By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at Lord's
Fans had been waiting for this day for 18 months, since England left Australia with their tails between their legs at the end of another 4-1 Ashes series thrashing.
McGrath emerged as Australia's superhero at Lord's
The build-up has been at fever pitch for weeks. How could the opening possibly live up to it?
It managed to.
In the last two meetings with their traditional arch-rivals, Australia have seized the initiative on the first day and held it tight until they have won the series.
They ran into an England fielding side that has learned from the past, is full of confidence from recent successes and was in no mood to be bullied.
The tables turned dramatically as Glenn McGrath, tormentor of England for the last 12 years, ran through their top order to leave the hosts 21-5.
And the tension crackled throughout the final hour until a steely partnership between Geraint Jones and Kevin Pietersen was undone on 58.
Ashley Giles took two boundaries in an over from a fiery Brett Lee, either side of being caught off a no ball.
But the finale was still to come, the tail-ender stepping back on his wicket to the final delivery of the day to leave England 92-7.
Australia were bowled out for 190 in an innings full of incident - cut, thrust, blood and thunder.
The hero, with the best return against Australia at Lord's since 1977, was Steve Harmison, a man who began the last Ashes tour in 2002 by bowling seven consecutive wides.
Before the first slice of poached salmon had been prised from its bed of lettuce in the luxury boxes, there was blood on the pitch below
In a calculated attempt to shake up Aussie openers Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, England used Harmison rather than Matthew Hoggard in the first over.
Nine runs came from it, but in the process Langer took a painful blow to the elbow and Hayden was lucky to survive a play-and-miss and a glove behind.
Before the first slice of poached salmon had been prised from its bed of lettuce in the luxury boxes, there was blood on the pitch below.
Significantly it was that of Ricky Ponting - captain of a side that has made a habit of targeting the opposing skipper - hit on the grille by Harmison and forced to have stitches in his cheek.
Ten balls later he edged Harmison nervously to third slip. Langer and Martyn followed in quick succession and Australia's vaunted top order was in tatters.
The last ball before the break saw seven fielders in the slip cordon behind Adam Gilchrist, a strategy reminiscent of Aussie tactics of the past and one that oozed confidence.
Nowhere was the improvement in England's bowling fortunes starker than when Simon Jones had Martyn caught behind.
Pietersen dropped two catches but made up for it with the bat
The most memorable image of the first Test of 2002/03 is of Jones in agony after tearing cruciate ligaments in his knee.
Now the likeable Welshman was leaping in the air in joy, swinging his arms like a windmill.
Lord's as always took time to warm up but after Harmison's 14-ball spree of four wickets for seven runs it was buzzing with excitement.
The bell that summoned the players from the pavilion after tea could have been at ringside in a heavyweight bout.
And McGrath came out punching, landing his history-making 500th Test knockout with the first delivery after tea.
Helpful overhead conditions brought swing, and both Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff were undone by deliveries that kept low off the pitch.
But such was McGrath's accuracy that just two runs - by top-order batsmen compared to Harmison's tail-end victims - came from the 31 balls it took him to take five wickets.
Then came Pietersen, a controversial inclusion whose attacking tendencies appeared completely contrary to what was needed here.
He had promised an approach in Test cricket different to the unorthodox method he uses in one-day games.
In place of that walk across the wicket was a patient approach that saw him regularly leaving outside the off stump and face 52 balls before he picked up a boundary on his favoured leg side.
Instant hero status awaits if he can carry the battle into the second day.
And, if the rest of the Test series continues as it has started, it will be remembered as one of the best ever.