Cricket: Magical history tourist

Stephen Brenkley sees a record-breaker make the most of his chance for greatness
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The Independent Online
Down the long years no Australian bowler has achieved at Lord's what Glenn McGrath did yesterday. Not the demon Spofforth, or Gregory, or Lindwall, or Davidson, nor Lillee or Thomson. The gangly, gaunt man from New South Wales even went so far as to consign the wonder innings figures of Bob Massie of 8 for 53 to second place.

McGrath's eight for 38 from 20.3 overs of beautifully and relentlessly controlled quick seam bowling were quite simply the best figures returned in an Ashes Test at the most famous ground in the world. There is a long way to go for him to match the 16 wickets in the game which Massie took a quarter of a century ago, but do not think it is beyond him.

Here was an exhibition in which both bowler and ball, in the modern vernacular, were in the zone. McGrath said afterwards that his phenomenal effort had not sunk in. As he left the pitch to a standing ovation after England were bowled out for 77, he said: "I just tried to take it in a little bit, looking around and trying to realise everything that was happening. I wasn't thinking of records at the time, just concentrating on taking the next wicket or bowling the next ball."

McGrath revealed that he had worked hard on his bowling since the Edgbaston Test when many observers doubted his status as the number one bowler in the world. He said that the six-week break between the South African tour and the Australians' arrival in England had left him without appropriate preparation.

"I was coming in to bowl and getting to the crease before I was ready to release the ball. I was actually slowing down. I had a quick check on the things I should be doing.

"Dennis Lillee said he thought I lacked a bit of energy. I put it down to the fact that I wasn't hitting the crease."

McGrath hit the crease all right yesterday, although he said that perhaps his main weapon was his patience. He had realised there was a little bit in the wicket and he concentrated on building a line on or just outside the off-stump waiting for the odd one to move in sharply off the seam or bounce unevenly.

The pitch played a significant role in England's downfall and their distress was almost visible. But their total of 77 was inadequate and made more so by the chances they put down which might have kept them in the game. Their coach, David Lloyd, was disappointed but promised two days of hard work.

The abysmal total also set its own records. It was back in 1888 when England were bowled out for 53 and 62 on this ground, 27 wickets fell in a day and neither Queen Victoria nor anybody else was amused. At The Oval in 1948 they were caught on a sticky wicket and tumbled over for 52, but this was a new low in the annals of history at the headquarters of English cricket this century.

England can perhaps find solace from the thought that McGrath, splendid bowler though he is when in rhythm, will never again find so much conspiring in his favour. There were mutterings - there always are when great deeds supersede previous great deeds - but so many great bowlers have been to Lord's over the course of this century and not managed what McGrath did, that it hardly seemed just. Similar misgivings were probably directed in Massie's direction on his remarkable debut. But it was Massie who got it exactly right when he said that while conditions could help you, you had to use them - and on successive days the man who had taken his record did so.

In all Test matches at Lord's only Ian Botham, for England against Pakistan in 1978, has returned better figures and, in 1,371 Tests played anywhere there have only been 23 better innings analyses.

England were taking on history here. The most quoted, most pertinent fact of the past week is that they have not won against Australia at Lord's since 1934, the only time this century, and have done so only four times in all. History and McGrath proved a potent combination.

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