McGrath finds rare praise for England attack

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The Independent Online

It is always key players who are targeted, with the Aussies trying to dent, or even permanently damage, the confidence of the object of their attack.

The Australian pace bowler Glenn McGrath has been one of the leading "Pommie bashers", although in the past he has invariably singled out an England batsman and/or the captain for his withering dismissal of their ability. However, the victims all have one thing in common: they are players about whom the Australians feel particularly worried.

This year is no different from any other Ashes summer, in that McGrath has sounded off. However, there the similarity ends. First, because, in the aftermath of the Australians' Twenty20 defeat to England at the Rose Bowl last month, McGrath singled out not one but two players for his usual putdowns. Secondly, the double target involved members of England's bowling attack - Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.

"I probably expected a little bit more from [Harmison and Flintoff] than what I saw," he said dismissively at the time. But the pair have subsequently shown far more than McGrath and his team-mates would like to have seen.

In the four matches between the two teams, Flintoff has claimed eight wickets at just over 19, while Harmison has proved even more effective with 11 Australian dismissals at a shade over 12 per wicket.

This prompted the unthinkable from McGrath's lips after the tie in the NatWest Series final here on Saturday - praise. "Harmison and Flintoff bowled well on a wicket which suited bowlers like us who like to hit the deck," McGrath said. "I enjoyed bowling out there - although probably not the last over.

"I think Harmy is a class bowler, there's no doubt about that and I think he's one of the main reasons England have improved over the last 18 months. He is one of the reasons why they've been so successful. To have a bowler bowling at that pace and getting that lift and bounce, it's got to give the rest of the team confidence."

But before Australian supporters think McGrath was having a senior moment, and to make sure no England fan believes McGrath has grown soft in his old age, he quickly reverted to type, swinging his big gun back across the opposition line-up before loosing off a salvo in the direction of the England opening batsmen, Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss.

"If you look at these matches, our opening bowlers have been pretty successful against Strauss and Trescothick," he said. He was referring to the fact that in the NatWest Series McGrath has dismissed Trescothick three times and Strauss twice, while Brett Lee has twice got rid of Strauss. McGrath added: "Since those two have been another key to England's success that is one positive we will take out of this series."

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