Lee and McGrath shade the thrilling show of destruction
Glorious day for fast bowlers sets pulses racing for the summer ahead
Sunday 03 July 2005
Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath for Australia and Steve Harmison and Fred Fintoff for England. The fastest of the quartet were Lee and Harmison, and they had a quality that linked them historically to Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, and Michael Holding. They were both bloody terrifying. So much so that they were able to frighten batsmen out.
Harmison was the more clinical. Lee was the most intimidating. David Shepherd, umpiring his last international game in a distinguished life in cricket, was genuinely angry with Lee when he bowled a vicious beamer at 91mph which missed Marcus Trecothick's head only because he backed away so smartly that he fell over.
Lee had done it before, in New Zealand, and you could not describe the look on his face as contrite. His apology appeared perfunctory, though he did pat Trescothick's back at the end of the over. But any psychological damage was done. In the next over from McGrath, Tresocthick looked flat-footed and immobile.
It was no surprise at all when he presented a catch to Ricky Ponting at second slip for a scratchy six. If cricketers were awarded assists as they are in ice hockey, the assist would have gone to Lee.
These bowlers made compulsive watching because every ball seemed to promise a wicket. You took your eyes off the proceedings at you peril. A quick dash for a coffee or the subsequent toilet break risked missing another wicket.
When Flintoff came on to bowl at Adam Gilchrist, who had been scoring freely, the batsman became so frustrated by the line straight down the middle of the corridor of uncertainty that he pulled a ball that was not short enough and skied it to Kevin Pietersen.
Flintoff's other two wickets came off successive deliveries, and provided Geraint Jones with two more catches. Jones has taken 20 catches in the NatWest series, which speaks volumes about the persistence and accuracy of England's fast bowlers. Harmison's three wickets were all caught by the wicketkeeper. He dived to his left to dismiss Ricky Ponting off Harmison's first ball, a rare delivery down the leg-side. It was the only wicket to fall to the quick quartet that was more luck than judgement. Damien Martyn and Brad Hogg were victims of a line just outside off stump that frustrated both into giving edges to the keeper.
Just like McGrath's dismissals of Trescothick, Vaughan and Flintoff, Harmison's removal of Ponting and Martyn may come to be seen as significant. They have sown the seeds of doubt. They will not necessarily germinate. If they do, the Ashes could turn out to be a low scoring series.
Especially if the conditions are like they yesterday's. Batsmen will say - correctly - that the ball moved wickedly under a heavy cloud cover, as it will here. There was bounce in the wicket, too. It meant that the game should have been lost by the batting line-up who played the most bad shots early in their innings.
That was England. After Trescothick, Lee's 90mph inswinger bewildered Andrew Strauss, and Pietersen's promotion to No 4 in the order was not justified by his unconvincing swish which was edged to the keeper. After 13 overs, the bowling figures of Australia's opening pair told the story of the match: McGrath 7-4-9-3 and Lee 6-1-20-2. The idea that McGrath is toppling over the hill and Lee is only good for one-day cricket was a case of the wish being father to the thought.
This game of fine fast bowling came as a profound relief after last Tuesday's affair at Edgbaston when Simon Jones hit Matthew Hayden on the side of his chest while aiming wildly at the wicket. Jones said sorry, but Hayden was not interested in apology. Ill will was seriously compounded the next morning when the tabloid papers accused Hayden of swearing at one of the small children who form an honour guard just inside the boundary, waving flags of England at NatWest.
The Australian team are furious because Hayden's reputation has been damaged by an unsubstantiated accusation. They have insisted an inquiry is held to try to discover whether the allegation is correct and how it was filtered through from the area in front of the dressing room to the press box. The England and Wales Cricket Board won't comment but one strong suggestion is that the story was spun by the England side to discredit Hayden. If so, isn't it time to resurrect the old truism that "It's not cricket"?
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