Master McGrath cuts loose as Aussies bounce back

GLENN McGRATH settled back into his usual Lord’s routine to secure his place in cricket’s hall of fame and ruin England’s fine start to the first Test yesterday.

The 35-year-old Australia seamer has repeatedly confounded the critics in recent years and just this week his ability to withstand five Tests in seven weeks was questioned with England seamer Matthew Hoggard saying: “It will be tough on the body and it will be interesting to see if he is still the world-class bowler he was.”

But McGrath answered Hoggard’s doubts emphatically to become only the fourth bowler in history to claim 500 Test victims and spearhead a stunning fightback after England seemed to have claimed the early Ashes initiative.

Dismissed for a lowly 190 after deciding to bat first, Australia’s long-standing dominance over England appeared forgotten following a breathtaking display of hostility from fast bowler Steve Harmison.

But just as England looked to establish a sizeable first-innings advantage, McGrath came into his own with a magnificent spell of five wickets for two runs in 31 balls to leave his fiercest rivals reeling on 21 for five.

England at least showed some of the battling qualities which have served them so well over the last two years of success with debutant Kevin Pietersen teaming up with Geraint Jones in a determined 58-run stand.

By the time stumps were drawn, however, McGrath and Australia had more than made their point on a first day wicket already showing signs of uneven bounce. England were struggling on 92 for seven at the close, 98 behind.

McGrath had entered this eagerly-awaited series needing only one wicket to follow Courtney Walsh, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan past the 500-mark. He reached the hallowed landmark with the first ball after tea, slanting the ball across Marcus Trescothick for Justin Langer to take the edge at third slip.

Four balls later McGrath’s spell had begun to take hold with Andrew Strauss pushing forward and edging low to Warne at first slip.

Captain Michael Vaughan was next to go after a full-length delivery from McGrath, and Bell followed in McGrath’s next over.

All-rounder Flintoff was next to go for a duck before McGrath was taken off after a marathon 10-over stint.

Without McGrath to combat, wicketkeeper Jones was able to dominate a determined sixth-wicket stand with Pietersen which almost threatened to take England to respectability before the close.

But with the close of a compelling day just two overs away, Jones’ 84 minutes of defiance were ended by a brute of a short ball from Lee which he could only fend behind for Adam Gilchrist to catch.

Ashley Giles followed in the final over to leave Pietersen unbeaten on 28 after nearly two hours at the crease.

England’s despair at the close of play was in stark contrast to their earlier display, when they attempted to set the tone for the series with an aggressive performance with the ball.

Harmison, bristling with aggressive intent, hit Justin Langer on the elbow with the second ball of the day and went on to hit Matthew Hayden on the helmet and rapped Ricky Ponting on the grille to literally draw first blood.

His aggression prompted Australia’s batsmen to play a succession of ill-conceived shots, and left them reeling on 97 for five at lunch.

Gilchrist fell to Flintoff shortly after lunch, before Warne provided an entertaining 28 from 29 balls, but became the first of four victims for Harmison off 14 balls which ended the innings in spectacular fashion and earned the fast bowler impressive figures of five for 43.

The dust from Harmison’s spectacular display had barely settled when England resumed their innings at tea on 10 without loss, only to be quickly overshadowed by an ageing seamer with a point to prove.

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