A marvellous Test debut by the Kent fast bowler Dean Headley, who took 3 for 67, has given England a slight advantage on the first day of this third Cornhill Test match. However, on a pitch where bowling is still proving substantially easier than batting, Australia ended the day far more healthily than had once looked likely, a situation they owe almost entirely to Steve Waugh, who scored his 12th Test hundred in the last over of the day.
It could and should have been much worse for the visitors, who but for Waugh's superbly visceral century, played and missed with monotonous regularity, as each England bowler in turn found extravagant movement from the juicy surface. Indeed had England bowled a fuller length before lunch, Australia may well have been contemplating a first-innings total like the one at Edgbaston.
With England turning that occasion into victory to go 1-0 up in the series, further concession at this stage was the last thing Mark Taylor would have wanted. The history books may reveal that no one has ever won a Test match here by inserting the opposition, but last night Taylor was probably being reminded of the claim of a James Joyce character who reckoned that, "history was a nightmare from which he was trying to awaken".
That said, the decision to bat first on one of the grassiest Test pitches ever seen at Old Trafford was always going to be loaded with risk. In fact whoever had won the toss would have probably made the decision with their fingers crossed. Fortunately for England it was Taylor who called correctly and who duly put his foot in it by batting.
Neither captain however, could have counted on the speed with which Headley settled to his task. Wearing a now ubiquitous ear stud in his left ear, the 27-year-old bowled briskly from the Warwick Road end, dangerously darting the ball across the two left-handed openers.
A stinging blow to Taylor's helmet in his first over clearly gave him confidence and it was not long before he sent the leader of the opposition packing with a beauty that squared him up before carrying low to Graham Thorpe at first slip. Five overs later, Darren Gough compounded the Australian captain's misery by persuading Greg Blewett to drag the ball on to his stumps.
Removing left-handers is clearly something of a speciality of Headley's and he later dismissed both Matthew Elliott and Michael Bevan - both edging catches behind to Alec Stewart - in identical fashion, a haul that brought raucous appreciation from the Mancunian crowd.
To the geneticist, Headley's debut here is clear evidence that sporting genes run deep, though the most perplexing thing is that his father Ron, and his legendary grandfather George, were both batsmen. Clearly it is the maternal side of the family that produce the bowlers.
When Headley rested, his county colleague Mark Ealham toiled in his place, not as second fiddle, but as part of an orchestra good enough to prevent Mark Waugh - another caught behind by Stewart - from stealing the show. The same combination also did for Shane Warne who soon followed Ian Healy, unluckily caught down the legside off Andy Caddick.
A day of leaden skies, which further aided the lavish lateral movement, did not help the Australians' plight either, which although later hindered by some imprecise umpiring - when Elliott was given out caught behind off his shirt sleeve - was somewhat eased by a spirited eighth-wicket stand between Steve Waugh and Paul Reiffel, although the Victorian fast bowler will be grateful for the let-off he had when Stewart, getting into a rare tangle, dropped him on 13 off Headley.
Mind you, England will claim that they had Steve Waugh stone dead lbw when the batsman missed a straight full toss off Andy Caddick. Strangley, umpire George Sharpe, who also reprieved Reiffel in the last over of the day when he edged Robert Croft behind, was not as certain as the 20,000- strong full house. Nevertheless, you could tell Waugh, on five at the time, felt he was lucky to get away with it.
But as most experienced batsmen will attest, you need a break on pitches as seamer-friendly as this one. Waugh got his and needed no further persuasion in producing his finest innings of the summer. For the most part it was vintage Waugh, the more steely-minded of the twins. The Australian vice- captain revels in taut situations and again his bat alternated between spade and rapier as he helped Australia avoid complete ignominy with a combination of dour defence and flashing boundaries.
Having had Australia 173 for 7 when bad light first held up play, England will be kicking themselves that Australia ended the day adding 51 runs without further loss. But as England should perhaps have remembered from previous encounters, while the Waugh still rages, no battle is won.
Old Trafford scoreboard
Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA - First Innings
*M A Taylor c Thorpe b Headley 2
22 min, 20 balls
M T G Elliott c Stewart b Headley 40
131 min, 98 balls, 4 fours
G S Blewett b Gough 8
18 min, 13 balls, 1 four
M E Waugh c Stewart b Ealham 12
37 min, 27 balls, 2 fours
S R Waugh not out 102
211 min, 153 balls, 12 fours
M G Bevan c Stewart b Headley 7
25 min, 16 balls, 1 four
I A Healy c Stewart b Caddick 9
36 min, 20 balls, 1 four
S K Warne c Stewart b Ealham 3
14 min, 7 balls
P R Reiffel not out 26
80 min, 64 balls, 1 four
Extras (b8, lb4, nb3) 15
Total (for 7, 290 min, 69 overs) 224
Fall: 1-9 (Taylor), 2-22 (Blewett), 3-42 (M Waugh), 4-85 (Elliott), 5- 113 (Bevan), 6-150 (Healy), 7-160 (Warne).
To bat: J N Gillespie, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Gough 17-6-46-1 (nb1) (8-5-10-1, 6-0-27-0 3-1-9-0); Headley 23-4-67-3 (nb1) (8-1-18-1, 10-1-30-2, 5-2-19-0); Caddick 14-2-52-1 (nb1) (5-1-13-0, 9-1-39-1); Ealham 11-2-34-2 (nb1) (4-0-22-1, 5-1-11-1, 2-1- 1-0); Croft 4-0-13-0 (2-0-6-0, 2-0-7-0).
Progress: First day: 50: 84 min, 20.2 overs. Lunch 78-3 (Elliott 36, S Waugh 19) 30 overs. Rain delayed restart until 1.59pm. 100: 143 min, 34.4 overs. RSP 2.46-3.23pm, 126-5 (S Waugh 42, Healy 6) 40.4 overs. 150: 192 min, 45.5 overs. Tea 162-7 ( S Waugh 70, Reiffel 1) 51 overs. Bad light stopped play 4.43-6.11pm, 173-7 (S Waugh 77, Reiffel 5) 54.2 overs. 200: 265 min, 62.5 overs.
S Waugh's 50: 105 min, 73 balls, 5 fours. 100: 208 min, 152 balls, 12 fours.
ENGLAND: M A Butcher, *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, M A Ealham, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R Caddick, D W Headley.
Umpires: G Sharp and S Venkataraghavan. TV replay umpire: J H Hampshire. Match referee: R S Madugalle.Reuse content