McGrath redefines his art on day of stupendous Test cricket

But that was when England's young bowling Turks were strutting around Lord's as though 18 years of Ashes cricket under the heel of Australia was officially at an end.

It was before Glenn McGrath, aged 35, reminded everyone in the home of the game that there is nothing more thrilling - no partisan advantage for your team, no winning bet - than an old champion near the end of his competitive days finding the best of himself. McGrath, the hammer of the English for so long, made the Long Room celebrations as premature as they were inappropriate.

He defined the art of the thinking man's pace bowler. He placed the ball with an unerring, almost uncanny accuracy; he coaxed out every nuance of movement on a wicket which was supposed to be sun-dried of its menace before one of the most extraordinary passages of one-man dominance in the long and tumultuous history of Test cricket.

McGrath's details will stand in long memory - 31 balls, two runs, five wickets - but they will never be able to convey fully the feel of his performance, the authority and the majesty of it.

He was so deadly, so all-consuming, that long before he was stood down by his grateful captain Ricky Ponting, after 13 overs, those Long Room antics seemed to belong to another day, even another lifetime.

This was a career tragedy for Steve Harmison, nine years McGrath's junior and for most of the day a bowler who might reasonably have believed that he had utterly supplanted the old warrior in the world's bowling élite.

Harmison, such a miserable figure at the end of the tour of South Africa last winter, grew to huge proportions on the magnificent Lord's stage. He tattooed the aristocracy of Australian batting, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden, after such a roughing up not one of them was able to produce anything like the usual command.

Harmison, with admirable assistance from his lieutenants Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard and Andy Flintoff, claimed most of the spoils with 5 for 43 and his own period of personal rampage, four wickets for seven runs in 14 balls.

The consequence was the most dramatic shift in the balance of Ashes power since Mike Gatting's England team last won a series in 1987.

The Aussies, with Shane Warne providing some of the most profitable resistance and finishing second top scorer with a mere 28, were shot out for 190. That's when the Long Room began to resemble an upper crust version of the annual barn dance at the Lazy Q. But who could know that Glenn McGrath was preparing one of his ultimate performances?

McGrath stunned England's front-line batting with a series of perfectly delivered blows, and suddenly there was the terrible spectre of another Ashes annihilation, one more painful than most that had gone before because of the huge weight of expectation that surrounded yesterday's first day.

Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss, the giant of last summer and winter, were consumed in the slips; Michael Vaughan, apparently the world-class banker of English batsmanship was shot out for three, the young hope Ian Bell could only chop the ball on to his wicket and Flintoff, towards whom we so often offer the encouragement that he may just be another Ian Botham, was so bamboozled by the old Australian fox he watched the uprooting of his off-stump.

This was an impact guaranteed to astonish even the most experienced denizens of the Test match jungle - a certainty readily confirmed by former England captains Graham Gooch and Gatting.

Gooch, who was in the twilight of a great career when the young Australian was flexing his bowling muscles and developing his edge, said, "That was an astounding effort...I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite so perfect from an ageing cricketer. He used everything at his disposal. He certainly changed the match. He may have changed the summer."

Gatting, the old conqueror of Australia who was the victim of the outrageous arrival of Warne in Ashes cricket when he fell to the impossible arc of the most famous leg spin delivery in the history of the game, was equally mesmerised by the perfection of McGrath's efforts.

"Yes, I was stunned when Warne produced that delivery ... but no more so than today watching Glenn McGrath. The scenario couldn't have been more favourable for England. You had the sense that at last the pattern might just be broken, with the sun quietening down the pitch. Now McGrath has questioned all that optimism."

For England it was a day when hope had grown quite relentlessly. If there was an early tendency, particularly by Harmison, to send balls down the legside, there was also a compensating fire and optimism. It was impossible not to believe that there had been a real belief in the England dressing room that this was indeed the time to bring down the great Australian cricket empire.

Harmison's aggression, the jaunty confidence of Vaughan, fed on two years of growing success, as he deployed his troops, might just have been the prelude to such achievement.

However, McGrath intruded into the plans with an unbreakable force. As one victim after another fell to his guile, the change in the Australian team's body language was extraordinary to see. When he claimed another victim, his team-mates seemed to run to him not such much in celebration as deliverance.

In the end, English joy had dwindled to the point of cheering the 58-stand resistance of Kevin Pietersen and Geraint Jones.

Before his debut the young Pietersen had talked of the new surge of English confidence - and his team-mate Hoggard had speculated that McGrath might be on the slow ride home to retirement. He said: "It will be tough for Glenn McGrath, and it will be interesting to see if he is still the world-class performer he was."

Thus provoked, one headline screamed that the Aussies in general, and McGrath in particular, were, "Past It". If you happened to be English it was worrying to read that. It provoked visions of nightmare Australian reaction. It prompted fears that some of them, especially the older ones, might just be sufficiently irritated to put in a special effort. Naturally, Glenn McGrath did. He produced one of the great performances of his life. Even more remarkably, he stopped the dancing in the Long Room.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballIt's not a game to lose, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes