Cricket: Elliott keeps Australia on top

England 77 Australia 213-7
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The Independent Online
Lord's can scarcely have seen a day as unlikely as this one. With morning thunderstorms drenching the ground and a lightning bolt striking the umbrella of John Jameson, the assistant secretary of MCC, prospects of a safe seat, let alone play, did not look good. That 17.4 overs were bowled and five Australian wickets taken yesterday was a tribute to the Lord's groundstaff, whose mopping up abilities are clearly more sophisticated than their pitch preparation.

Despite the flurry of wickets Australia, with their 136-run lead, are still the only side who can win this match. If rain stays away today England will probably have over two testing sessions against Glenn McGrath and Paul Reiffel on a pitch unlikely to have eased after spending so much time under the covers.

When play did start at 5.40pm, it was clear Australia were always going to hurry things along. However, it was a gambit that spluttered as they lost four wickets for 12 runs as both Waughs, Shane Warne and Michael Bevan fell to optimistic shots. Indeed, it was only when Matthew Elliott decided to resume his normally compulsive hooking and scored at a run a ball that the visitors began to get the scoreboard rolling over at a decent rate.

Elliott, who scored his maiden Test century before falling to Caddick on the hook, will probably never again receive the good fortune he has here. On Saturday he was dropped three times in a distinctly shoddy England fielding performance. Nevertheless, his combination of obdurate defence and powerful driving served his team well and will be hailed as a gutsy, but not great innings should Australia manage to prevail today.

Of course today is something Jameson, constantly supervising the mopping up, nearly did not get to see. Talking of his shocking experience he reckoned that when lightning struck, his brolly felt like a giant sparkler. "It can't have been a big bolt though," he later mused. "If it had I'd have been tonight's fish and chips."

It has not been a good game for those who run HQ. So far 239 overs have been lost to the rain which means refunds of around pounds 1.2m. Which works out at just over pounds 5,000 an over. As a gesture of goodwill today's admission prices are pounds 5 for adults and pounds 2 for senior citizens and those under 16.

However, despite the dreary sitting around and the near sisyphean futility of the groundstaff's job, there has been a great performance by Glenn McGrath, whose peerless bowling from the Pavilion End brought England to their knees.

McGrath has taken to Lord's and its challenging slope like to the manor born. His high action and his ability to hit the seam has got more from this crazy-paved pitch than anyone else. Not only has he pitched the ball up further than he had done previously, his ability to get in close to the stumps - something Terry Alderman did so well in 1989 - has drawn batsmen (most notably Mike Atherton and John Crawley) into playing at balls they would have been happy to leave well alone on pitches with no gradient.

His 8 for 38 was the third-best return ever by an Australian and the best by one at Lord's, beating the better of Bob Massie's incredible brace of eight-wicket hauls here in 1972. But although any record gives added pleasure, McGrath will feel cheated if further rain means there is not a match for his match-winning figures to feature in.