” he adds. “But I spoke up for quite a lot of the younger lads and there were a few of the senior players leaving as well. I was close to leaving and then things turned around pretty much overnight.

“Martyn (Moxon) was appointed as Coach and then it was announced that Goughie was coming back from Essex as Captain. I knew then the Club was in safe hands and I wanted to stay. Ever since that moment I started enjoying my cricket again and I’ve just signed a new three-year contract which is brilliant news for me. I’ve always loved playing for this Club and I’ll always support them; Yorkshire’s in my heart and that won’t change.”

Despite an affable personality, there is a definite steely underbelly that is full of determination. It’s clear he has a plan and the aim is simple: to win as much as they can after flattering to deceive in recent years. Last season saw the side show glimpses of brilliance but they were too few and far between to mount a serious challenge, something McGrath believes they are more than capable of achieving this term.

“We really want to win something”

anthony mcgrath“The last two years we’ve made really good strides in one-day cricket. We were struggling with it the previous two or three and I think we’ve been unlucky not to win something. We’d the fiasco in the 20 Twenty (Yorkshire’s run came to an end when they were docked points from the Nottinghamshire game after Azeem Rafiq was identified as not registered). We came close in the semi final at Essex. There was promotion in the Pro 40. In the championship I just think we’ve lacked a little bit of consistency. We’ve led the league on a couple of occasions over the last two years but then fallen away.

“My remit is to consolidate what we’ve done and really push on because this Club deserves some silverware. Our younger players have done really well the last couple of years. We’re very keen to give them a chance alongside some experienced players such as myself, Matthew Hoggard, Jacques Rudolph and Michael Vaughan.

“It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s about winning trophies. We are not settling for second and third and saying “that’s a good season”. We really want to win something. With the youngsters we’ve got, if we can win one then I think we can go on and win many more. Because then it will give them the belief and so much more self confidence.”

The most talented youngster is Adil Rashid. He has been on tour with England in the West Indies this winter. The player is now pressing hard to stake a claim in the side. It’s something that would seriously affect Yorkshire.

“Rashid will be a star for England”

“He’s very important to us,” McGrath adds without hesitation. “I’ve seen him develop over the last few years and he’s a fine all-round cricketer. As a Club we are delighted he’s getting a chance with England. We want to produce players who can play for their country. Hopefully he’ll be a star for England in the Ashes this year, that would be fantastic. But if not we know that with him in our team we are a better side.

“It’s also a bonus having Michael Vaughan about. It will give our young guys a huge boost to work with him and see how a Test player goes about things. He’s very hungry to get his England place back. So that can only be good for us and from speaking to him I know he’s determined to do well.”

And what of his own international career? Many point to his undoubted talent but a lack of opportunity. Especially when compared to the chances afforded to the likes of Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash over the years.

“I felt I was pretty lucky at the time to be picked. But having been selected I thought I did reasonably well. I was really disappointed to be left out because I felt I could succeed at that level. But I’m not a bitter person. I wanted to show the selectors that it wasn’t going to affect my career. My form’s been really good ever since. I’ve been as consistent as anyone in the country. I believe I’m a better player than I was then. Although I’m appreciative of playing for my country. I’d love to do it again. If that opportunity comes again then great. But my focus is fully on Yorkshire and as Captain I want us to get back to winning trophies. So that’s the only thing in my head at the moment.”

It’s clear the aim is to win. McGrath is not picky when it comes to which competition it is as long as there’s some more silverware in the Headingley trophy cabinet.

“Each competition is equally important. It’s the last year of the Pro 40 so it would be great to win that; we’ve not experienced 20 Twenty finals day yet; a one-day final at Lord’s is always a great day out; and winning the championship was one of the greatest experiences of my life, so you can’t prioritise. We’ll take any one or all four.”

Editor’s Update: McGrath stepped down as Yorkshire captain by the end of his first season in charge, citing poor form. He retired in 2012. He is currently assistant head coach at Essex.

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