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Ashes: Ponting, McGrath demoralise England

Glenn McGrath took six wickets to give Australia a 445-run lead in the first Ashes Test.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2006 17:20 IST

Ricky Ponting aimed to inflict maximum psychological damage on England after Glenn McGrath took six wickets to give Australia a 445-run lead in the first Ashes Test. Ponting declined to enforce the follow-on Saturday after England was bundled out for 157 on day three in reply to Australia's 602-9, sending the Ashes holders back into the field for more heat and humiliation.

It was the biggest first-innings lead where the follow-on has not been enforced ever in Test cricket.

At stumps, Australia was 181-1 in its second innings with Justin Langer on 88 and Ponting 51 - an overall lead of 626 runs. Ponting, who scored 196 in the first innings, became only the third Australian batsman to surpass 9,000 career runs in his innings on Saturday during a chanceless 113-run stand with Langer. Matt Hayden was the only Australian wicket to fall, run out for 37 by James Anderson.

Ian Bell, who topped the England innings with a defiant 50, admitted the tourists needed bat "outstandingly well to get anywhere near saving this game."

"We've been through days like this before," he said. "It's a matter of staying together as a team."

He was surprised by Ponting's decision on the follow-on. "That wasn't really in our control what Australia do. If anything it gave our bowlers another opportunity to get some bowling," he said.

McGrath, who took 6-50 in his comeback test after 10 months out of the scene, said Ponting's decision was more about timing than anything.

"We were only 2 1-2 days through ... it's not about how quickly you can try to win a Test match," he said. "So just thought let the bowlers freshen up a little bit even though we were keen to go again.

"And the wicket itself ... the cracks are opening up more and more, so that'll be something that's definitely playing on their minds."

Australia won the first Test at Lord's last year before losing two of the next four matches to surrender the Ashes. Ponting has been smarting for 14 months since becoming the first Australian captain in almost two decades to lose the Ashes, and has been ruthless at the Gabba as he bids to regain the old urn. He posted his 32nd test hundred in the first innings and was tactically almost perfect in his field placements and bowling changes when England batted.

McGrath bowled the perfect length to find the cracks on the pitch that eluded the England attack, jagging off cutters back at the batsmen to pick up two of his wickets.

It was the 29th time he's taken five or more wickets in an innings and improved his career haul to 548 wickets from 120 Tests, almost 30 more than the nearest fast bowler.

The most-hyped Ashes series in decades has already attracted a cumulative ground record crowd at the Gabba, with the 117,322 patrons eclipsing the 93,143 crowd record set in 1933 during the infamous Bodyline series.

As well as giving the Australian bowlers a break with another test starting next week, Ponting's decision to bat again was aimed at letting champion leg spinner Shane Warne bowl last on a deteriorating pitch.

McGrath, 36, took time out while his wife was being treated for cancer this year. Critics questioned whether he'd be able to return as Australia's leading bowler.

He silenced his doubters, holding the ball up to the crowd after taking his fifth wicket. As he left the field at the change of innings on Saturday, he pretended to hobble like an old man in front of the TV cameras, just for effect.

"I just wanted to put a few smiles on faces," he said. "To get that five-for after having so much time out of the game, I couldn't ask for a better comeback in respect to Test cricket." He removed openers Andrew Strauss (12) and Alastair Cook (11) on consecutive balls late on Friday when England slumped to 53-3. McGrath returned on Saturday to have dangerman Kevin Pietersen (16) adjudged lbw not offering a shot to make the England total 78-4. He also had Geraint Jones (19) out lbw to break a 47-run partnership with Bell for the sixth wicket - England's best of the match.

Later, he removed Ashley Giles (24) and Steve Harmison (0) as England lost its last four wickets for eight runs. Clark returned 3-21 from 14 overs and Brett Lee had 1-51, including the key wicket of England skipper Andrew Flintoff, caught behind for a third-ball duck.

The series next moves to Adelaide for the second Test starting December 1, 2006.

First Published: Nov 25, 2006 16:37 IST