McGrath, 45,  subsequently expressed his “deep regret” after a series of photographs also showed him grinning with his rifle next to the carcases of a buffalo and a pair of hyenas.

“In 2008 I participated in a hunting safari in Zimbabwe that was licensed and legal but in hindsight highly inappropriate,” said McGrath, via his Twitter account. “It was an extremely difficult time in my life and looking back I deeply regret being involved.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that another retired Australian fast bowler, Brett Lee, has also become embroiled in the hunting controversy after a photograph emerged of him posing next to a dead deer with McGrath and two boys on a farm in South Africa.

McGrath – who took 563 Test wickets – has never hidden his enthusiasm for hunting, but such graphic confirmation that his interest extends to shooting big game is certain to sicken thousands of fans who admired his cricketing ability. It is believed that the photographs circulated after they initially appeared on the website of Chipitani Safaris, a game park in South Africa.

“Images like these are heart-breaking, whoever is taking part in this cruel activity,” said a statement from the charity World Animal Protection. “We’re opposed to all forms of hunting and have campaigned for the end of wildlife hunting in various forms for decades.”

McGrath’s first wife, Jane, died from breast cancer in 2008 at the age of 42, and the cricketer has received universal acclaim for his continuing fund-raising work to help battle the disease. The third day of the Sydney Test each year is known as Jane McGrath Day, with a focus on raising money for the McGrath Foundation, which the couple set up in 2002. Many of those attending the match wear pink to show their support.