England v Australia, 1st Test, Lord's July 21, 2005

England's crossed-armed intimidators

Glenn McGrath is struck on the fingers by Harmison - he would have the last laugh © Getty Images

Ricky Ponting is as self-assured as any Australian captain, but when his side batted today he was as dazed and confused as the night he was floored by a bouncer at Sydney's Bourbon and Beefsteak bar six years ago. Following the bruised-cheek-and-ego embarrassment, Ponting admitted he had an alcohol problem; after day one, Australia were forced to face up to a Harmison, Flintoff and Jones disorder. This one also appears to be serious.

Faced with a line of crossed-armed intimidators protecting turf England hadn't won on since 1934, Australia's top-order sluggers were rounded up and roughed up in a manner none has experienced since the 1990s versions of West Indies and South Africa. Despite a six-month lead-up the attack came as a surprise because the 2002-03 versions were weedy - and injured - imposters. From the muscle Ponting's men saw while falling in 40.2 overs they now understand the safety concerns.

Kicks arrived from all angles but the batsmen refused to curl into a ball. It is not in the world champions' nature to submit, but sometimes it's necessary to cop a beating. Instead they flashed back and soon wished they hadn't. By lunch, five of the batted-and-battered were recovering in an intense and nervous dressing-room while trying to avoid the smoke from Shane Warne's cigarettes. They were all gone by tea - and then it was England's turn for discomfort.

It was Glenn McGrath who circled in the final session, but Harmison's early-morning fire could have lit Warne's fags as he struck a trio of blows that will ring in Australia's ears for the rest of the series. The last time Justin Langer was seen to flinch was at The Oval in 2001 when Andy Caddick struck him a thunderous blow on the helmet; the previous shake came when Ian Bishop belted him on the back of the head during his Test debut in 1992-93. So when Harmison made Langer, a martial-arts black-belt, massage his elbow after the second ball, those close to the team rubbed their eyes. The threat was real.

Matthew Hayden's first Test included a fractured thumb at Johannesburg, but since he became a Test fixture bowlers have been the ones regularly broken. Not today. Harmison crashed a ball into his forehead and the shake of the helmet Hayden usually uses to clear sweat from his grille was done to see if it still worked.

With McGrath as their enforcer, Australia have made a successful habit of targeting rival captains. Nothing the game's fourth 500-man has done matched the brutal delivery Harmison saved for Ponting, however, which smashed through his grille and into his right cheek. Blood dripped from Ponting's face like a boxer clipped by a savage left hook. It could become the definitive shot of the series.

Checked out for damage, Ponting was cleared but a red reminder stayed on his shirt and trousers, giving him a streak of colour similar to his predecessor Steve Waugh's lucky-charm hankie. The response was un-Waugh-like. Rather than wiping himself down, gritting teeth, spitting gum and muttering his side to safety, Ponting pushed forward and away from his body to give Andrew Strauss an easy catch. A band-aid covered his cheek in the field and his batsmen will require more plaster than they expected to cover England.

Punches continued to rain and still Australia swung recklessly and blindly. England produced an intensity few outside their country expected and, most impressively, sustained it. Warne was struck on the fingers and then McGrath was hit on the hand and the helmet in one go. Was this what it was like in 1974-75 with Thomson and Lillee?

McGrath's career was only nine Tests old when he announced he would bounce the West Indies' fast men to show they were tired of being intimidated. Harmison and his enforcers didn't bother waiting for the tail and instead grabbed the collars at the head of the order. McGrath's bravery helped dethrone the world champions of 1995 with little warning. Ten years later it will be the courage of the bruised batsmen and England's follow-up combinations that should determine the series.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo