Cricket: Three times a hero on Dazzler Day

The Ashes: Gough's hat-trick of the century triggers collapse after twins turn Sydney into a Waugh zone

IT IS late in the day but, judged by their cricket this week, England can play like a team to be reckoned with. Not as good as Australia, but showing some character again, and bowling quite well enough to shock these Aussies out of their deep complacency.

There were, however, periods on the first day of the Fifth Test when it appeared to be a case of Waugh, Waugh rather than jaw, jaw. There was not much to say when a couple of catches went down and an easy run-out was muffed - except that normal service seemed to have been resumed as soon as possible.

But this Australian tail have begun to ape England, and the last five wickets fell for three runs in 15 deliveries. Three of them went in three balls to the splendid Darren Gough, the first hat-trick by an English player in an Ashes Test since 1899.

The Australians admitted that England had done well to dismiss them for 322 on a good, if slow, turning wicket, especially as nine wickets fell to the three fast-medium bowlers. "England stuck to it really well again," said Steve Waugh.

Don't get carried away. As Waugh pointed out, England bat last, and that, he says, will be pretty tough. The Australian selectors clearly think so since they have chosen three spinners, including Shane Warne. But forget the future for the moment, because the opening act of this game was Test cricket at its most absorbing, played in front of the largest first-day crowd at a Sydney Test for 23 years - 42,128.

Touts manned the entrances for the first time in this series on the kind of morning that makes Sydney's climate seem like the south of France. The captains came out to toss accompanied by Australia's prime minister, John Howard, who was roundly booed. But he is cricket-mad and to know before anyone else who had won the toss probably made up for it.

A dark cloud then obscured English hopes because this straw-coloured pitch was one to bat first on. Alec Stewart called tails again and lost for the fifth time in a row. Apparently, it is not the case that it is an evens bet each time a coin is tossed. Some mathematicians - at least one - claim that in 100 tosses there will be a sequence of five consecutive heads or tails. Stewart is the personification of this arresting theory.

Stewart would certainly not have been sharing the good humour of the crowd because, only 45 minutes before the start of play, Michael Atherton had informed him that his back was stiff and he would not be able to field properly. Possibly because Atherton has not been able to bat properly either, Mark Butcher was restored to the side within 24 hours of being dropped. "Has he had enough?" Angus Fraser was asked when he came into the press box. "Not at all," he replied. I wonder.

Ashley Giles was discarded, so Peter Such was the one spinner, and Alex Tudor completed a four-man attack, which looked bleakly vulnerable to a confident Australian assault. (This team contains five non-white players, which may be a record for England.)

The bowlers were assaulted without delay, but Australia's bold opening salvo went badly awry. With 75 minutes gone, they had lost their three top- order batsmen for 52 runs, and it was not as though England - playing with a noticeable spring in their step - had had any luck.

Mark Taylor had gone cheaply again, and will soon start to worry about his form. Playing back to Dean Headley, he failed to cover the swing and was caught low down at second slip. His average for the series now stands at 25.11. Both Justin Langer and Michael Slater played booming shots, though they missed often enough to make this look almost like a one-day affair.

During a curiously unconvincing first over from Alex Tudor, which went for 11 runs, Langer turned and left the wicket having given a catch to the keeper, only to turn again when umpire Darrel Hair signalled a no ball. Then Langer was given the benefit of the doubt in a run-out appeal that was a damned close run thing. The gods seemed to have taken out Australian citizenship.

Yet, within minutes, Slater was kicking furiously at the turf, having gloved a catch to the keeper off a wild hook. Langer's reaction to a soft catch off a loose ball from Tudor delivered comfortably at waist height to point was to double up in frustration at his foolishness.

Enter Mark and Steve Waugh. Steve's two centuries have already left his mark on the series, but Mark has not played a big innings so far, and he expected one of himself in Sydney. He said so to friends and advisers in Sydney (the bribes scandal means he has plenty of advisers).

These twins really are hard to tell apart, though Steve turns up his shirt collar and does regular bending exercises at the bowler's end. Both drove brilliantly through the covers, but Steve says he is more aggressive this year. Mark was no less elegant than usual. By lunch they had taken the score to 101. Mark had survived a difficult chance to John Crawley at short leg, and the rest of the day was looking ominous for England.

By mid-afternoon my neighbour was asking if I would bet on which twin would be the first to 100. I said it would depend on who was facing Mark Ramprakash when he reached the nineties. It turned out to be a slanderous remark. He had been brought on for a long spell because Stewart's options were limited by the choice of only one spinner and the evidence that Tudor's wayward line was easy meat.

Ramprakash spun the ball, dropped into a fairly good length and contained both batsmen, off and on, beating Mark in the last over before tea with a ball that turned and bounced over middle stump. A little earlier Mark had called for a run he could not make unless Stewart at midwicket threw badly to the bowler's end. Ramprakash could not even catch Stewart's clumsy throw.

