Trescothick's homework gives opener the edge in battle of wills with McGrath

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The Independent Online

Ignoring cries of "Lazarus" from the better educated elements in the stands, McGrath was his old self and bad luck alone stopped him taking wickets. Two catches were dropped behind, a third by the bowler himself and Michael Vaughan's off-stump was knocked back by a no-ball. For his part, Trescothick fulfilled the opener's timeless role by giving his team the sort of start calculated to spread confidence. Hard as he tried, the lanky paceman could not remove him.

Unable to swing the ball into the left-hander, McGrath concentrated on his trademark delivery, an off-cutter that pitches in line with the stumps, attracts a stroke and treacherously darts away in the final yard. Apparently Helen's face launched a thousand ships. McGrath's cutter has produced a hundred slip catches.

Anticipating his opponent's intentions, the Somerset man devised a canny response. Not that he could not do much about the flyer that thumped into his gloves in the first over except sigh with relief as the ball cleared the slips. Spared, he applied his plan diligently, playing deliveries directed at his stumps and ignoring everything else. Nor did Trescothick follow deliveries as they cut away. Anything to avoid an edge. In 24 previous Ashes innings he had been caught behind the wicket 12 times. Another such dismissal awaited, but McGrath was not the bowler and by then the horse had bolted.

McGrath is an intelligent cricketer and it did not take him long to grasp his opponent's strategy. Finding the ball passing harmlessly through, he changed his line a fraction, concentrated on forcing a stroke by pitching on middle stump. Trescothick risked playing the ball off his pads. Next, the bowler pushed back his short leg to stem the flow.

The battle of wills continued as McGrath pushed up his length and drew the Englishman into a drive, a shot he plays with a stiff front leg. McGrath raised his arms as the edge hurried towards his gloveman but the ball was grassed.

McGrath returned to his mark. Trescothick cursed himself and took guard.

Battle resumed after lunch and Trescothick continued to take the spoils, scoring with superbly timed drives. McGrath unleashed his cutter at Vaughan but he had also reviewed his game and stepped out to meet the ball. Vaughan enjoyed a couple of lives and then started to counterattack, a tactic so effective that the paceman was withdrawn.

Trescothick eventually fell to another great bowler. By then his work had been done. McGrath had been thwarted, the new ball had been softened and the middle order had been protected. It had been an important and convincing innings. He had won a crucial contest. Encouraged, his successors did not falter. England have the match at their mercy.