Cricket: McGrath the magnificent

Second Test: Record eight-wicket haul at Lord's has England reeling as Reiffel helps the Aussies reload
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Not for the first time in its illustrious history, Lord's proved a field of dreams for an overseas visitor yesterday and a bed of nettles for England. On a staccato day of sunshine and showers, Glenn McGrath produced the best figures by an Australian at Lord's and the third best by any Australian bowler in Test history. More importantly, his 8 for 38 has lifted Australia to a position of supremacy which only the weather or a prolonged rearguard action can disrupt.

More than an hour's play was lost to rain again, but having passed England's total - the lowest at Lord's in an Ashes Test this century - with eight wickets still standing and extended their lead to 54, Australia's grip on this Cornhill Test is as tight as England's just two weeks ago.

Dropped catches, five in all, added to Mike Atherton's woes. Matthew Elliott was missed three times, twice by Mark Butcher and once by Devon Malcolm at long-leg. Waugh survived a sharp chance to Nasser Hussain at slip when he was 0 and should have been run out by Darren Gough, following through off his own bowling moments after Australia had reached 100. Elliott did not ease the pain, compiling a dogged unbeaten fifty.

Given two days without interruption, England face an uphill struggle to preserve their series lead on a pitch already subject to variable bounce. Much of the momentum has been lost, but if England can survive here, by fair means or foul weather, it would be a victory of sorts and more than some undistinguished batting and fielding deserves. Nothing, though, should detract from the return of the Mack.

McGrath was unrecognisable as the morose character who had chuntered and pouted his way through the First Test. Some late wickets against Nottinghamshire had brought the ghost of a smile back to his poker face, but there was little to hint of the devastation to come from the country boy from Narromine, a small town just north of Sydney.

Discovered by Doug Walters wheeling away in the outback, McGrath was so suspicious of big city life he lived in a caravan during his first season playing for New South Wales and still answers to the nickname "Millard", a reference to the make of his mobile home. Mentally, the Australians say, he is still inclined to up sticks and head for home when the going gets tough. But the little spasm of play on Friday, in which he had taken all three England wickets, had whetted his appetite for yesterday.

Bowling fast and straight, from a stiff-legged, rather ungainly, action - a sort of Angus Fraser with speed - the tall Australian tore through what remained of the England batting in conditions near perfect for his type and on a pitch of distinctly uneven bounce which he would be happy to transport home to his garden. Paul Reiffel, a trifle unlucky to emerge with just two wickets after a sustained spell of swing bowling from the Nursery End, had already removed Graham Thorpe, caught at bat-pad pushing forward, when McGrath began a spell of 5 for 12 in 34 balls.

England did not help their cause. Robert Croft heaved horribly at a wide one, John Crawley propped forward at a straight one just outside off stump and Gough went for a hook, all were caught behind. But this was still fast bowling of the highest class, an eloquent response to his English critics, who had been at a loss to explain his lofty reputation and impressive statistics.

The prize wicket was that of Hussain, who had played and missed regularly but tried to hit the few bad balls in between. How much his downfall was to poor technique, how much to McGrath and how much to the flurry of rain which had interrupted play for 16 minutes midway through the morning, was difficult to say. But, first ball after the break, McGrath nipped one back up the hill to catch the England vice-captain shuffling across his stumps.

Two weeks ago, the decision on a similar shout had gone his way. By such slender threads are careers made and broken, Tests won and lost. But there was no doubt this time and, at 62 for 6, England's plight was looking as terminal as Australia's had at Edgbaston.

The first pop of a champagne cork shortly after suggested that the drowning of sorrows had begun in the Warner Stand and when Croft, Gough and Andrew Caddick followed in quick succession, it did not need any further lectures on deportment from the secretary of MCC to quieten the crowd or lead them to an appropriately sporting reaction to the performance of a lifetime. McGrath was given a standing ovation all the way back through the famous white gates, applauded with particular vigour by a greying Australian in the Compton Stand. Twenty-five years on, Bob Massie was more than happy to relinquish a slice of his own Lord's glory.

Defending the indefensible, the traditional lot of the England bowlers over the past decade, was made no easier by the loss of Alec Stewart with a back spasm, however competent his stand-in Crawley looked behind the wicket, and by some shoddy work in the field. Wisely, Caddick was given the new ball ahead of Malcolm in partnership with Gough, who brought some brief cheer to Lord's by knocking back the middle stump of the Australian captain.

At roughly the same time last week, Mark Taylor had suffered a similar indignity at the hands of an England under-19 bowler. That he dragged the ball on from wide of the off stump this time says little for the technical rehabilitation supposedly prompted by his courageous century at Edgbaston. The moral, doubtless not lost on Taylor, is that deflection and the nudge remain his most profitable source of runs. Not so the classical Greg Blewett, whose response to adversity was a series of hair-raising escapes, flowing off-drives and murderous square-cuts.

