Glenn McGrath with Peter Dutton.FORMER Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath was known to deliver a few bruising bouncers garnished with the odd sledge during his stellar international cricket career.

But the modest country boy was on the receiving end of an unprecedented verbal barrage after he was caught on a sticky ethical wicket in cyberspace at the weekend, which has left him feeling somewhat stumped.

McGrath was embroiled in a social media controversy, after pictures surfaced of him celebrating the spoils of a private hunting safari in 2008.

The images initially debuted on the Chipitani Safari Company website but have since been dropped from public view.

“Specialising in the best dangerous and plainsgame hunting in Zimbabwean concessions,” the company’s website says.

The pictures showed McGrath – who grew up in Narromine, NSW, and moved to Sydney to advance his cricketing prospects – engaged in a typical hunter’s pose situated around various dead animals, with rifle proudly in hand.

The images of the fast bowler in unfamiliar action stoked heated reaction on social media, as debate raged over the ethics of animal hunting and cruelty allegations.

Some angry contributors even pledged to dismiss their support for the renowned breast cancer support and education charity – the McGrath Foundation – which was established in 2002 by Glenn and his first wife Jane McGrath.

The charity drives millions of dollars in funding to help employ breast care nurses in remote and regional areas where specialised health services are about as plentiful as a sea breeze at the Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium, or Hyderabad oval in India.

The cancer support program and its ongoing milestones have been roundly praised by health professionals, community groups, politicians and social commentators alike.

But as the frenzied hunt for McGrath’s scalp escalated faster than the Lillee v Miandad incident at the WACA Ground, few critics kept their eye on the ball.

They failed to consider another ethical dilemma of cutting donations to the McGrath Foundation – in the name of animal welfare – at the expense of genuine support for many susceptible Australian women and families in country areas.

As one diligent observer posted on Facebook, McGrath was mercilessly persecuted over the hunting images, rather the issue actually being prosecuted with any sensibility.

But to completely dismiss someone with many runs on the board, in terms of their undoubted humanitarian contribution, just isn’t cricket.

McGrath – the 2012 Australian Year of the Farmer ambassador – was subsequently forced to respond to the growing controversy via a brief statement issued on Saturday, through his Twitter account.

“In 2008 I participated in a hunting safari in Zimbabwe that was licensed and legal but in hindsight highly inappropriate,” he said.

“It was an extremely difficult time in my life and looking back I deeply regret being involved.”

Jane McGrath sadly died in 2008 after losing her lengthy battle with breast cancer and her former husband has since remarried.

But some of the more attacking Twitter critics weren’t catching onto the cricketer’s apologetic spin and his efforts to appeal to their emotional heartstrings.

“How do you go from ‘difficult time in life’ to travelling to Zimbabwe and shooting an elephant for pleasure?” one Twitter sledger quipped.

One possible answer to the sledger’s question may have been found in the McGrath Foundation’s response to another animal welfare controversy covered in the media last week.

“The McGrath Foundation has relationships with many organisations who provide generous support to help us achieve our mission; providing access to breast care nurses for families experiencing breast cancer,” a statement said.

“Due to allegations of live baiting exposed in the media this week we have suspended our relationship with Greyhound Racing Victoria.”

Another former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee was also caught up in the controversy as similar pictures emerged of him partnering with McGrath, sharing the spoils of another hunting expedition.

“Can no longer look back at @CricketAus with pride knowing that @glennmcgrath11 @BrettLee_58 love to hunt. Sickens me to the core. #losers”, one Tweeter’s account blasted.

However, as the humidity skyrocketed, NSW Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm went into bat for McGrath, urging facts to be considered in the overall score, ahead of emotions.

On Sunday, Senator Leyonhjelm issued a short comment defending McGrath on Twitter saying: “Be proud of your contribution to conservation of African wildlife. Trophy hunting saves species.”

He said evidence showed that controlled game hunting assisted species conservation by placing a value on wildlife which benefited local villagers by sharing the income from hunters’ trophy payments.

Senator Leyonhjelm said controlled hunting meant the villagers helped protect the animals and resist poaching, which posed a far greater threat to endangered animals.

“There’s a lot of evidence which proves big game hunting actually saves species in Africa,” he told Fairfax Media, to unravel some of the anti-McGrath spin.

“Glenn McGrath should be congratulated for his trophy hunting,” he said.

“He would have paid a big trophy fee of which a significant portion would have been shared with the locals.

“Instead of killing the animal themselves to stop them eating their crops, threatening villagers lives or in order to be paid by poachers, they have an incentive to protect them.

“The arguments against game hunting are all based on emotion and not science or reason.”

Chipitani was contacted by Fairfax Media for comment but did not respond before stumps were drawn on filing this article.

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