At Lord's, July 21, 22, 23, 24. Australia won by 239 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debut: K. P. Pietersen.
The longest period of ambitious anticipation in living memory as far as England's Ashes hopes were concerned came to a juddering halt in the opening encounter. Australia's bowling champions, McGrath and Warne, proved as effective as ever in exploiting both the conditions and batsmen's nerves. Further swaying the outcome was England's failure to hold catches. Seven were grassed, one with dire consequences.
The upshot was that Australia's 71-year unbeaten sequence in Lord's Tests would be extended to at least three-quarters of a century, 1934 to 2009. And, misleadingly, it was assumed that business as had been usual since 1989 was being maintained.
Would Australia's recurrent embarrassments in recent one-day matches now become irrelevant? Certainly not during the first three and a half hours. Before the first drinks break, Harmison, bowling from the Pavilion End, struck Langer painfully on the arm, dented Hayden's helmet grille as he tried to hook, and drew blood from Ponting's cheek when he too tried to punish a fiercely rising ball: three injury delays during which the Englishmen merely talked among themselves. By lunch, the jam-packed ground was buzzing after England's pace foursome had the visitors half out for 97 on a responsive pitch. Many an innings has been turned around by Gilchrist, but he edged behind after slicing and slamming six fours. At this stage, England's misses mattered little when their biggest threat, Harmison, returned to bowl Warne and blow away the last four in 14 balls.
At tea, England were ten without loss, and Australia's 190 looked paltry. But McGrath's first delivery after the break brought him his 500th wicket in 110 Tests, and by the close they were 92 for seven. In an unforgettable spell from the Pavilion End that swung the match, McGrath landed the ball exactly where he desired, and with sufficient zing to beat Trescothick and Strauss, both caught at slip, then Vaughan, Bell and Flintoff, all bowled: five for two in 31 balls.
From 21 for five, defiance came with a stand of 58 by Pietersen, making what looked like a nerveless debut, and Geraint Jones, who needed runs to offset criticism of his keeping. There were sad cheers when he square-cut a four, but further relief came when Gillespie replaced Lee, who had bowled with awesome speed and accuracy, conceding only ten in his first eight overs, after 17 Tests out of Australia's side. Driving and pulling, Pietersen and Jones remustered hope on a field now sunlit. But Lee returned and unseated first Jones and then Giles, who just escaped decapitation, gallantly ondrove for four, before treading on his leg stump giving a leg-side catch. (He was out caught, not hit wicket, under Law 32.2.)
Next morning, under another low, grey sky, England dragged themselves towards Australia's total. Pietersen was the force. His treatment of McGrath was soul-stirring: in three deliveries he cross-batted him to the pavilion railings, lofted a slower ball into the seats, and cover-drove the next for four. The great pre-match debate had been about whether 25-year-old Pietersen should displace 35-year-old Graham Thorpe; the selectors opted for youth, and now the doubters seemed routed. It was a performance that reminded some of the arrival of another super-confident South African-born England batsman, Tony Greig, more than 30 years before.
Pietersen cracked his Hampshire team-mate Warne for six into the Grand Stand, and almost did it again, but this time the sprinting Martyn dived to hold a breathtaking catch. A stand of 33 by last pair Harmison and Simon Jones, the second-highest of the innings, took them to within 35 of Australia, and left England, after all, close enough to nurse hopes of overcoming McGrath's amazing opening spell. The pitch still belonged to the bowlers. It would be a matter of holding every catch offered.
The sky was thick with cloud again when Australia went in, and the top three were gone with the lead only 135. Harmison was England's McGrath, bowling 12 overs for 20 runs and a few near misses, and Jones was the best of the support bowlers. It was Jones who bowled probably the decisive ball of the match, just before tea, with Australia 139 for three. Young Clarke pushed it to cover, where Pietersen, moving to his right, fluffed the catch - his third drop. Clarke stroked 70 further runs, and the outcome was assured. For England this was a dark reprise of Lord's 2001, when Gilchrist was spared four times reaching 90.
Clarke's was a handsome knock. After his spectacular introduction to Test cricket, he had sometimes struggled on English pitches, and this was no marble-top. With the under-praised Martyn, he set about gaining control, and did so with 91 off only 106 balls before frustration - by his own admission - got the better of him. A loose drive, an inside edge, and the glory of a century on Ashes debut was denied him.
Martyn departed next ball, and Gilchrist was bowled off an inside edge. But the lead was already past 300, and lengthening, as Katich batted on intelligently with the stubborn tail. England's frustration was evident. Wicketkeeper Jones missed a onehanded catch off Gillespie, then spilled McGrath, also missed by Flintoff at slip. England's hallucinatory target turned out to be 420. It was a mockery of all their legitimate pre-series hopes and forecasts.
They were half out by the close, three of the wickets to Warne, despite an encouraging start of 80 by Trescothick and Strauss. Although Pietersen continued to counter-attack, England were in ruins. Their only hope was really bad weather, and rain did delay play on the fourth day until 3.45. Australia needed just 61 balls. England went meekly, always excepting Pietersen, the first England batsman since Greig in 1972 to top-score in both innings on debut. He remained unbeaten when Simon Jones became McGrath's ninth match victim, edging to slip. For the fiirst time in 51 Tests, England had been bowled out twice for under 200. Ponting expressed gratitude that Lord's had been chosen as the opening venue. It remained easily their favourite ground in the world.
Man of the Match: G. D. McGrath.