Australia's missing metronome

McGrathed and Warned at Lord's, England fought back magnificently at Edgbaston this morning, dominating Australia at every opportunity. Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss, in a partnership of 112, took advantage of an Australian attack that leaked runs from both ends. Although there is plenty of time for Warne to make an impact in this match, McGrath will make none - and Australia have missed him.
McGrath injured his ankle this morning playing touch rugby, one of the new fangled methods of preparing for a Test match day. He hasn't missed many games for Australia - in fact, from the moment he established himself in the 1994-95 Ashes series, he missed just nine matches in nine years. For someone in the art of bowling fast for his country for days on end, that is extraordinary. But on the occasions he has been missing, Australia have looked half as threatening.

His dominance over England, spanning a decade, can not be underestimated. The 35-year-old has taken 126 wickets against England alone, at an average of under 20. Indeed, the effect he and Warne have had over England, in particular, in the past decade has had as much to do with their presence as their obvious abilities.

In the 1997-98 series against India, which Australia lost, McGrath missed all three games. In the first Test at Chennai, Nayan Mongia and Navjot Sidhu helped the Indians get off to a flying start, in an opening partnership of 122. In the following Test at Calcutta, Sidhu and VVS Laxman put on 191, which again was in India's first innings. The pitch, so said Wisden, was flat - but McGrath was sorely missed, regardless. With his height, he is able to extract bounce on docile pitches - like today's at Edgbaston - and his metronomic lines frustrate opposition batsmen, rather than producing unplayable deliveries a la Waqar Younis.

Against England, in the 2002-03 Ashes, they lost the final Test - albeit a dead rubber - when McGrath (and Warne) was absent. Perhaps the pressure was off both teams with the flame of the series extinguished, but that didn't stop Brett Lee and Andy Bichel conceding 183 between them at over three-and-a-half runs per over.

Despite taking Strauss's wicket ten minutes before lunch, England managed to score 132 in a session; talk about fighting fire with fire. As much as sportsmen respect their opponents these days, sycophantically at times, few English batsmen will lament the loss of McGrath. And, with Ricky Ponting bizarrely opting to bowl first on a flat pitch, Australia will be praying to the Gods that he returns for the third Test.