One session was all Australia needed to settle into their defence of the Ashes. When England were 106 for one with an over to lunch, pre-match fears for Hussain's reconstructed team looked overblown. Then Steve Waugh introduced Warne. Butcher pushed a pad at his second ball and gloved a catch to Ponting, diving forward from short cover. It was the beginning of the end. When, in the second innings, Gillespie broke Hussain's little finger with a startling delivery, England's whole campaign was threatened.
Butcher had been called up, along with debutant Usman Afzaal, when injuries ruled out Thorpe (calf), Vaughan (knee) and Thorpe's cover, Ramprakash (hamstring), from the original 14. White and Giles, having missed the Pakistan series, returned but were still feeling their way back to full match fitness. Australia omitted the out-of-form Langer, promoted Ponting to No. 3 and slotted Martyn in for his 12th Test in eight and a half years.
The opening day provided exhilarating cricket. The sun beat down on a full house and runs blazed off the bat: between them, the teams scored 427 at almost five an over, including 236 after tea. Century stands topped and tailed England's innings: Atherton and Butcher put on 104 after Trescothick had edged Gillespie's first ball to first slip, and Stewart and Caddick whacked a merry 103 for the tenth wicket. Caddick struck seven fours and a six in his 40-ball 49 not out, his best score in Tests and the second-best by an England No. 11 after John Snow's unbeaten 59 against West Indies in 1966. But in between it was an old story. After Atherton, rapped on the fingers by Gillespie, had edged his next ball to second slip, Hussain padded up to McGrath, who then had Ward playing on from a nothing defensive stroke. Warne, meanwhile, had been stock-bowling at the other end, but a trademark leg-break out of the rough - an off-break to the left-handed Afzaal - opened up the lower order. In seven overs either side of tea, four wickets fell for 21 as Warne claimed his 17th five-wicket return in Tests - his fifth against England.
Slater launched Australia's reply by crashing Gough's first two deliveries (one a no-ball)behind point for four, then taking another two fours in an opening over that cost 18. Hayden caught his mood and they had put on 98 in 15 overs when White, twisting to his left in mid-air, intercepted Hayden's mid-wicket flick off Giles. Gough, albeit overstepping, had Ponting lbw before the close, then bowled Slater with his first ball next morning. But if the game appeared nicely poised at 134 for three, Steve Waugh's 26th Test hundred, and some ill-judged England seam bowling in helpful conditions, tipped it Australia's way.
Waugh was unforgiving as he stamped his authority on England's ambitions, drilling fours through Hussain's attacking fields - 13 all told in 181 balls - and becoming the third, after Allan Border (11,174) and Sunil Gavaskar (10,122) to reach 9,000 Test runs. While he and twin Mark were adding 133, it seemed unimportant that Mark's form was sketchy. Giving Mark two lives mattered more to England psychologically, however, than it had meant to Australia when they missed two catches the previous morning. Australia simply rectified the fault; England's errors - up to half a dozen chances went begging - opened a confidence fault line.
Martyn, often sublime in partnerships with his captain and Gilchrist, confirmed Australia's depth and shut the door on England. Had bad light and rain not limited Friday's final session to two balls, and taken the equivalent of a session out of Saturday, the match might not have entered the fourth day. Yet England had openings. Gough trapped Steve Waugh first thing Saturday with a ball that kept low and, immediately after a two-hour stoppage either side of lunch, had Martyn, 65 at the time, dropped by Stewart as he dived in front of first slip. He and Gilchrist added another 109 after that. Martyn went to tea on 99; soon after he was caught at cover off Butcher as he tried to repeat the sumptuous cover drive with which he celebrated his maiden Test century. He faced 165 balls and hit 15 fours.
For a brief moment, Butcher's part-time swing bowling seemed unplayable. He capped Martyn's wicket with three more in five balls; four wickets for five runs. But it was an illusion. Gilchrist, 93 when joined by last man McGrath, reached his hundred in 118 balls by anticipating Caddick's bouncer, stooping and scooping it inventively over the wicket-keeper for four. Then he went into overdrive, upping his boundary tally to 20 fours and five sixes, including 22 runs off Butcher, which equalled the most expensive over in Ashes history. By the time Gilchrist was caught at long-on for 152 off 143 balls, the last wicket had added 63. McGrath's contribution was a single; when he had Atherton prodding to second slip, dismissing him for the 14th time in 26 innings, his day was complete.
England resumed on Sunday 234 runs behind. Again Butcher was solid, adding 95 with Trescothick until Lee undid him with a ball that reared from just short of a length. Gillespie found something more damaging for the hapless Hussain - trapping his left hand against the bat handle and forcing him to retire - then blew away England's middle order with fast bowling of frightening intensity. He should also have had Giles first ball after lunch. Mark Waugh uncharacteristically dropped the slip chance but quickly helped Warne account for Trescothick and Giles, moving to within one catch of Mark Taylor's Test-record 157. Warne, meanwhile, went ahead of Ian Botham to become the sixth-highest wicket-taker in Tests.
For England, Trescothick's defiant 76, containing 11 fours and one six apiece off McGrath and Lee, offered a solitary silver lining. For Australia, there was a lap of honour and the prospect of Monday at Wimbledon to support fellow-countryman Pat Rafter in the men's final.
Man of the Match: A. C. Gilchrist. Attendance: 78,225; receipts £1,778,631. Close of play: First day, Australia 133-2 (Slater 76*, M. E. Waugh 0*); Second day, Australia 332-4 (S. R. Waugh 101*, Martyn 34*); Third day, England 48-1 (Trescothick 21*, Butcher 15*).