By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at Trent Bridge
If England go on to win the Ashes for the first time in 18 years, the absence of Glenn McGrath from at least two Tests is bound to be cited as
Umpire Dar signals another no-ball by Australia
Without McGrath, a veteran of 111 Tests, with 513 wickets to his name, Australia at times looked weak and out of sorts in the bowling department on the opening day at Trent Bridge.
If any statistic were needed to prove it, they conceded 22 no-balls, a gift of runs they could scarcely afford.
Brett Lee over-stepped when he bowled Marcus Trescothick off the inside edge on 55 - the 17th of those no-balls.
But arguably the biggest blow came before the toss, when McGrath tried out a sore right elbow with some medium-paced bowling and decided it was too painful to enable him to play for five days.
Similarly, McGrath was ruled out in the minutes before the second Test, after injuring his ankle during warm-ups.
1st Test: Eng 11, 8; Aus 5,3
2nd Test: Eng 10,18; Aus 14, 9
3rd Test: Eng 15,20; Aus 15, 14
Australia had dominated England in the first match of the series, with McGrath rampant as he took his 500th career wicket on the way to match figures of 9-82.
Without him at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, and with the veteran clearly not fully recovered in the third Test at Old Trafford, they have struggled.
McGrath's absence, according to former Aussie pace-bowler Geoff Lawson,
"makes a huge difference".
"McGrath is always so consistent - he bowls very few bad balls and is hard to get away," Lawson told BBC Sport.
"Because he gives so few balls to hit, people start chasing balls that aren't quite there to hit."
Given Australia's age-old policy of selecting three fast bowlers and a spinner, the pressure grows on the rest of the attack.
The tourists' plight has not been helped by the poor form of Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz, which necessitated a debut for Shaun Tait in
"Without McGrath", says Lawson, "the leader of the attack becomes Brett Lee, who is not really used to being the number one bowler.
"He's not quite sure what to do when he has a senior role in the team, whether he should run in and bowl flat out or bowl a bit tighter."
Such was Lee's perceived inexperience that he had not played a Test in 15
months before his arrival in the UK, with Gillespie and Kasprowicz
Lawson puts his finger on the biggest reason for Australia's decade-long dominance when he says: "Between [Shane] Warne and McGrath you've almost got
Both can be relied upon to cut runs to such a trickle that they can wait as long as they need to for wickets.
McGrath and Gillespie were reduced to being spectators at Trent Bridge
With one of the linchpins not there, the runs have flowed and pressure lost.
But Lawson does not believe the answer lies in selecting another pace bowler, unless they can find an all-rounder to fill the number six slot as
Andrew Flintoff does for England.
"The four guys you pick, if they're Test-match-level bowlers should do the job," he argues.
"If someone's not bowling particularly well you've got to live with it, as they have with Gillespie so far."
The lack of McGrath is not the sole reason for the spate of no-balls, though.
The veteran himself overstepped when bowling Michael Vaughan for 45 at Old Trafford - the England skipper went on to make 166.
Kasprowicz had Trescothick caught on 32 at Edgbaston only to see the umpire's arm extended. The left-hander was the top-scorer in the innings
England had endured no such agonies, but actually conceded more no-balls in the first three Tests - 82 to Australia's 60.
Lawson, who admits he struggled early in his career with the same problem, says it is not easy to remedy.
"It's been a problem for both sides - maybe their coaches aren't spending
enough time on it," he adds.
"It's not easy to fix. Most people say 'just move your marker back a few
inches' but it doesn't work like that.
"The more you put you marker back, the longer your stride becomes and you still put you foot in the same place!"
For Australia, the no-ball total was an aggravation as England made a confident start by the Trent.
But McGrath's no-show was the cause of the most pain.