A McGrath special marshalls Australia
In the few times New Zealand have challenged Australia this season, Hamish Marshall has been a mighty contributor. In Sydney it was a run-a-ball fifty, in Wellington a superb 76 and yesterday a Test hundred in his third Test. It came as no surprise that when Shane Warne claimed his wicket it triggered a stunning but not unpredictable Australian fight back inspired by Glenn McGrath.
If Ricky Ponting's strange decision to bowl first was a blessing in disguise for New Zealand, especially when Marshall and Nathan Astle had advanced the score to 330 for 3, it had thrown the home team a series lifeline. Even when Craig McMillan's outside-off-stump fishing expedition gave McGrath a pre-lunch entrée, an imposing first-innings tally was possible.
Three seasons ago at Perth, the then wicketkeeper Adam Parore joined Astle in similar circumstances and the pair added 253 as New Zealand amassed 534 for 9 declared, giving up just one wicket to McGrath. The current gloveman Brendon McCullum has enormous potential with the bat, perhaps more than Parore, but an irresistible McGrath performance dashed all hopes of a WACA replay.
Why McCullum emerged from the lunch break intent on taking the attack to McGrath and Shane Warne at all costs remained a mystery. McGrath returned pumped up, hitting McCullum twice in an over with identical short-pitched balls. If that was a sign he was at his crafty best then the over to Astle, which culminated in a nasty late inswinger and his lbw, was conclusive confirmation.
The three fours Astle took from McGrath's previous over were suddenly forgotten and the innings became a procession. It was not surprising that McCullum fell to the loosest of drives as the ball from McGrath set him up for the shot. The best was still to come.
McGrath immediately went round the wicket to James Franklin, the left-hander, for two balls and then produced enough movement to trap him in front when he reverted over the wicket. With one century and nine fifties in first-class cricket, Franklin is no mug. Iain O'Brien, the No. 10, was sucked into hooking at a bouncer and Chris Martin, who recently got his driver's licence, steered to Adam Gilchrist.
It was the seventh time McGrath had taken six wickets in an innings and the second occurrence this season. With two more Tests and an Ashes series to follow in the winter, McGrath's goal of 600 wickets is a genuine possibility. Not bad for a 35-year-old.