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A McGrath masterclass at Lord’s – Almanack

by Hugh Chevallier 5 minute read

For the 2002 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Hugh Chevallier reported on Australia’s eight-wicket win over England at Lord’s in the second Test of the 2001 Ashes.

Australia ended England’s run of three Lord’s victories with a display of all-round brilliance that approached perfection. For the home side, events had a depressing familiarity. As in the First Test, the batting, notably the middle order, fractured quite literally – under pressure. At Edgbaston, Hussain broke a finger: at Lord’s, Thorpe a bone in his right hand. Once again, only the weather dragged play into a fourth day. And so. for the fifth time in seven Ashes series, England found themselves 2-0 down after two Tests. In theory, they could still reclaim the Ashes, though, with the gulf between the teams yawning wide, no one paid heed to theory. Quite simply, Australia looked insuperable. To begin to compete, England needed more runs and, as importantly, quality support for Gough and Caddick.

Beforehand. though, England’s quest was for a locum captain to replace the brittle-boned Hussain: Stewart declined the post after leading them to seven straight international defeats, while Butcher, dropped after his only foray into Test captaincy in 1999, ruled himself out. Gough optimistically volunteered his services, but Atherton, for a record 53rd time, was preferred. Despite Hussain’s injury, England’s selection worries had eased slightly. Fit again were Surrey colleagues Ramprakash and Thorpe, the one home batsman averaging 40 or more in Tests (Australia boasted seven). It meant the entire middle order, from Nos 3 to 7, came from one county, an unprecedented event. Selected more for his Lord’s record than current form, Cork ousted left-arm spinner Giles.

It was all much easier for Steve Waugh, who named an unchanged team and won Australia’s 13th toss in 14 Ashes contests, England’s ninth consecutive reversal since winning at Lahore the previous November. Cricket began 90 minutes late because of rain, whose return, abetted by intermittent bad light and an unreschedulable visit from the Queen, played merry hell with the timetable for the rest of the day, preventing batsman or bowler from finding rhythm. Given the conditions, England did well to pick their way to 121 for three. Atherton had contributed a phlegmatic 37, Butcher a steady 21, and Thorpe and Ramprakash were constructing a useful stand. But before the weather closed in for the last time, Lee, disappointing hitherto, castled Ramprakash with a majestic ball that swung away then seamed up the slope between bat and pad. It gave Australia an initiative they never relinquished.

Under Friday’s brighter skies, England withered in the face of a devastating McGrath onslaught. Immediately finding an exacting length. he took three for one in 20 pitch-perfect deliveries, starting with Stewart and ending with White, both for nought. Stewart’s was his first Lord’s duck in 29 Test innings, White’s his fifth in eight international innings. The prize catch, though, came sandwiched between the two, Thorpe wafting his bat at one better ignored. Ward grittily hung on till the end which, despite an unconvincing hooked six by Cork, came – unlike Edgbaston – with a whimper.

A take-no-hostages opening salvo from Gough and Caddick briefly fostered hopes that 187 was not, after all, quite so feeble. But a diet of deliveries pitching on middle or leg – especially from Cork and White – fed Mark Waugh’s insatiable appetite for on-side runs. In the most eloquent style, he revived Australia from a troubled 27 for two. Even so, had Gough held a sharp return catch from Steve Waugh, on 14. they would have been 136 for four. Instead, the Waughs powered on, adding 107 for the fourth wicket. Mark eventually went for a cultured 108, run out by a direct hit from Gough at mid-on. By the close, Edgbaston centurions Martyn and Gilchrist had given Australia a lead of 68.

Desperate for an early breakthrough, England’s prayers seemed answered next morning when Gilchrist, 13, edged Gough’s first ball straight to second slip where it bounced out of Butcher’s hands, leaving him a distraught, crumpled heap. It set an ugly trend. Atherton spilled the simplest of Gilchrist’s four reprieves – all off Gough – allowing him to make a typically aggressive 90 before he swished at a short ball, by now the sole weapon in the English armoury. Australia, dismissed for 401, their first-innings score at Headingley precisely 20 years earlier, were 214 ahead.

With few signs of deterioration in the pitch, there were runs to be had, provided batsmen kept their heads. The Australians, however, were masters in exploiting the merest weaknesses. Every lapse cost an England wicket. Gillespie had Trescothick caught behind for the second time, Warne bowled Atherton (who had just crawled to tenth in the list of Test runscorers, one ahead of Colin Cowdrey’s 7,624) round his legs, and Lee, having already broken Thorpe’s right hand, had him lbw to leave England 50 for three at tea.

Butcher, combining patience and courage with good fortune, led an overdue fightback with Ramprakash, whose 40 was his best score in 13 unhappy Test innings at Lord’s, the ground he had left for The Oval earlier in the year. Together, they added 96 for the fourth wicket. Incorrigible optimists thought back to the derring-do of Botham and Willis, but these Australians were never going to buckle like their predecessors of 1981. On the fourth morning, McGrath, summoning an array of devastating deliveries with apparent ease, snuffed out the daydream with three for four in 11 balls. The coup de grâce came when Mark Waugh held a record 158th catch to dismiss Gough. Many of the other 157 had been more difficult, but it was just the kind of chance England had grassed the previous morning. Australia made a pig’s ear of reaching 14, but their overall performance was phenomenal.

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