Gillespie's decline tortures tourists and encourages the claims of Tait

None will have felt the discomfort more than Jason Gillespie, who may not have been able to dismiss the thought yesterday afternoon that his participation in the fourth Test must hang in the balance.

Gillespie has gone for a century before in his career, five times in fact. For a bowler of his willingness to shoulder heavy workloads it is an occupational hazard.

The difference this time was the speed at which it happened. This was no marathon stint from the shaggy-haired pace bowler. Despite the injuries of which Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee were surely still feeling the effects, Gillespie was the least used of Australia's four front-liners, bowling 19 overs. He was in three figures by the 17th as England's batsmen, Michael Vaughan in particular, took runs off him at exactly six per over.

When, at last, he did enjoy a moment of success, hurrying one through to locate Geraint Jones's off stump, he celebrated with feeling, wagging a finger in the direction of the England fans who had taken such delight in watching him struggle.

"Where's your caravan?" they enquired, in the subtle way that football crowds routinely taunt anyone whose hair exceeds collar length, inferring some sort of gypsy heritage.

Gillespie, in fact, has Aborigine roots, of which he is proud. He had a right to be offended.

Some sympathy, then, was in order. But there is no disguising his figures. Once half, with McGrath, of the most potent new-ball attack in international cricket, Gillespie appears at 30 to be in decline, his compatriot's ability to withstand the toll of time - McGrath is five years his senior - seemingly having eluded him.

The wicket of Jones was his 251st in Test cricket but the rate at which he has added to his tally has slowed markedly. His last 11 Tests have yielded only 17; his figures for this Ashes series to date a dismal 3 for 277 from 63 overs. Less than a year ago, on tour in India , he was Australia's leading wicket-taker with 20 successes.

His team-mates are supportive, as would be expected. "When you're not bowling as well as you like, everything seems to be going against you," Shane Warne said. "I thought he bowled OK today, but the ball just seemed to find the gaps every time... I wouldn't be writing him off."

However, if Australia fail to escape at Old Trafford, change seems certain for Trent Bridge, with the rookie fast bowler Shaun Tait champing at the bit, as well as Stuart Clark, the Middlesex paceman summoned to Old Trafford as cover for McGrath and Lee. Gillespie is clearly vulnerable.

There was speculation ahead of the second Test that Michael Kasprowicz might be preferred but Gillespie did enough in the Australians' warm-up match against Worcestershire to keep his place.

Picking Tait might be seen as a gamble. The 22-year-old arrived in England, uncapped, with only 26 first-class matches under his belt. He took 2 for 51 from 13 overs at Worcestershire but that is his only competitive bowl in a tour that has allowed few practice opportunities for any of Ricky Ponting's squad.

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