They looked so secure and so fortunate that it was a shock when Steve jumped down the wicket and was beaten by Such's sharp off spin. He was on 96 and this is the ninth time he had been out in the nineties in Tests. No one else has managed that: "I can relax now I've got the record," he said later.

The Waughs' partnership of 190 was a position from which Australia could have built a match-winning total in the 400s. Instead they put on an un- Australian display of recklessness, reminiscent of their performance in Melbourne.

Darren Lehmann played like a man determined to break records until he hit Tudor hard to Nasser Hussain who caught him one-handed, toppling backwards. Mark Waugh eventually edged Headley to Warren Hegg, having batted in a stately manner and survived three chances, scoring only 10 fours.

This is the moment when an Australian tail-ender puts England to the sword and, when Shane Warne came in, he was no doubt hoping to do just that, but first he had to cope with a great volume of abuse. "It's only the Poms," said the Australian reporters, and the Barmy Army did make a lot of noise, but it sounded as though many Australians must have joined in.

If Warne is to make an impression on his return, he will have to wait. The new ball had been taken in the 83rd over, and in the 86th over Gough had Ian Healey caught behind. Next ball was a yorker and took Stuart MacGill's middle stump. Gough said his hat-trick ball, which swung away late and took Colin Miller's off stump, was his best of this series.

Gough's hat-trick was only the eighth in Ashes Tests, and begins to give him the average he deserves in this series: 20 wickets at 28.00. Headley bowled well again and now has 15 wickets at 25.53. They make you think that perhaps bowling Australia out twice is not a fluke, after all. Commenting on his success, Gough was asked if it had made Sydney his favourite ground. "No," he replied. "It's not in England."

SYDNEY SCOREBOARD

First day; Australia won toss

Australia - First Innings

*M A Taylor c Hick b Headley 2

(Edged outswinger to slip from back foot; 14 min, 8 balls)

M J Slater c Hegg b Headley 18

(Gloved wild hook to wicketkeeper; 63 min, 35 balls, 2 fours)

J L Langer c Ramprakash b Tudor 26

(Slashed half-volley to gully; 53 min, 39 balls, 2 fours)

M E Waugh c Hegg b Headley 121

(Thin edge through to wicketkeeper; 293 min, 205 balls, 10 fours)

S R Waugh b Such 96

(Beaten by spin and bowled through the gate; 202 min, 171 balls, 10 fours)

D S Lehmann c Hussain b Tudor 32

(Fierce square drive to point; 44 min, 37 balls, 5 fours)

I A Healy c Hegg b Gough 14

(Surprised by bounce on the back foot; 48 min, 28 balls, 1 four)

S K Warne not out 2

(14 min, 7 balls)

S C G MacGill b Gough 0

(Yorked, middle stump;1 min, 1 ball)

C R Miller b Gough 0

(hat-trick victim, bowled off-stump by outswinger;1 min, 1 ball)

G D McGrath c Hick b Headley 0

(Swiped edge high to second slip; 1 min, 2 balls)

Extras (lb2, nb9) 11

Total (373 min, 87.3 overs) 322

Fall: 1-4 (Taylor), 2-52 (Slater), 3-52 (Langer), 4-242 (S Waugh), 5- 284 (Lehmann), 6-319 (M Waugh), 7-321 (Healy), 8-321 (MacGill), 9-321 (Miller), 10-322 (McGrath).

Bowling: Gough 17-4-61-3 (5-2-9-0 7-1-31-0 2-0-12-0 3-1-9-3), Headley 19.3-3-62-4 (nb1) (4-0-17-1 5-1-23-1 3-0-11-0 5-1-9-0 2.3-1-2-2), Tudor 12-1-64-2 (nb8) (4-0-29-1 4-1-17-0 4-0-18-1), Such 24-6-77-1 (5-3-10-0 7-2-27-0 3-0-12-0 6-1-16-1 3-0-12-0), Ramprakash 15-0-56-0 (one spell).

Progress: First day: 50 in 56 min, 11.4 overs. 100 in 116 min, 24.4 overs. Lunch 101-3 (M Waugh 26, S Waugh 22) 26 overs. 150 in 170 min, 38.4 overs. 200 in 228 min, 53.5 overs. Tea 214-3 (M Waugh 78, S Waugh 81) 58 overs. 250 in 281 min, 68.3 overs . 300 in 334 min, 79.5 overs. New ball taken after 82.4 overs at 311-5. Innings closed 6.12pm.

M Waugh 50: 126 min, 87 balls, 5 fours. 100: 246 min, 175 balls, 8 fours.

S Waugh 50: 101 min, 87 balls, 7 fours.

England: M A Butcher, *A J Stewart, N Hussain, M R Ramprakash, G A Hick, J P Crawley, W K Hegg, D Gough, D W Headley, A J Tudor, P M Such.

Umpires: R S Dunne and D B Hair TV Replay Umpire: S Taufel Match Referee: J R Reid

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