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July 21, 2005
After a seesaw first day at Lord's, Steve Harmison reflected on England's fluctuating fortunes. The team received a rousing ovation from the MCC members when they went back through the Long Room at lunch, with Australia 97 for 5, and it was almost as if the Ashes were coming home already: "At lunchtime I thought we'd won, and I'd forgotten to pinch a stump."
Reality set in later, however. "I don't think the pitch is as bad as 17 wickets describes," said Harmison. "The team's pretty disappointed with the way the second half of the day went."
But he was delighted with the way his own bowling went. "My plans worked - from early on the ball bounced a bit, so the idea was to get the batsmen on the back foot, then drag them forward a bit."
Plan A worked perfectly for Ricky Ponting, possibly helped by a smack on the cheek not long before. "That was ideal - I pushed him onto the back foot then pitched one up and he nicked it to slip. I was more pleased getting him out than hitting him on the head, though."
England's master plan started to unravel when it came to their turn to bat. Glenn McGrath bowled superbly, helped by a bit of uneven bounce, and Harmison admitted ruefully: "If Vaughany and Fred had had eight-foot-wide bats I think they would still have got bowled. But McGrath's 500 wickets - that's a phenomenal achievement, He doesn't have to prove any points, 110 Tests and 500 wickets says it all."
McGrath himself was only faintly embarrassed by the 500-wicket ballyhoo, which included the 12th man sprinting out with a special pair of "500" boots. "Yes, my sponsor made them up, and I was going to change into them later. But Kasper [Michael Kasprowicz] and some of the boys ran them out to me. I'm not much of a show-pony, but today I thought I deserved it!"
McGrath could hardly have chosen a more appropriate stage than Lord's for his 500th victim. "I couldn't have scripted it any better," he admitted. "I thought about it for the first time at breakfast this morning, which is a bit surprising I suppose, and there were a few butterflies first thing."
The big moment was made even more special as his family were all at Lord's. "My wife Jane, James and Holly [children], and my mother and father are here. Everyone's here for me."
He was just as pleased with Australia's overall position: "In the end 190 was a good effort, as it's an ordinary pitch batting-wise. There was probably a bit too much inconsistency for the first day of a Test. But getting them 7 for 92 at the end of play, you couldn't ask for much better than that. Next innings hopefully our blokes will knuckle down and get a big score."
Like Harmison, McGrath stuck to a plan and found that it worked. "When we batted it was the guys that hit the deck hard - Harmison, Flintoff and Jones - that got a bit out of it. I found that I needed to bowl a slightly fuller length, and then the ball tended to come down the slope more than I've usually found here - all five wickets came like that really."
The on-field atmosphere was pleasant, too: "Yes, I even had a couple of friendly chats with the non-striker, when I wasn't bowling! I think the series will be like that - hard on the field, but pretty friendly off it."
Someone asked whether McGrath had seen all the pre-match hype about how the Australian fast bowlers were over the hill and ready for a pasting. He smiled. "Yeah, I had a bit of a laugh when I read it."
And overall there were more Aussies than Poms laughing after the first day.
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