There is something rather hopeful about Ryan Harris's nickname, Rhino.
It is one of the great default sporting nicknames, usually bestowed on a team-mate with great physical strength and also a certain pachydermic invulnerability.
Harris is definitely halfway there: rolling in from the Pavilion End in horribly stifling afternoon heat he resembled at times two normal sized men crushed into one, a three-legged race coming in to bowl, all bounding brawny intent, and so malevolently piratical you half-expected to look down and notice he was bowling with a hunting knife on his belt.
Harris troubled every England batsman with his combination of new-ball away swing and skiddy hostility. Half an hour after lunch, as his bouncer did for an unusually expansive Jonathan Trott – who on this form must surely be asked to reign in his rakish stroke-making for the good of the team – he had figures of 9.5-3-25-3 and England were in trouble at 127 for four.
In the event it was an early advantage pressed home as the shadows lengthened by the unlikely figure of Steve Smith, widely maligned purveyor of occasional leg breaks with a bowling average of 57, but who here terrorised England's late middle order, taking three for 16 in five overs. Smith has taken seven Test wickets, six of them at Lord's, three of them – Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior – in the space of a most unexpected half hour that nudged this first day decisively Australia's way.
For Harris, the ageing jewel in this Australia pace attack, the first day was another moment of personal triumph in an intermittently late-blooming career. In reality he is no more than a demi-Rhino, a maddeningly intermittent full-bodied competitor who seems to have the rare gift of emerging from the latest niggle, fracture, flesh wound and total physical collapse right back in his wonderfully menacing groove.
Harris took his 50th Test wicket (at an average of just over 23) when he had Trott caught by Usman Khawaja after lunch, and if he lacked a little wicket-taking support at times it was Australia's other injury-wracked refrigerator-scale colossus who made the first breakthrough of the day.
The opening overs at Lord's had brought with them the intriguing sight of Michael Clarke and Shane Watson standing next to each other in public, although Clarke, several feet forward of Watson at second slip tended to address his small talk to Phillip Hughes on his left hand side, leaving Watson to loom silently just out of neck-wringing range.
Throwing the new ball to Watson after just four overs was either an act of trust or a stroke of minor sadism given that Watson approaches the long march back to his bowling mark with all the light-footed joie de vivre of a man heading outside into the blizzard with his rum ration and a loaded revolver. In the event it was Clarke's first captaincy masterstroke of the day: Watson had taken five for 35 at Lord's against Pakistan last year, and here he dismissed Alastair Cook lbw with his second ball, Cook's own refusal to review a good, but marginal, decision so stirringly selfless it was almost worth getting out for.
At the other end Harris harried Joe Root with his late away swing, before nipping one down the slope to catch him lbw, before having Kevin Pietersen caught behind fourth ball. Not bad going for a 34-year-old whose career blossomed at Queensland after 10 years in and out at South Australia - and who briefly toyed with discovering his inner Englishman on a Kolpak contract at Sussex - and who must at times view each successfully completed bowling spell as no more than an interlude in the ongoing maintenance of that hulking but fragile physique (foot, knee, hamstring, both arms falling off: take your pick).
Here he was again Australia's best pace bowler as Clarke turned, in the afternoon session, to the fraternal persistence of Harris and Peter Siddle, who bowling in tandem have about them the look of a pair of energetically capable landscape gardeners, brawny arms dangling purposefully, walking back to bowl as though striding off to clear an infestation of brambles from the back lawn.
After tea, Harris set about roughing up Bairstow with a few skiddy chest-high bouncers. A fallibility against Kemar Roach's vicious high-speed throat ball has been unfairly interpreted as a weakness against short bowing generally.
Here though it was Smith – also a renowned purveyor of short stuff – that did for Bairstow, who shovelled a full toss straight back to the bowler. A slightly streaky innings of 67 was still a further step towards nailing down the No6 position after two years of promiscuity in the late middle order.
England will rue their flakiness in the final session but this was an encouraging day for these Australia all-sorts: callow, injury-prone but brilliantly well-captained and possessing in Harris a fast-bowling rhino of great heart and skill, who will return morning with every hope of sweeping away the tail with the second new ball.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Graham Dean