Cricket: McGrath and Slater relish the challenge

First Test, fourth day: England's first-innings collapse hands the advantage to Australia
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Australia 485 & 237-3 dec England 375 & 26-0

FOR A remote island, Australia harbours a large number of deadly species. But if funnel webs and redbacks are rarely encountered by unsuspecting Poms, the likes of Glenn McGrath and Michael Slater most certainly are. Having begun the fourth day with their first innings poised promisingly on 299 for 4, England ended it in less auspicious circumstances.

Demolished by McGrath, who took 6 for 85, and then battered by a rapid Slater century, England, unable to find an antidote, were outplayed in all departments. But if two of Australia's finest were a handful, the visitors were culpable, too, and some of the cricket, particularly the lower order's batting in the morning session, was witless.

To be bowled out before lunch on a good batting pitch was not something England's flimsy tail will care to remember. One of the golden rules of modern Test cricket is that you eke out every run. Not for the first time England's tail ignored the rule book to leave a batsman, Mark Ramprakash, high and dry on 69 not out.

Graham Gooch, the tour manager, never a man to mince his words, was unequivocal about the batting performance. "In Test cricket you have to sell your wicket dearly," he said. "It's crucial that our lower order spend time at the crease and make it difficult for bowlers to get them out."

McGrath, who executed the collapse with a hostile spell of 5 for 19 in 10.2 overs, also had a few home truths for England's rear end. "It was always our aim that when we got down to Croft and Cork to up the ante and bowl aggressively," McGrath said.

"We always plan to attack and bounce the tail and get them out cheaply. If you look how our late-order batsmen have contributed over the past four or five years, it has often been the difference between winning and losing."

The point can be illustrated by the first innings here; while Australia's last five batsmen added a mammoth 307, England's managed just 60. Mind you, England's record in this department has been exceptionally poor over the past 12 months. Since the beginning of the West Indies tour, their last five batsmen have averaged nine runs per wicket.

Considering all but the softest rabbits in world cricket average between 15 and 25, it must be a major source of concern. While no one is expecting the tail to score a sizeable percentage of the total, they must try to occupy the crease, particularly if a top-order batsmen is at the other end. It is not easy, and a bowler like McGrath, particularly when he has angst in his pants - which seems to happen every time he has a ball in his hand - can strike at any time.

However, making his job easier, which is what Dominic Cork and Alan Mullally did by trying to hook him off their noses, was sheer folly. If Graham Thorpe's dismissal, caught hooking by Justin Langer moments earlier, was not a hint that the shot was a risky one, then it should have been.

As it was, Thorpe played the shot well and was a mite unlucky that he found the one man in an otherwise unpopulated sector of the field. By contrast, Cork and Mullally were thought out. In the latter's case, out hooking first ball, the brain power required was not huge.

Cork, a feisty fellow, simply allowed his ego to get the better of him, after McGrath had peppered him with a mixture of bouncers and verbals. It was a short-lived contest and Cork's macho attempt at brinkmanship ended when he tamely spliced his attempted hook to mid-on.

Only Robert Croft showed the necessary fibre, as he and Ramprakash, himself playing with great aplomb, added 41 for the seventh wicket. Having worked hard to overcome his weakness against the short ball, Croft was bowled off the inside-edge by one from Mike Kasprowicz that kept a fraction low.

With Darren Gough, the third of the ducks, falling lbw, and Angus Fraser managing just a single before fending a short ball to slip, England ended their innings scoring in binary, a mode that rather devalued the earlier contributions of Thorpe and Mark Butcher.

The collapse had more far- reaching effects than simply allowing Australia a substantial lead. For one thing it made England's bowlers and fielders despondent, a mood heartily taken advantage of by Slater as he flayed England's attack to all corners of the Gabba.

Off the mark with a lofted cover drive for four off Cork in the second over, the dashing opener took a particular liking to Gough. Despite losing Mark Taylor for nought in the fourth over, after his captain dragged on, Slater showed no mercy and Gough's first three overs went for 28.

Langer, normally an accumulator, also played his shots, scoring 74 before holing out to Croft at long-on. Indeed, there was barely a let-up in the carnage until Fraser and then Croft, who extracted some turn, slowed the flow to something marginally over three runs per over. Even so, the breadth and imagination of Slater's strokeplay, especially his cutting, made the 139-ball century one to savour.

Slater certainly thought so. Scampering the quick single that saw him to three figures, he sped off in the direction of his team-mates in a joyful display, before kissing the Australian badge on his helmet.

Following a season with Derbyshire that he found invaluable despite the sporty pitches, he clearly relishes England's attack. So far five of his nine Test centuries have come from games against England.

"Although that type of innings wasn't planned, I went to the crease extremely pumped up," Slater said. "There were quite a few balls to hit, and I was quick to seize on anything loose."

Not long ago Slater was dropped from the Test team for poor shot selection.

If there is an irony, it is that by refusing to play England's steady attack on its merits he allowed his captain - already tempted after his opponents had revealed their soft underbelly to McGrath - to declare before the end of the day, 347 runs ahead.

THE GABBA SCOREBOARD

Fourth day; Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 485 (I A Healy 134, S R Waugh 112; A D Mullally 5-105).

