No.3 on Wisden’s list of the Test spells of the 2000s is Glenn McGrath’s party-crashing five-wicket haul in the opening Test of the 2005 Ashes.
Glenn McGrath 5-53
England v Australia, 1st Test
July 21-24, 2005
A blow to the grille, a slice of the cheek. And then proof that Ricky Ponting – tougher-than-all-you-Poms-put-together Ricky Ponting – bleeds. The bowler doesn’t take sight of the red tainting the whites; he turns his back, walks to his mark, and prepares for the killer blow.
Steve Harmison began the 2005 Ashes series with hopeful rage, his performance symbolic of Michael Vaughan’s fearless England, a side intent on ending 16 years of pain. Ghastly to look at from the striker’s end, with his 6ft 4in frame and back-of-the-length torment, this was Harmison on one of his finest days. In the first hour, he struck Justin Langer’s arm and Matthew Hayden’s helmet. For the main course, he cut open Ponting and took his wicket before dessert was served with four wickets in 14 balls for closing figures of 5-43. But here’s the thing – Harmison wasn’t even the bowler of the day.
That honour fell to Glenn McGrath, 35 but still happy to walk the tightrope of the Lord’s slope, his home away from home. He’d lost a few miles on the speed gun by this stage, but the punters had already seen a young man run wild that day. Now they could see an all-timer at his wisest.
At tea, England were comfortable at 10-0 having bowled Australia out for 190. Too comfortable. With the first ball after the break, McGrath swept in for Test wicket No.500 as Marcus Trescothick edged to Langer in the cordon. Later in the same over Andrew Strauss greeted Shane Warne at first slip after prodding at a ball that went down the hill.
But the lead single of this late-career masterpiece is the Vaughan ball. Holding the treasured knowledge of which line would guide him to off stump, McGrath made the stump microphone come alive with an almighty thud, a lack of bounce leaving England’s captain with his laces tied together. The Australians shrieked in jubilation, stubbornly refusing to be part of the narrative Harmison and his co-conspirators had put forward at the start of the day.
Pity came to mind when a cherubic-looking Ian Bell offered his forward defence and was knocked over and before he was to become the man who could do no wrong, Andrew Flintoff faced similar treatment to that of Vaughan, the fuller length and lack of bounce masterfully deceptive. To the lefties, he searched for the edge. To the righties, he inflicted embarrassment by hitting timber. Never had parsimony looked so downright gorgeous.
McGrath’s numbers stood handsomely at 8.1-4-7-5, his name ready to grace the Lord’s honours board for the third time. He didn’t add any more to his growing collection in that innings; a debutant with a blonde streak running through his hair interrupted with some masterful boundary-hitting, his large strides forward to the pitch of the ball demonstrating a blend of bravado and substance that had been missing from his more experienced peers. More would be heard of Kevin Pietersen.
Nevertheless, McGrath’s mastery on that opening day remains unforgettable. Four more wickets followed in the fourth innings and, for all their joy at the start, England succumbed to a 239-run defeat. Big bad Australia never scared easy. When they did fail at Edgbaston, it was largely down to the absence of McGrath, who had trodden on a ball during the pre-match warm-up. Their struggles simply added to his greatness.