Twice, fortune favoured this brave assault. Once when Caddick produced a ball of steep bounce which the featherweight Australian could only prod into the slips cordon where Butcher and Thorpe left it for each other. The ball fell obligingly between the two. Caddick's stare, arms akimbo, seemed to suggest that Surrey could use a decent choreographer. A prodded bat-pad just wide of Butcher at short-leg, was the only other hint of fallibility as Blewett took up where he left off two weeks ago, guiding Australia to within sight of the lead before Croft induced an edge to slip. For England, it was a fleeting reminder of the feelgood factor.

Record lows

Since the war, England have been dis- missed for less than 100 on five occasions in the Ashes

1948 52 (at The Oval)

1997 77 (at Lord's)

1958-9 87 (at Melbourne)

1958-9 92 (at Melbourne)

1976-77 95 (at Melbourne)

In Ashes history England have now been bowled out for under 100 on 19 occasions.

Their lowest Ashes total was 45, in Sydney in 1886-87. At Lord's in 1888 England were dismissed by Australia for 53 and 62 - their lowest Ashes totals at headquarters.

Scoreboard from Lord's

Third day (no play Thursday); Australia won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

M A Butcher c Blewett b McGrath 5

29 mins, 26 balls, 1 four; bat pad to seaming ball

*M A Atherton c Taylor b McGrath 1

38 mins, 24 balls; opened face to seaming ball

A J Stewart b McGrath 1

17 mins, 13 balls; bowled shouldering arms

N Hussain lbw b McGrath 19

107 mins, 73 balls, 2 fours; failed to get forward far enough

G P Thorpe c Blewett b Reiffel 21

60 mins, 49 balls, 4 fours; bat pad to seaming ball

J P Crawley c Healy b McGrath 1

22 mins, 17 balls; edged straight ball to keeper

M A Ealham c Elliott b Reiffel 7

51 mins, 30 balls, 1 four; drove seaming ball to mid-on

R D B Croft c Healy b McGrath 2

18 mins, 13 balls; drove loosely at wide ball

D Gough c Healy b McGrath 10

11 mins, 10 balls, 2 fours; top-edged pull

A R Caddick lbw b McGrath 1

8 mins, 5 balls; played across seaming ball

D E Malcolm not out 0

3 mins, 0 balls

Extras (b4, nb5) 9

Total (187 mins, 42.3 overs) 77

Fall: 1-11 (Butcher), 2-12 (Atherton), 3-13 (Stewart), 4-47 (Thorpe), 5-56 (Crawley), 6-62 (Hussain), 7-66 (Croft), 8-76 (Gough), 9-77 (Ealham), 10-77 (Caddick).

Bowling: McGrath 20.3-8-38-8 (10-2-21-3, 10.3-6-17-5), Reiffel 15-9-17- 2 (nb3) (5-4-1-0, 1-0-3-0, 9-5-13-2), Kasprowicz 5-1-9-0 (nb2), Warne 2-0-9-0 (one spell each).

Progress: First day: Rain prevented play. Second day: Rain stopped play: 12.32pm-close, 38-3 (Hussain 10, Thorpe 13) 21 overs. Third day: 50: 123 mins, 28.5 overs. RSP: 11.54am-12.09pm, 62-5 (Hussain 19, Ealham 5) 34 overs. Innings closed: 12.50pm.

AUSTRALIA - First Innings

*M A Taylor b Gough 1

17 mins, 15 balls; drove ball outside off stump, dragged on

M T G Elliott not out 55

170 mins, 126 balls, 9 fours

G S Blewett c Hussain b Croft 45

85 mins, 70 balls, 7 fours; uncertain drive, edge to slip

M E Waugh not out 26

66 mins, 49 balls, 1 four

Extras (b1, lb3) 4

Total (for 2, 170 mins, 43.2 overs) 131

Fall: 1-4 (Taylor), 2-73 (Blewett).

To bat: S R Waugh, M G Bevan, I A Healy, S K Warne, P R Reiffel, M S Kasprowicz, G D McGrath.

Bowling: Gough 13-3-45-1 (5-2-20-1, 3-1-5-0, 5-0-20-0); Caddick 13.2- 4-41-0 (7-3-19-0, 5-1-15-0, 1.2-0-7-0); Malcolm 7-1-26-0 (5-1-16-0, 2- 0-10-0); Croft 10-5-15-1 (one spell).

Progress: Third day: Rain stopped play: 1.42-1.52pm, 4-0 (Taylor 1, Elliott 3) 3 overs. RSP: 2.21-3.05pm, 25-1 (Elliott 8, Blewett 16) 10 overs. 50: 70 mins, 16.5 overs. RSP: 3.54-4.45pm. Tea taken: 70-1 (Elliott 23, Blewett 44) 22.1 overs. RSP: 4.54-5.10pm, 73-1 (Elliott 25, Blewett 45) 24.3 overs. 100: 141 mins, 36.2 overs. Bad light stopped play: 6.21pm. Elliott's 50: 157 mins, 115 balls, 8 fours.

Umpires: D R Shepherd and S Venkataraghavan. TV replay umpire: D J Constant. Match referee: R S Madugalle.