Cricket: Australia revived by McGrath

SECOND TEST: England manage mini-collapse as rain again wins the day
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England 38-3 v Australia

Only 92 minutes of play were possible yesterday as rain intervened for the second successive day at Lord's. But if the 21 overs bowled did not feel like value for money, it was long enough for another full house to see that Australian stocks have risen substantially since their defeat in the first Test. England may have gone into this match brimming with confidence, but it has been Australia's resurgent bowling attack who have so far taken the limited honours available.

Glenn McGrath, at last bowling with the kind of venom that has made him one of the world's leading pace bowlers, took all three wickets to fall as England, put into bat after Mark Taylor won the toss, were catapulted to 13 for 3 inside the first hour.

Although this was the first time in 35 Tests that England fielded an unchanged side, the self-belief that had been so evident after Birmingham was draining visibly as wickets tumbled on a pitch offering sideways movement as well as variable bounce.

Even those balls with "hit me" tags seemed to find the few fielders stationed in front of the bat, and it was not until 12.20, when Graham Thorpe hooked McGrath for four, that a boundary came from a genuine stroke. If Edgbaston was all gaps and deep blue yonder, Lord's was a dark, claustrophobic place where a recently vanquished foe had taken on fresh menace.

The crowd, subject to an appeal from the secretary of MCC, Roger Knight, over the loudspeaker system to "uphold the traditional atmosphere of sportsmanship at this ground by acknowledging the good play on both sides", were silent, clearly too stunned by the mayhem going on out in the middle, to create a ballyhoo. In any case, by the time Nasser Hussain and Thorpe had given them a modicum to cheer about, the rain had arrived and booked in for bed and breakfast.

At one stage McGrath, who bowled from the Pavilion End, had taken 3 for 2 from 13 balls, including that of the England captain. The tall, bony man from New South Wales may have taken the wickets, but it was the freshly reinstated Paul Reiffel who achieved the most movement.

Mark Butcher in particular was given a searching examination by the Victorian seam bowler, whose cutters and nagging accuracy brought about the indecision that was later capitalised on by McGrath. With hesitant footwork betraying his unease, the Surrey left-hander eventually fell to an inside edge that ballooned up off his pad to Greg Blewett at short leg.

Before the start of play, the chairman of the English Cricket Board, Lord MacLaurin, had presented Mike Atherton with a silver salver in recognition of his record-breaking 42nd appearance as England captain. But if that was another nice touch instigated by MacLaurin, it was not matched at the crease by Atherton who opened the face of his bat and edged an unexceptional ball from McGrath low to Taylor at first slip.

Until that moment, the England captain had looked more comfortable than most against bowling that was extracting both seam movement and variable bounce from a pitch covered with cracks.

This pitch is one of many recently relaid at Lord's in an attempt to get more pace into the square. Unfortunately it has cracked earlier than expected which, when combined with the extra sweating that has gone on while the pitch has been covered, has made life difficult for the batsmen.

That said, none of the wickets to fall went to unplayable balls like those that had undone some of the Aussies on that first morning at Edgbaston. Even Alec Stewart, who was bowled off his pads by a ball that nipped back sharply from outside off stump could not be entirely exonerated and he has played on this sloping ground often enough to know you shoulder arms at your peril when facing bowling from the Pavilion End.

Ironically, Stewart's departure set up the day's most intriguing moment when Thorpe, edging McGrath behind to Ian Healy, looked as if he had been dismissed first ball. But as bowler and slip cordon celebrated, Thorpe held his ground, a gesture that forced umpire David Shepherd to seek the opinion of his colleague, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, at square leg.

However as the pair approached, Healy brought the ball to Shepherd indicating that he was not sure he had made a clean catch. In fact TV replays clearly showed the ball to have bounced before reaching the keeper. But although Shepherd never resorted to the third umpire, Healy's doubt ensured that the right decision prevailed, and Thorpe was left contemplating yet another repair job with Hussain.

Lord's scoreboard Second day (no play Thursday)

Australia won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

M A Butcher c Blewett b McGrath 5

29 min, 26 balls, 1 four

*M A Atherton c Taylor b McGrath 1

38 min, 24 balls

A J Stewart b McGrath 1

17 min, 13 balls

N Hussain not out 10

53 min, 32 balls, 1 four

G P Thorpe not out 13

44 min, 35 balls, 2 fours

Extras (b4, nb4) 8

Total (for 3, 92 min, 21 overs) 38

Fall: 1-11 (Butcher), 2-12 (Atherton), 3-13 (Stewart).

To bat: J P Crawley, M A Ealham, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R Caddick, D E Malcolm.

Bowling: McGrath 10-2-21-3 (one spell); Reiffel 6-4-4-0 (nb2) (5-4-1- 0, 1-0-3-0); Kasprowicz 5-1-9-0 (nb2) (one spell).

Progress: First day: Rain prevented play. Second day: Rain stopped play at 12.32pm.

AUSTRALIA: *M A Taylor, M T G Elliott, G S Blewett, M E Waugh, S R Waugh, M G Bevan, I A Healy, S K Warne, P R Reiffel, M S Kasprowicz, G D McGrath.

Umpires: D R Shepherd and S Venkataraghavan. TV replay umpire: D J Constant.

Match referee: R S Madugalle.