NO doubt if Anthony McGrath had his way, he would be padded up in the nets on Yorkshire’s pre-season tour to Sri Lanka preparing for what everyone connected with the club hopes will be a successful challenge for the 2014 County Championship Division One title.
But, over the past 12 months, the 38-year-old former all-rounder – part of the last Yorkshire team to win silverware – has moved on to another phase in his life, one which will see him happily continue his love affair with a sport which he readily admits has given him so much, particularly in the county where he was born and for whom he made his first-class debut in 1995.
It was not easy for McGrath to adapt to life after playing once he called time on an 18-year career with Yorkshire at the end of the 2012 season.
A nagging thumb injury that refused to clear helped finally bring about the moment when he finally decided he could not continue – despite playing a significant role in helping Jason Gillespie’s team return to the top flight of the County Championship.
But a unique position with the club he grew up supporting has helped him move on, combining coaching with a new mentoring role which will see him help others who find themselves in a similar situation to the one he was in 18 months ago.
His vast experience from a long, distinguished career with Yorkshire will serve him well when passing on the knowledge and wisdom he has gained to younger players – whether it be in the nets or in a more personal one-on-one situation.
As for his own playing career, McGrath – while admitting to some “difficult” times after he brought the curtain down on his time out in the middle – has largely happy memories.
“I’m very proud of my career,” said McGrath, who scored 14,091 first-class runs for Yorkshire in 242 games. “I’m very fortunate to have played for so long and to play for Yorkshire as well.
“You do have little regrets here and there but, if somebody had offered me the career I’ve had back in 1995, I’d have taken it with both hands.
“Winning the Championship in 2001 was a big highlight. It was such a big thing to finally win it after such a long time, it was such a euphoric feeling.
“We won the C&G Trophy the following year as well at Lord’s which was special, as was captaining Yorkshire because I had been a Yorkshire fan all of my life.”
His first-class debut came in 1995 in his home city of Bradford, standing in for then captain and now Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon, who was out injured.
“Unfortunately, I got a duck in my first innings,” recalled McGrath. “But I did get a few in the second innings and I think we won the game as well, so it was a good start and great to get a taste of what first-team cricket was all about.”
McGrath was in and out of the side for most of that season but, following selection for an England ‘A’ winter tour of Pakistan, he returned to cement his place in the team, although it was not all plain sailing in the years leading up to Yorkshire’s last spell of success.
Inconsistency with the bat, coupled with nagging injuries and fierce competition for places, saw McGrath struggle at times to hold down a regular place.
“I’d had a couple of knee injuries which didn’t help but, generally, I had two or three very lean years where I struggled for consistency,” added McGrath.
“I had to change a few things technically and I think it was also just a case of getting used to being a professional cricketer – not just physically, but mentally. But after hooking up with Kevin Sharp (batting coach) I was really consistent for seven or eight years and a lot of that was down to him and changing things technically.
“He was a huge figure for me in terms of being a batting mentor.”
It was during his time under Sharp’s watchful eye that McGrath and Yorkshire tasted success in both the four-day and one-day formats, led from the front by the charismatic Australian head coach Wayne Clark; a man greatly admired by McGrath – “he was a coach of men, not cricket”.
The year after Clark’s departure at the end of the 2002 season, McGrath landed his first taste of Test cricket, debuting against Zimbabwe at Lord’s in May 2003 where he scored 69. An 81 followed against the same opponents at Chester-le-Street, as well as two appearances against South Africa. But, much to McGrath’s frustration there were to be no more Test appearances (he also played in 14 ODI matches). His four Tests produced 201 runs, with two 50s and an agreeable average of 40.20. He also had four Test wickets to his name at an average of 14.00.
Still in the early stages of what he hoped would be a sustained period in the Test arena, his failure to return to the England five-day set-up thereafter did leave him somewhat bewildered.
“I said at the time that I was lucky to get selected but once I got in, I felt I had made a decent fist of those four Tests and I averaged around 40 or so and I felt as if I was just getting myself into the set-up,” he said.
“After getting left out after that for the next three or four years, I was one of the highest scorers in county cricket and so to not get another chance was something that particularly frustrated me. I felt like I was in good form and at a stage of my career where I was mature and knew my game, so yeah, that was disappointing.”
McGrath set about taking out his frustrations on various county bowling attacks and enjoyed one of the most fruitful spells of his career up until his retirement at the end of the 2012 season. When the end came, there was a realisation that, despite selfishly wanting to continue, it was the right time to go, although it was not without difficulties.
“It was frustrating,” admitted McGrath about his thumb injury. “I’d played with it for about three or four years and it was progressively getting worse and affecting my training and especially one-day cricket. Ideally, I’d like to have carried on – I’d had a good season.
“But sometimes you’ve just got to make one of those calls and once the season finished, I’d played for 20 years and I’d had a good run. You can’t play forever, so it just seemed a good time to go out.”
The period of adjustment did take McGrath by surprise, hence his delight at taking up his new role with Yorkshire.
“Once the next season came round, I remember going to watch the first game against Sussex and driving to the ground – I thought I was still playing,” recalled McGrath.
“I took the same route as I did to training and games and even 10 minutes away from Headingley I’m thinking about the day’s play and getting myself up for the game.
“I didn’t go into the dressing room, I didn’t want to affect the preparations, so I just sat waiting in the stands – it was very, very strange.
“It was then that you realise it’s gone. Even through the winter it doesn’t really hit you, but that first day, that first game when I wasn’t playing was when it really hit me. I realised then, when I was sat there with a cup of coffee in my hand up in the stand that that was it.
“You do kind of become institutionalised in a way and I suppose I’ve been in a lucky position where I’ve been doing a bit of media and a bit of coaching.
“Some people do find it harder than others, though, so, hopefully, I can use my experience and pass that on and help them out.”