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McGrath return spells trouble for England

india Updated: Nov 26, 2006 03:43 IST

In case the critics missed his six-wicket haul, Glenn McGrath wasn't about to let the moment pass unnoticed.

The 36-year-old fast bowler clutched his hip and pretended to hobble off the field like an old man after dismantling England in the first Ashes test.

McGrath had a lot of doubters when he decided to come back from 10 months out of test cricket to be with his wife while she was treated for cancer.

McGrath had always been a key performer for Australia, but many thought he was too old to be able to return with any great impact from such a long sabbatical.

The British media mocked him, too, transposing his face onto an old illustration of the "Dad's Army" TV comedy about bumbling old home guards in England during World War II.

He took 6-50 in 23.1 overs, bowling a perfect length to hit cracks that were opening on the pitch. He also had one chance dropped at slip by his captain Ricky Ponting.

England was all out for 157 chasing Australia's first innings of 602-9 declared. Instead of risking fatigue for his bowlers, Ponting decided to bat again rather than enforce the follow-on. On Friday, McGrath said he was 95 percent happy with his comeback after taking the wickets of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook on consecutive balls.

With another four wickets on Saturday, he said he'd improved maybe another one percent and had a little way to go.

"With six wickets under your belt, you can't really complain," said McGrath, the leading fast bowler all time with 548 wickets. "I was happy."

To get that five-for, for me, having so much time out of the game, I couldn't have asked for a better comeback in respect of test cricket."

The 120-test veteran has played enough cricket to know the match and the series are far from foregone conclusions. In the last year's series, he took nine wickets in Australia's 239-run win at Lord's to open the contest but then injured his ankle in a training mishap 30 minutes before the second test. That turned the series, with England rallying for a 2-1 win to end Australia's eight-series domination.

"There's a long way to go in this series, we know that." Asked about his old-man stunt in front of TV cameras and the players' pavilion at the Gabba, he could have taken a swipe at the dozens of experts sitting in front of him who'd written him off before the series.

Instead, McGrath laughed and said he'd only wanted to "put smiles on a few faces."

"The boys were into me this morning, wondering how many 'olds' they could count in the headlines," he explained. "I enjoy this game for what I get out of it - I was just having a bit of fun." The England bowlers were having no fun, getting plundered by the Australian batsmen on the bouncy Gabba wicket after having the upper hand at home last year with their reverse swing.

Steve Harmison, who took 17 wickets in the last series and has become England's strike bowler, has 1-168 in 40 overs. He's been relinquished of his new-ball duties after bowling wides at the start of each innings.

McGrath said Harmison was in trouble.

"His confidence is probably shot to bits at the moment," McGrath said. "As a bowler you're sympathetic, but as an Australian you're not.

"It's a funny thing cricket - when your confidence is up everything is going your way but when your confidence is down it's hard to get out of it. It's a pretty big hill."

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