Five-star McGrath stuns England
The big question ahead of this match was: "Would it, could it, live up to the hype?" The big answer, after a first day at Lord's that reeked of blood, sweat and gunpowder, was an emphatic "yes". In 40 high-octane overs before tea, England blew away the mighty Australian batting line-up for a paltry 190; in 31 metronomic deliveries afterwards, Glenn McGrath strangled five of England's finest to canter past 500 wickets in Tests, before Brett Lee, in a scorching, searching old-ball spell, ripped out two more in his final two overs, including Ashley Giles with the very last ball of the day.
Lee's bodyblows meant that the day ended as it began, with a pumped-up pace bowler straining every sinew to give his team the advantage. But, for all that Lee and, earlier, Steve Harmison found venomous lift on a capricious surface and left cuts and bruises like calling cards, it was McGrath's stunning return of five wickets for two runs in 6.1 overs that turned this match completely and utterly on its head. Not for the first time, McGrath demonstrated that the scalpel is mightier than the sword, as he rubbished all notions that Australia's attack is past its prime.
For two sessions, however, Australia had genuinely been on the run, as England threw themselves headlong into the challenge, just as they had done in that Twenty20 triumph at the Rose Bowl all those weeks ago. Harmison led the line magnificently with 5 for 43, including the big scalp of Ricky Ponting, and by tea, England's reply was already six overs old, as Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss emerged unscathed from a preliminary examination. But all McGrath needed was one delivery upon the resumption to cause a relaxed England dressing-room to start clattering for their thigh-guards.
It is not for nothing that McGrath has been Man of the Match on his previous two visits to Lord's, in 1997 and 2001. Once again, he zipped the ball down the slope with matchless control, and with the first ball of the final session he turned Trescothick inside-out with a perfect offcutter that Justin Langer pouched at third slip. Four balls later, Strauss fell in copy-cat fashion, only this time to first slip, before Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and Andrew Flintoff were all bowled for a combined total of nine runs.
England had sunk to the depths of 21 for 5 - worse even than their 26 for 5 at Perth ten years ago, the scene of McGrath's first great Ashes rampage. It was breathless stuff, but England, through the efforts of Kevin Pietersen and Geraint Jones, showed enough fight to suggest there will be plenty more twists and turns before this series - this match, even - is out. Their 58-run stand was the highest of the day, and included 30 runs from eight lacklustre overs in a measured counterattack against Jason Gillespie, who showed little sign of regaining his rhythm even with all the odds in his favour. The chinks in Australia's bowling armoury were there, but McGrath ensured there would be no easy way of accessing them.
Harmison certainly had no such problems accessing Australia's batting armoury - he simply blasted straight through the middle. Entrusted with the opening over of the innings for the first time in his career, he responded by clattering Justin Langer a fearful blow on the elbow with his second delivery. After 23 overs in a frenetic morning session, Australia had been reduced to 97 for 5, a period of play that had distinct parallels with another famous Ashes opening burst - at Edgbaston in 1997. Then, as now, Australia won the toss and chose to bat first under overcast skies, and then, as now, they were caught on the hop by an inspired pace onslaught.
Though unsettled after his injury, Langer was the only batsman to find an answer to England's approach, as he scythed his way into the forties with a series of punishing cuts and drives, particularly against Hoggard, who took a while to settle. Yet it was Hoggard who curved a perfect inswinger through Matthew Hayden's gate to trigger the collapse; Harmison had a dazed Ponting caught at third slip soon moments after leaving a duelling scar on his cheek with a venomous bouncer, while Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones each struck in their first overs of the series, Jones removing Damien Martyn with his very first ball.
Michael Clarke was rather unluckily adjudged lbw to give Jones his second wicket, but even so, England knew from bitter experience that their work was far from done, not while Adam Gilchrist remained in the middle. As usual, Gilchrist chose to live dangerously, with two chancy boundaries before lunch and three fours in six balls off Flintoff immediately afterwards. But his aggression proved to be his downfall as well, as Flintoff cramped him for room from around the wicket and Jones gathered a flailed edge with glee.
Simon Katich had watched the innings unravel with insouciance, first from the dressing-room and later from the middle, and as Shane Warne launched into a counter-attacking slog, Katich settled in to play the most responsible knock of the innings. The pair added 49 in eight overs to rescue Australia from complete ignominy, but Warne was never at ease against Harmison and was eventually bowled round his legs while expecting another throat ball. That sparked a spell for four wickets in 14 balls for Harmison as the tail was routed, and a packed Lord's crowd was ecstatic.
But as England have so often found to their cost , McGrath was not about to be upstaged. Inch by inch, he clawed back the lost ground for Australia until their first-innings total had been turned into a minor triumph. Australia's other old stager, Warne, who teased Pietersen for two overs at the end of the day while Lee rampaged at the other end, remains up Ponting's sleeve, as England discovered once again, that even their very best is not enough when Australia's finest is on song.
Matthew Hayden b Hoggard 12 (35 for 1)
Curled inswinger through the gate, hit off stump
Ricky Ponting c Strauss b Harmison 9 (55 for 2)
Fenced lifter to third slip
Justin Langer c Harmison b Flintoff 40 (66 for 3)
Went for the pull, steepling top-edge to square leg
Damien Martyn c G Jones b S Jones 2 (66 for 4)
Grazed a fast outswinger to the keeper
Michael Clarke lbw b Hoggard 11 (87 for 5)
Trapped on the crease, might have missed leg
Adam Gilchrist c G Jones b Flintoff 26 (126 for 6)
Over-ambitious drive, edged to keeper
Shane Warne b Harmison 28 (175 for 7)
Stepped across expecting a bouncer, lost leg stump
Simon Katich c G Jones b Harmison 27 (178 for 8)
Mistimed pull, swirling chance to keeper, running back
Brett Lee c G Jones b Harmison 3 (178 for 9)
Inside-edge to keeper, one ball after being dropped at slip
Jason Gillespie lbw b Harmison 1 (190 for 10)
Stepped across full ball, plumb
Marcus Trescothick c Langer b McGrath 4 (10 for 1)
Immaculate line, squared up, squirted to third slip
Andrew Strauss c Warne b McGrath 2 (11 for 2)
Replica delivery, this timed edged to first slip
Michael Vaughan b McGrath 3 (18 for 3)
Beaten all-ends-up by one that kept a fraction low
Ian Bell b McGrath 6 (19 for 4)
Late on defensive stroke, inside-edge onto leg stump
Andrew Flintoff b McGrath 0 (21 for 5)
Played back, lost off stump
Geraint Jones c Gilchrist b Lee 30 (79 for 6)
Spliced evasive shot, rushed for pace, chipped catch to keeper
Ashley Giles c Gilchrist b Lee 11 (92 for 7)
Pushed back into the crease by sheer pace, trod on leg stump
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo