Did tourists mislead fans over injury to McGrath?

By the end of an exhausting day for all the Australian bowlers, in which McGrath played a full part with only occasional signs of discomfort, the notion that his appearance on the field to practise on Wednesday had been an attempt by the tourists to play mind games with Michael Vaughan had been made to look somewhat foolish.

Immediately, however, came a new line of speculation: had McGrath's injury, at one time thought to be tour threatening, been overplayed? His recovery time had been remarkably fast. Grade two tearing of lateral ankle ligaments, to give his injury its medical textbook description, is not a minor problem.

Forecasts of a six-week absence might have been looking on the black side but in the canon of sports injuries, of which McGrath's is among the most common, torn ligaments are regarded as moderately serious. In an average case, it is 15 days before mobility is restored. Yet McGrath was back in action in eight, more in line with projected recovery time for ligaments that are merely stretched, rather than torn.

So were Australia happy to let the world believe the injury was more serious or is McGrath's apparently miraculous comeback simply more evidence of the extraordinary skills of the Australian physiotherapist, Errol Alcott? Alcott, who has been looking after the health and fitness of the Aussie players since 1984, has been given credit for several similar "miracles".

Matthew Hayden might not have made 380 against Zimbabwe in Perth in 2003, then a world record, but for Alcott's work on his injured back; it was to Alcott that Steve Waugh dedicated his unbeaten 157 at The Oval in 2001, an epic innings that came only 19 days after he had torn a calf muscle at Trent Bridge.

And McGrath says his recovery from ankle surgery in 2003 was in no small part a tribute to Alcott's skills.

Alcott, affectionately known as "Hooter" in the Australian dressing-room, insists that McGrath's participation at Old Trafford was never ruled out in his own mind by his latest injury, sustained when he trod on a cricket ball while preparing for this Test last week.

"Every ankle injury is different and Glenn is a very good patient," Alcott said. "He has a lot of resilience and internal fortitude and is willing to work hard in the recovery process."

McGrath, 35 years old and almost certainly taking part in his last Ashes series, was on crutches as late as last Sunday, when a protective boot was removed from the damaged ankle. After undergoing exercise and manipulation on Monday and Tuesday, he bowled for the first time on Wednesday, on the edge of the Old Trafford square, a routine that was repeated yesterday morning, just over an hour before the scheduled start, at which point Alcott was happy he was fit to play.

Australia yesterday acquired a new injury worry with Michael Clarke off the field virtually all day after complaining of pain in the lower back after fielding a ball in the second over.

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