Australia wrap up easy winSean Fuller |
Australia entered day four of the Ashes opener on the verge of victory, needing only five wickets to take a vital early lead in the series. They still had to contend with two major obstacles, however. The first was the two batsmen who had the most success in the first innings and still remained at the crease in the second, and the other was the weather. As it happened, the weather had the decisive say for most of the day, as play was delayed by five hours due to consistent drizzle, poor light and a waterlogged outfield.
When play finally did begin, at a quarter to four local time, only twenty-three balls could be bowled before the weather set in again. As it happened, this was long enough for McGrath to pick up two wickets and evaporate any hope of saving the test for England. Despite the old ball, the pitch displayed life and movement from the first delivery after sweating under the covers for a whole day, and it took only a few deliveries for McGrath to trouble Jones with one that jagged back sharply down the slope, and he also got the ball to swing under overcast skies. It was not an unplayable delivery which removed Jones in the end though, as much as a poor shot. Jones miscued a front-foot pull shot to Gillespie at mid-on, and suddenly Australia were amongst the tail.
With his first wicket for the innings under his belt, McGrath delivered a brilliant two ball spell to Ashley Giles. With Australia announcing their intent to target Giles with the short ball, he began with a nasty bouncer that followed the English left-arm spinner down the famous Lords slope, and followed it up with a full ball wide of off stump, to which Giles offered a thick edge and handed Hayden a sharp catch in the gully. Five deliveries into Warne’s next over the rain returned and the players rushed off the field for another brief rain delay.
Upon returning, Matthew Hoggard found himself surrounded by an astonishing ring of catchers, and as he planted his feet and defended resolutely in difficult conditions for batting, one felt that it was only a matter of time before something gave away. Sure enough, McGrath produced his best delivery of the second innings in his second over after the restart, seaming back a huge distance off the pitch to trap Matthew Hoggard plumb in front. He was so plumb, in fact, that he appeared to begin his walk to the pavilion before umpire Koertzen even raised his finger.
The one consistent highlight for England throughout the test has been the wonderful batting of debutant Kevin Pietersen, and he once again brought smiles to English faces in Warne’s next over as he pulled him down the ground for two to bring up his second half-century of the match. It took only one ball for Warne to take his fourth of the innings however, as Steve Harmison understandably failed to pick the slider and was trapped in front, leaving Dar with an easy decision.
The one question that remained, other than “how long?”, was whether or not Australia’s legendary spinner could get his name on the famous board at the home of cricket with a five wicket haul. In three previous trips to Lords the five-for had eluded him, but with Simon Jones striding to the crease and three balls remaining in his over, he had a chance. Jones held out the first two balls, before Warne’s bad luck from the previous day continued in the most astonishing fashion. He floated the final delivery of his 19th over wide of off stump and spun it back sharply to beat the wild swing of the bat. Amazingly, it appeared to clip the edge of off-stump on its way through to Adam Gilchrist, but the bails stayed intact and Warne was denied the 591st wicket of his test career.
All that remained was some big hitting by Kevin Pietersen off Warne, as he struck him for 12 off an over, and the continued mind games between the Hampshire teammates as Warne sought to keep the big hitting debutant on strike with a rarity for a wrist spinner – a bouncer. The tactic was successful, albeit due to Pietersen striking the final ball of the over for a boundary, and McGrath promptly finished the affair with the first ball of the next over, as Jones edged, fittingly, into the safe hands of Shane Warne at second slip.
So it ended, and the two players who had decimated England so many times over the past decade left the field having combined to defeat England one final time at the home of cricket, sharing in 15 wickets in the match. McGrath’s 9 wickets and brilliant match-turning spell in the first innings earned him his third man of the match award in three appearances at Lords, in what will almost certainly be his final visit to the historic ground. In the end, Australia wrapped up the series opener by the devastating margin of 239 runs.
The psychological points scored heading into the rest of the series were perhaps worth even more than the single test margin, as England’s batsmen aside from Pietersen universally failed against the wiles of the two Australian veterans, and Australia dismissed the Ashes challengers for under 200 in each innings. Further positives for Australia were evident, as Brett Lee announced his return to test cricket with several excellent spells of ferocious fast bowling and five wickets, Michael Clarke found some much needed touch with the highest score of the match, and Australia beat England comprehensively in all facets of play, holding their catches, batting well in the second innnings and bowling wonderfully. Only the poor form of Matthew Hayden and Jason Gillespie persists as a concern heading into the rest of the series.
In contrast, England have many concerns heading to Edgbaston for the second test. Aside from Steve Harmison and, at times, Andrew Flintoff, England’s bowling looked far less dangerous than that of the Australian team. Simon Jones bowled a number of good balls in each spell and only dropped catches deprived him of a fair haul of wickets, but he could not restrict the runs. Matthew Hoggard struggled for accuracy and got little swing, and Ashley Giles bowled very little, but when he did he suffered at the hands of Clarke and Martyn. Steve Harmison struck each of Australia’s top three batsmen on the body in one of many good spells throughout the match, but England will be looking to find more support from him from the other bowlers and the fielders, who put down no less than seven catches, bringing to mind one of the worst elements of the one-sided Ashes series of the 1990s.
Australia will travel to Edgbaston full of confidence and one test in front, while England will need to dig deep. Michael Vaughan has taught his team to win over the last 18 months, though, and he will be looking to his team to show the mental strength necessary to be the best team in the world and rebound strongly.
Justin Langer 40, Shane Warne 28
Steve Harmison 5-43, Simon Jones 2-48
Kevin Pietersen 57, Geraint Jones 30
Glenn McGrath 5-53, Brett Lee 3-47
Michael Clarke 91, Simon Katich 67
Steve Harmison 3-54, Matthew Hoggard 2-56
Kevin Pietersen 64*, Marcus Trescothick 44
Glenn McGrath 4-29, Shane Warne 4-64
Australia won by 239 runs
Australia lead the 5-test series 1-0
CricketWeb Player of the Match
Glenn McGrath – 5-53 & 4-29