ENGLAND - First innings

(Sunday: 299 for 4)

M A Butcher c and b M Waugh 116

278 min, 236 balls, 16 fours

M A Atherton c M Waugh b McGrath 0

17 min, 14 balls

N Hussain c Healy b Kasprowicz 59

141 min, 99 balls, 10 fours

*A J Stewart c Kasprowicz b MacGill 8

17 min, 9 balls, 1 four

G P Thorpe c Langer b McGrath 77

231 min, 168 balls, 7 fours

M R Ramprakash not out 69

234 min, 166 balls, 6 fours

D G Cork c MacGill b McGrath 0

16 min, 11 balls

R D B Croft b Kasprowicz 23

51 min, 48 balls, 3 fours

D Gough lbw b McGrath 0

24 min, 23 balls

A D Mullally c Kasprowicz b McGrath 0

1 min, 1 ball

A R C Fraser c M Waugh b McGrath 1

7 min, 7 balls

Extras (b1 lb9 nb12) 22

Total (513 min, 128.2 overs) 375

Fall: 1-11 (Atherton) 2-145 (Hussain) 3-168 (Stewart) 4-240 (Butcher) 5-315 (Thorpe) 6-319 (Cork) 7-360 (Croft) 8-373 (Gough) 9-373 (Mullally) 10-375 (Fraser).

Bowling: McGrath 34.2-11-85-6 (nb3) (7-2-13-1, 7-2-25-0, 5-1-13-0, 2- 0-10-0, 12-5-24-2, 1.2-1-0-3); Fleming 27-5-83-0 (4-2-10-0, 3-0-10-0, 5-0-26-0, 7-3-5-0, 3-0-11-0, 5-0-21-0); Kasprowicz 29-7-82-2 (nb6) (4-1-14-0, 7-0-26-1, 3-1-10-0, 3-0-9-0, 7-3-8-0, 5-2-15-1); MacGill 24-4-70-1 (nb2) (4-1-22-0, 10-1-32-1, 2-0-3-0, 8-2-13-0); S Waugh 3-0- 17-0; Ponting 3-0-10-0; M Waugh 8-1-18-1 (nb1) (one spell each).

Progress: Second day: 50: 68 min, 17 overs. Close: 53-1 (Butcher 23, Hussain 23) 19 overs. Third day: 100: 120 min, 30.2 overs. 150: 163 min, 39.4 overs. Lunch: 179-3 (Butcher 93, Thorpe 6) 47 overs. 200: in 218 min, 53.3 overs. Tea: 262-4 (Thorpe 50, Ramprakash 13) 82 overs. New ball taken immediately after tea. 250: 292 min, 74 overs. Bad light stopped play 3.54pm - close at 299-4 (Thorpe 70, Ramprakash 29) 94.2 overs. Fourth day: 300: 371 min, 94.5 overs. 350 in 460 min, 115.3 overs. Innings closed 11.53am.

Butcher's 50: 125 min, 101 balls, 9 fours. 100: 219 min, 179 balls, 16 fours. Hussain's 50: 94 min, 68 balls, 9 fours. Thorpe's 50: 135 min, 98 balls, 4 fours. Ramprakash's 50: 180 min, 136 balls, 4 fours.

AUSTRALIA - Second Innings

M J Slater c and b Fraser 113

190 min, 139 balls, 13 fours, 1 six

*M A Taylor b Cork 0

12 min, 5 balls

J L Langer c Mullally b Croft 74

202 min, 149 balls, 8 fours

M E Waugh not out 27

76 min, 54 balls, 1 four

S R Waugh not out 16

51 min, 30 balls, 1 four

Extras (b1 lb1 nb5) 7

Total (for 3 dec, 267 min, 62 overs) 237

Fall: 1-20 (Taylor) 2-182 (Slater) 3-199 (Langer).

Bowling: Gough 6-0-50-0 (nb1) (3-0-28-0, 3-0-22-0); Cork 5-0-18-1 (one spell); Mullally 14-4-38-0 (nb2) (6-1-18-0, 3-1-9-0, 5-2-11-0); Fraser 15-1-52-1 (nb2) (8-1-20-0, 5-0-27-1, 2-0-5-0); Croft 20-2-71-1; Ramprakash 2-0-6-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Fourth day: 50: 51 min, 12.2 overs. 100: 111 min, 25.3 overs. Tea: 111-1 (Slater 75, Langer 35) 30 overs. 150: 165 min, 39.2 overs. 200: 218 min, 50.5 overs. Declaration at 5.19pm.

Slater's 50: 72 min, 56 balls, 8 fours. 100: 172 min, 129 balls, 10 fours, 1 six. Langer's 50: 147 min, 107 balls, 6 fours.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Butcher not out 7

29 min, 18 balls, 1 four

M A Atherton not out 18

29 min, 24 balls, 2 fours

Extras (w1) 1

Total (for 0, 29 min, 7 overs) 26

Bowling: McGrath 4-1-7-0; Kasprowicz 3-0-19-0 (w1) (one spell each).

Umpires: K T Francis (S Lanka) and D B Hair (Aus). TV replay umpire: P D Parker.

Match referee: J R Reid.

Compiled by Jo King

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