Cricket: History man's happy returns

Stephen Brenkley sees a record-breaker make the most of his chance for greatness

It was one of those rare sporting days when the quality of the performance was fully reflected by the wonder of the figures. In the whole of Test history, there have been only 23 better returns for an innings than Glenn McGrath achieved yesterday, only two by an Australian and only one at Lord's. It was a quite beautifully controlled spell which so had the England batsmen in its thrall that they willingly surrendered to the Australians' more ordinary balls.

As McGrath took his place in history so, too, did England. It was their lowest total against Australia since 1948, when they succumbed for 52 on a sticky pitch at The Oval, and their lowest on this hallowed turf since 1888, when they tumbled to 53 and 62. No doubt Queen Victoria was not amused.

A case could be made that McGrath was slightly flattered by such stupendous figures and that England made a seaming wicket of some uneven bounce look worse than it was, but perhaps they both deserved what they got. McGrath used what was at his disposal perfectly both on Friday morning and again yesterday. He pitched it up at pace and with rhythm. Both bowler and ball were in the zone. Thus were England, new England, ensnared. Their mistrust was almost visible and their supporters can but hope that all the confidence developed over the past month was not frittered away, at headquarters of all places.

They should find some solace in the thought that McGrath, splendid bowler though he is, will surely never again find so much conspiring in his favour at once. This performance still ranks behind the efforts of two compatriots against England - Arthur Mailey took 9 for 121 in 1920-21 and Frank Laver returned 8 for 31 in 1909. At Lord's, Ian Botham still holds the record for the best innings analysis, 8 for 34 against Pakistan in 1978. But McGrath, 27, is now supreme among Australians at the most famous ground in the world, improving on Bob Massie's 8 for 53 a quarter of a century ago.

Massie , who took 16 wickets in the match, said: "It's been 25 years and in a way its a relief one half of the record has gone. I would love to see him get nine in the second innings because it would help Australia."

Massie added that McGrath was already a fantastic bowler and was on the verge of being a great one: "He has developed in the past year and a half from being an up-and-down sort of bowler with potential to one who has the lot. He can use reverse swing, seam it and bowl the percentages. I'm sure he will just get better and better."

There were mutterings - there always are when great deeds supersede previous great deeds - that so many good bowlers have been to Lord's down the years and not done what McGrath had done that it hardly seemed just. But Massie rightly emphasised that helpful conditions had to be used properly.

It would not be in order to let the occasion pass without mentioning Paul Reiffel. Barely off the plane in bowling terms, after being called up as a replacement, he operated at the other end to McGrath and also made the batsmen play. His movement instilled doubts and that, at any level, remains a batsman's greatest enemy.

Whether or not England save this match, they will know now they are in a contest. They must hope that the backing they have garnered this summer does not dissipate. One lousy innings following the splendid effort at Edgbaston does not make a bad team.

But it does bring the return of the old sores about the inability to string together two good performances against high-class opposition and the fallibility of a batting line-up, which is supposedly a good unit.

But they were taking on history here and better England sides than this one have been undone by the Australians at Lord's. The most oft-quoted fact of the week is that England have won here only once this century against the old enemy, in 1934. History and Glenn McGrath were a potent combination indeed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence