BRISBANE: Glenn McGrath is not just a great bowler; he makes an impression on cricketers of every era. Early in his career he bowled out England at Lord's watched by Ted Dexter, England captain and later chairman of the selectors. "I love this guy," he told me. "He trots in, bowls a ball precisely on the spot, watches it cut away, turns on his heel, walks back to the end of his run and does it all over again. No fuss, no bother. Behind every movement you can see a man with a plan. I'm glad I did not to face him."
Today we saw exactly what Dexter meant all those years ago. McGrath was at his supreme best, pitching the ball as exactly as a darts master, keeping the runs tight in a way that Alec Bedser and Angus Fraser would have enjoyed, and probing and pushing until six batsmen had fallen to his 80 miles an hour precision.
Three for Clark
His 23.3 overs cost just 50 runs and allowed his apprentice Stuart Clark to mop up three victims for 21. One day Clark may take over from McGrath but, however he might improve, he will not equal the greatest medium pacer of all.
McGrath had already taken the wickets of the two openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook overnight and it was a while before he found his way through an England batsman's defence. He needed some luck too for, as replays showed, Kevin Pietersen's pad was outside the line of off stump when he was given out; but Pietersen has already been dropped from a chance that should have been taken; and we all know his day will come.
In the next over Brett Lee had Andrew Flintoff, the captain, caught behind. Ian Bell was the only impressive batsman. I reminded you just before this Test that he is a battler and he showed all those qualities on Saturday: stern in defence, ready to attack when the opportunity came in the 50 overs he took to make 50 runs.
He and Geraint Jones put on 47 for the sixth wicket but Jones's innings will be remembered for the sweep shot that struck the umpire Billy Bowden on the back rather than his attempt to show the fans on the ground where he learnt his cricket and why he became an England player. For all the handful of rash shots from Ashley Giles, there was nothing to suggest that Bell's fellow batsmen will change the course of history in the next six weeks.
Ricky Ponting surprised many people by failing to enforce the follow-on but I suspect he was worried about the slight chance of having to make a small total on the fifth day when the pitch was breaking up. He also wanted to preserve his bowlers for the second Test which begins in hot and sticky Adelaide on December 1.
This Test is beyond England's ability to win or draw on days four and five and it has had a series of blows that must have shaken its confidence. I thought England would use the unexpected second innings to continue Harmison's improvement seen at the end of the first innings. Instead the new ball was handed to Matthew Hoggard and James Anderson and, as Australia extended its lead to 626, Harmison bowled ten overs for 45 runs without touching his best or looking fit to tie McGrath's bootlaces.
Australia 1st innings: 602 for nine decl.
England 1st innings: A. Strauss c Hussey b McGrath 12, A. Cook c Warne b McGrath 11, I. Bell c Ponting b Clark 50, P. Collingwood c Gilchrist b Clark 5, K. Pietersen lbw b McGrath 16, A. Flintoff c Gilchrist b Lee 0, G. Jones lbw b McGrath 19, A. Giles c Hayden b McGrath 24, M. Hoggard c Gilchrist b Clark 0, S. Harmison c Gilchrist b McGrath 0, J. Anderson (not out) 2; Extras: (b-2, lb-8, w-2, nb-6) 18. Total (in 61.1 overs) 157.
Fall of wickets: 1-28, 2-28, 3-42, 4-78, 5-79, 6-126, 7-149, 8-153, 9-154, 10-157.
Australia bowling: Lee 15-3-51-1, McGrath 23.1-8-50-6, Clark 14-5-21-3, Warne 9-0-25-0.
Australia 2nd innings: J. Langer (batting) 88, M. Hayden (run out) 37, R. Ponting (batting) 51; Extras: (lb-4, nb-1) 5. Total: (for one wkt. in 40 overs) 181.
Fall of wicket: 1-68.
England bowling: Hoggard 8-1-31-0, Anderson 9-1-54-0, Flintoff 5-2-11-0, Harmison 10-1-45-0, Giles 5-0-22-0, Pietersen 3-0-14-0.