SPORT

Australia reinforces its grip

BRISBANE Nov. 9. The certainty of an Australian victory spread across the 'Gabba ground here as slowly as the tropical dusk on Saturday.

They led England by 278 runs, with eight-second innings wickets in hand and two days left in the first Ashes Test, and at this moment there is no reason to doubt their success.

Four years ago torrential rain prevented the Australians clinching a victory they had worked at for five days but this weekend the forecast speaks of climbing temperatures and typical Queensland spring weather.

The whole country, already threatened by bush fires around the major cities, is hoping for rain but it seems that neither England nor the local farmers will have their prayers answered. Australia 1, England no hope, seems to be the only conclusion to this match unless it continues on its extraordinary progress.

There is one hope. No pattern has been set so far in a game that has swayed backwards and forwards throughout the three days: Australia batting brilliantly on day one, England's bowlers clawing back the initiative on the second day and Australia restoring their grip on Saturday.

Theoretically therefore, Sunday should be England's but it is difficult to see how it will bowl Australia out cheaply enough to allow itself a little hope.

Saturday was undoubtedly Australia's and once again their hero was the unsmiling, direct and cunning Glenn McGrath. He has not missed one Test in 50, has now accumulated 407 wickets and yet still, aged 32, he is the finest of his type of hostile and aggressive fast medium bowler.

On the second evening he had already found his way through the guard of Michael Vaughan and he quickly added Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher to his tally in the same over so that England was reduced to 171 for three, facing 492.

That set scene for a monumental struggle for the rest of the innings. His performance came on the day that Jason Gillespie, his new ball partner, was clearly still suffering from the calf injury that almost kept him out of this Test.

England, whose injury problems has been capped by the dreadful injury to Simon Jones, sent for the Yorkshire quick bowler Chris Silverwood and so increased its party to 18. No such manoeuvres are necessary if McGrath is your star bowler. Like `ol' man river' he just keeps rolling along.

Nasser Hussain and John Crawley saw off McGrath and added 97, slowly but fairly surely, until the new ball came just after lunch. It was taken in the 80th over and by the 107th England was all out for only another 57 runs.

Gillespie made the first breakthrough by having Hussain caught — the over had begun with a six into the crowd — and bowling Alec Stewart, in the country that has never been a profitable one for him, for nought four balls later.

McGrath's precision accounted for Craig White and the Queensland boy Andrew Bichel removed Ashley Giles and Andrew Caddick before Shane Warne had Matthew Hoggard caught at slip. Of course there was no Jones to biff the ball robustly as he did on his debut against India at Lord's.

Caddick whipped out Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting for 39 but Matthew Hayden, heading for another hundred and Damien Martyn scored runs as they pleased on this still perfect pitch. Steve Waugh will bat as long as he needs, but certainly until mid-afternoon and then, presumably, hand the ball to Warne and tell him to do his worst.

Several black marks await his zooter, his googly and his slider not to mention his top spinner and his various leg breaks. Failing rain he ought not to keep us waiting too long on the final day .

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