Cricket: Early wickets give England renewed hope

England 270 Australia 163-5 Lunch today

IT WAS a morning for scrapping and England traded body blows with Australia without ever managing to land the crucial punch. Three wickets were taken, including that of Mark Waugh, still a prize scalp despite what the wowsers say.

Before his innings began, Mark Waugh needed 45 runs to complete a thousand Test runs for 1998, a feat alreday completed by Alec Stewart (1,170), Mark Taylor (1,093) and Hansie Cronje (1,040).

He looked likely to join them, too, as he punctuated his silky strokes with powerful thumps and one, a scorching cover drive off Darren Gough, was breathtaking. The Speedster machine measured that particular ball at 139 kph (86.8 mph), though Waugh's batspeed was such that it covered the hundred yards or so to the boundary in about two seconds flat.

Gough huffed and puffed but despite bowling several snorting deliveries in his first spell, could not make the early breakthrough. He still looks by some distance to be England's best bowler, yet occasionally, danger can come from the most unlikely sources and just as Waugh looked set for a big one, he was out to Angus Fraser, albeit to a dubious lbw decision from umpire Daryl Harper.

Fraser, given a barely deserved reprieve for this Test, was looking so innocuous he was probably about to be taken off when Waugh's pad was struck by a delivery that would have missed leg stump.

Gough returned and promptly removed Langer. The ball, full and wide of off stump was not one of his best but Nasser Hussain took a great catch in the gully as the left-hander slashed.

Gough proceeded to have a ding dong battle with his Yorkshire team-mate Darren Lehmann. After ducking a couple of bouncers, Lehmann thrashed another short one high over cover point for four. A repeat of the shot a few overs later did not have the same effect and a thin top edge gave Warren Hegg his first Test victim and Gough his second wicket of the session.

Lunch third day; Australia won toss

ENGLAND - First innings: 270 (A J Stewart 107; M R Ramprakash 63)

AUSTRALIA - First innings

Overnight: 59 for 2

J L Langer c Hussain b Gough 44

M E Waugh lbw b Fraser 36

S R Waugh not out 37

D S Lehmann c Hegg b Gough 13

I A Healy not out 5

Extras (b4 lb6 nb 10) 20

Total (for 5, 50 overs) 163

Fall: 1-13 (Slater) 2-26 (Taylor) 3-98 (M Waugh) 4-127 (Langer) 5-151 (Lehmann).

To bat: D W Fleming, M J Nicholson, S C G MacGill, G D McGrath.

Bowling: Gough 17-5-52-4; Headley 13-2-31-0; Mullally 9-2-30-0; Ramprakash 1-0-5-0; Fraser 10-0-35-1.

Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and D J Harper (Aus).