ANTHONY McGrath's chequered career with Yorkshire has so far been a combination of good luck and misfortune in almost equal measure and now he finds himself standing at the crossroads once again.

Having just re-established himself in the side after knee injuries kept him out during the first part of the season, McGrath must pile up the runs on a regular basis in order to feel that he is a permanent fixture.

And with 127 runs in three impressive one-day innings on his return, the signs are encouraging for the Bradford-born batsman.

It is in Yorkshire's interests that he succeeds because few players can match McGrath's quality of strokeplay when he is in top form.

And although McGrath now seems to have been around for a long time, he is still only 24 with a long career ahead of him.

With Martyn Moxon in and out of the side because of his bad back in 1997, it seemed as if McGrath would become his automatic successor to open the innings with Michael Vaughan.

Several times that season, McGrath looked the part in his natural role of opener and never more so than when he hit a career-best 141 against Worcestershire at Headingley.

Moxon's retirement at the end of that summer left Yorkshire in little doubt that McGrath should be his replacement but little went right for him with the bat in 1998 and after being moved lower down the order he was then dropped towards the end of the season.

The future looked bleak for McGrath when Richard Harden was signed from Somerset during the winter in an attempt to give the batting a more solid look and there was no place for McGrath in the opening match of last season against Gloucestershire at Headingley.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, however, McGrath's luck changed, starting with the untimely injury for Harden in the Gloucestershire game when he broke a bone in his hand.

McGrath re-surfaced in the next game at Taunton and after a first innings duck he got back in the groove with a stylish 75. He followed this up with a career-best 142 not out off Middlesex's attack and continued to bat so well both in Championship and one-day matches that he was one of Yorkshire's leading scorers.

McGrath's team-mates as well as the fans appreciated his stylish play and they had no hesitation in making him the players' player-of-the-year.

As well as scoring runs, McGrath was adding another string to his bow with his nagging medium pacers which were often proving difficult to get away on slow English pitches.

But it was while practising these on Yorkshire's pre-season tour of Australia that McGrath damaged his knee and after missing the start of the season was forced to have keyhole surgery to clear up the problem.

Unfortunately, McGrath came back too soon with the second team and was out for a further spell and when he returned the chances of him making it into a first team going great guns appeared remote.

Then circumstances worked in his favour again when the 'resting' of Craig White and Chris Silverwood left Yorkshire with little alternative but to recall him for the National League match against Northamptonshire Steelbacks.

Although Yorkshire lost, McGrath turned in his side's top score of 32 and in the floodlit Roses match he managed the same number of runs and remained unbeaten.

McGrath came in for his first Championship match of the season against Lancashire but made little impact through no fault of his own. He was unfortunate to be given out caught behind in the first innings and in the second was run out when Richard Blakey called him for an impossible single.

In Wednesday's NatWest Trophy debacle at Northampton, however, McGrath looked a cut above the rest in hammering out 64 off 69 balls with three fours and a six and his downfall only came because he was forced to take risks with the overs rapidly diminishing.

Yet McGrath knows that he must make runs regularly throughout the remainder of the summer because competition for places will be even stronger next year and by then it could be too late for a comeback.

Vic Craven and Simon Widdup have already impressed when given a chance in the first team, as did South African-born left-hander Michael Lumb who will be eligible to play Championship cricket from 2001.

Scott Richardson, the former Leicestershire second teamer, has also continued to make runs for the Second XI after being placed on a full contract and he too will be aiming to step up the ladder.

It all amounts to added pressure on McGrath who must respond positively if he is to keep the wolves at bay.