A Sunday morning at the Oval. Bright sunshine and clear skies were on the menu as the World Cup favourites India and Australia faced off.
Steve Smith’s heroics at Edgbaston will no doubt go down as one of the greatest individual efforts by an Australian in an Ashes test. It reminded me of another scintillating solo performance – Glenn McGrath’s demolition of the English batsmen at Lord’s in 2005.
Before we dive into the single best spell of Test match bowling I’ve seen, let’s set the table with some context. Australia were in big trouble, having won the toss and elected to bat.
They stumbled to a paltry 190, with paceman Steve Harmison giving the Aussie batsmen all sorts of trouble. He’d taken a five wicket haul of his own and really put the onus on the Australian bowlers to try to restrict the damage.
Coming in McGrath sat on 499 Test match wickets, so there was great anticipation about whether he’d be able to grab it this innings – as well as who it would be. The tense wait carried through until tea, with England openers Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss seeing off McGrath and opening bowling partner Brett Lee.
England’s resistance lasted no more than the first ball back from tea however, with Trescothick attempting a leg glance only to cop a leading edge directly to the extra safe hands of Justin Langer in third slip.
Wicket number 500 was up and McGrath – never one to shy from attention – had 12th man Michael Kasprowicz bring out a special pair of boots with “500” emblazoned on them. It’s quintessential McGrath, who had the honour of holding the ball aloft while receiving thunderous applause from the touring Auusie contingent.
Wicket number two would arrive three balls later, as Andrew Strauss joined his opening partner back in the sheds. Tentatively pushing at a good length delivery just outside off stump, he snagged the outside edge sending it to Shane Warne standing gleefully at second slip.
12th man Kasprowicz provided one of the funniest moments of the entire series, running out McGrath’s original pair of boots, with “501” added in black marker. England at this point sat 2/12, and all of a sudden that tame 190 made by Australia looked a lot better than it did at the start of this over.
With England now resting on 2/18, McGrath delivered one of the best deliveries I’ve witnessed from a pace bowler in my time watching Test cricket. Captain Michael Vaughan had his off stump decimated by a beautiful in-swinger that kept low and direct. It really was an incredible delivery and arguably one of the highlights of this spell.
Ian Bell – back here still establishing himself as a Test cricketer – was next to go, catching the inside edge and sending the ball cannoning into leg stump. At this point England had slumped to 4/19 and were in all sorts of strife – no batsmen had made it past double figures and they had a certain Glenn McGrath running rampant.
Who better to complete your five wicket haul with than the eventual player of the series, Andrew Flintoff? The man they call ‘Freddy’ – who arguably swung the Ashes in his country’s favour – was dismissed in eerily similar fashion to his skipper, with his off stump being removed from the ground by a white hot McGrath.
A duck for Flintoff and the completion of a stunning spell by one of Australia’s greats.
Incredibly, it’s nearly been 15 years since that blistering spell on an overcast English afternoon – a sequence that swung an entire Test match and had McGrath not gone down with an ankle injury stepping on a stray cricket ball in the Edgbaston warm up, may have altered the course of the entire series.