In the Sydney grades during the 1980s, there was a saying that if one Waugh twin did not flog your bowlers, the other would. Updated once already this series, at Edgbaston, when Steve Waugh scored his gritty ton, its sagacity was again underlined yesterday after Mark Waugh stroked England's bowlers all over Lord's to record his 19th Test century.
It was not just a confection, either, despite being ended by a silly run-out with his brother, Steve; a common mode of dismissal when the pair bat together. In fact, it was a vital innings for his side, his Mr Cool for once outshining his brother's Iceman at the other end.
Indeed, when the brothers came together, the teams were at parity, Australia's 105 for 3 just marginally better than the 95 for 3 England found themselves on during the first day. Yet, confronted with an opportunity, England let themselves down, bowling too often to the pair's strengths and missing three half-chances to break the fraternal stand.
It is with the Waughs, though, that the really tough part of Australia's hide starts and England had already seen their first innings score overhauled before they got their first one back into the hutch. That they got number two soon after, with Dominic Cork's bouncer brushing the Aussie captain's gloves, brought a joy not seen since the first of the summer's Tests against Pakistan.
If the strike had brought the full house belatedly to life, most surely savoured Mark Waugh's century. Having scored 99 here in 1993, the player looked relieved to have gone one better this time. The benchmark also meant he joined brother Steve, who scored a hundred here in 1989, making it the first instance of two brothers scoring Test centuries at Lord's.
Mark Waugh's batting, unlike the brick wall methods of his brother, brings to mind such disparate activities as ballet and epée. A flick of the wrist, a quick sway and a flex of the knee, and the ball was on its way to the boundary. It was a process he repeated 14 times until Darren Gough's direct hit from mid-on, the first in the series for England, ended his stay.
Until Mark Waugh's arrival, England's bowlers had retorted well following the side's dismissal for 187. Bowling one across Matthew Hayden, Andy Caddick had the left-hander caught at second slip for a duck in his opening over.
Ricky Ponting was looking dangerous until Gough bowled him a brute of a ball that found the shoulder of his bat. Indeed, all bowlers operating from the Pavilion End found extra bounce, and when Caddick got his turn, he immediately removed Slater with a loosener that got up more than the batsman anticipated.
Generally, though, as they had done in the first Test, England's bowlers did not get the ball in the danger areas anywhere near as often as the Australia pace bowlers did – a fact borne out by the differing ease with which each side made its runs.
Perhaps there is too much emphasis on "doing something" with the ball. Trying to produce swing and cut require a technical accomplishment that, if not on song, brings error. All McGrath does is pound in and, until Cork wound him up with his vaudeville act, bang every ball seam down into an area of the pitch the size of a doormat.
Compared to the theory of swing, it is not rocket science, but that does not mean it is easy. If it was, more bowlers would be pushing for his No 1 spot in the world rankings. Of course there are skills at play, mainly those of concentration and co-ordination, as well as a secure sense of purpose that what he is doing is not futile. His height and high arm also give him an advantage in that the extra bounce he generates ensures that edges carry.
There is a brooding intensity, too, which helps bring reward, especially against batsmen still finding their bearings. As the second-highest run-scorer at the ground in Tests, Alec Stewart normally finds Lord's to his liking, but not yesterday. In the third over of the morning, he edged a lifter from McGrath before he had scored – only the third time in 29 innings here that he'd failed to get into double figures.
If the quick strike dented England's hopes of answering their coach's plea for a score of around 350, they evaporated when the home side's biggest hope, Graham Thorpe, followed in McGrath's next over.
Cramping the left-hander's style by coming around the wicket, McGrath tempted Thorpe with a short one that bounced and left him. With no room to play his favourite cut shot, Thorpe was reduced to nibbling at the bait – an act that brought instant joy from the Australians, who, despite his lack of cricket, still value his wicket.
Whether more batting would have helped Thorpe avoid such a lapse in concentration is debatable: McGrath's dripping accuracy frustrates the best. It also makes those with any doubt play shots in hope rather than expectation, which is what White did when he sliced his tentative drive to Hayden in the gully.
At this point, with England sinking fast on 131 for 7, Cork decided to get personal. For a brief moment, it worked, and after exchanging a few unpleasantries with the Derbyshire captain, McGrath suddenly began to exchange bouncers with him as well. After taking several about the person, Cork managed to top-edge one for six.
More pertinent than Cork's cameo of 24 – he eventually perished cutting a long-hop off Gillespie to cover – the interlude broke McGrath's focus, an achievement that showed Aussies are still capable of losing the plot.
It may not happen for long, but such windows of vulnerability are there. It is just that England have not yet discovered the means to exploit them.Reuse content