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Australia have opened up a 278-run lead after a day of hard-fought Test cricket in the best traditions of the Ashes. England were dismissed for 325, with Glenn McGrath finishing with four for 87 and Jason Gillespie overcoming injury fears to ensure that Australia enjoyed a useful lead on first innings. Despite Andrew Caddick claiming two early wickets when Australia batted again, Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn consolidated to take Australia into day four in a commanding position.
When England resumed on 158 for one, it was the usually economical and precise McGrath who took the valuable wickets of Mark Butcher for 54 and Marcus Trescothick for 72 to prevent the tourists from making progress from their promising overnight position.
Trescothick looked dangerous and showed his class when he drove two consecutive deliveries past McGrath to the boundary. Yet McGrath, slightly out of rhythm and looking laboured, made the breakthrough when Butcher shaped to drive but edged to Hayden in the slips.
McGrath struck the next blow five balls later when Trescothick drove without conviction at a ball outside off stump and Ricky Ponting was waiting in the slips for the edge. After being tied down for a while by the pace duo, Trescothick played at a ball on the line which he had been happy to leave earlier in the morning.
McGrath's 100th and 101st Ashes wickets came at precisely the right time for his team. He could have done with another, however, as Nasser Hussain and John Crawley settled in to revive English hopes with a partnership that added 97 for the fourth wicket and appeared to be taking their side towards comfort.
After lunch, however, Steve Waugh took the new ball with immediate success. Gillespie, this time was the destroyer. During this period the 27-year-old was electric. Passing a fitness test on his calf before play, he continually stretched the muscle during and after his spells.
The injury did not seem to hinder Gillespie in any way as he continued to pose more of a threat than McGrath. After Hussain hoisted Gillespie for six to bring up his fifty, the bowler seemed to crank up the pace and accounted for Hussain with a beauty. He squared up Hussain with a ball at which he had to play and wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist did the rest.
With the cracks in the pitch beginning to open up, Gillespie struck again in his next over as Alec Stewart played an indecisive inside edge onto the stumps to be bowled without scoring and England had slumped to 270 for five.
Now it was the turn of McGrath. Craig White had made 12 misjudged the bounce to lose his off bail without offering a shot to a ball that he thought would go over the stumps.
The only recognised batsman left, John Crawley played patiently and responsibly as he pushed for ones and twos, then waited and punished the bad balls. His fifth fifty against Australia and the fourth in the England innings took all of three hours and 120 balls, but he was doing a fine job for his side.
Crawley, however, could only watch as Andy Bichel stepped up to account for Ashley Giles for 13 - caught behind playing some way from his body - and Caddick in quick succession. With the injured Simon Jones unable to bat, Crawley was left on 69 not out.
Australia started their innings in blazing fashion, as they tend to do. Justin Langer had hit four boundaries in his 22 from 25 balls when he edged Caddick to Stewart, while the same bowler produced an absolute snorter to account for Ponting. It flew from a length to take the shoulder of the bat on its way to Trescothick at first slip. Ponting took a long look at the pitch as he departed.
Hayden was joined by Martyn to see the home side through to stumps, playing with controlled aggression to both finish with 40 not out.
In the last 12 matches played at the Gabba, only three have ended in a draw. Rain has been the deciding factor in those three but, in the middle of a local drought, that consideration is not likely to come into play on this occasion. The Australians will be happier with that knowledge than England at this stage of the match.