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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
McGrath void hard to fill
By Scott Heinrich
BBC Sport at Edgbaston

Glenn McGrath
McGrath passed 500 Test wickets with a devastating spell at Lord's

The second Ashes Test was one ball old when the gravity of Glenn McGrath's injury-enforced absence became apparent.

The first delivery is always bowled by McGrath, and almost always it lands right on the spot. This time the honour fell to Brett Lee, who sprayed the ball to first slip.

They say sport is a great leveller. The absence of McGrath from this Test and maybe the series could be the leveller this series needs.

The impact his freak ankle injury could have on the outcome of the Ashes cannot be overstated.

Of the 11 Australians selected to fight out the second Test, only the influence of Shane Warne comes close.

If Lee's first-ball wide was portentous, the afternoon thrashing of Australia's attack by Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen was a sobering reminder of McGrath's importance.

Australia fought back as great teams do, but great teams are made that way primarily because of great individuals.

Glenn McGrath
McGrath does the job of two bowlers, leads the attack and sets the agenda

In McGrath, Australia have lost one of the greatest.

They have managed before, most recently for a whole year in 2003/4 when they beat Zimbabwe at home, Sri Lanka away and drew with India in Australia.

The Aussies were also without Shane Warne in the latter series, a scenario too painful for most Australians to contemplate happening again.

McGrath, a farmer from Narromine, is a threat not only when the ball is in his hand.

When he grazes at third man, the knowledge the next over is his plays on a batsman's mind, and that opens doors for his colleagues.

The prey McGrath doesn't kill himself he softens up for his pack-mates.

He does the job of two bowlers, leads the attack and sets the agenda.

That is why he is the most influential player in the Australian team.

From the off, England's openers came out of their shells at Edgbaston, emboldened by the absence of the predator known as Pigeon.

Lee, with primary wicket-taking responsibilities resting on his shoulders, was cannon fodder for Marcus Trescothick early on.

And when fate frowns upon you, things can snowball from bad to worse.

Glenn McGrath
If England needed something to get back in the Ashes, they got it in the form of a game of touch rugby and a cricket ball that should have been somewhere else

Australia clung onto everything at Lord's, but the first chance of the day went begging when Warne dropped Andrew Strauss at first slip.

Trescothick was then handed a life when caught in the gully off a no-ball from Michael Kasprowicz, McGrath's replacement.

Bringing Warne on after only an hour's play would not have been in skipper Ricky Ponting's thoughts at breakfast.

But at breakfast McGrath was probably sitting opposite him, crunching on cornflakes and chewing over the day ahead.

Even the greatest leg-spinner of all-time can seem less threatening when McGrath isn't around.

Given his customary rough reception by the crowd, Warne was handed even rougher treatment in the middle until he spun one sharply to get rid of Strauss.

Australia are not a one-man band, and the pace attack's efforts to peg back Pietersen and Flintoff showed the cupboard is far from bare.

The visitors will be satisfied with the day's takings at Edgbaston after winning the toss, even if both England innings at Lord's yielded fewer runs.

But there is no replacing McGrath, and every over he remains out of action is too many as far as Australia are concerned.

If England needed something to get back in the Ashes, they got it in the form of a game of touch rugby and a cricket ball that should have been somewhere else.


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