Natwest Final Report by Neil Robinson 04/07/2005
One of the most memorable one-day internationals in years finished off the Natwest series in style, and set the scene for an enthralling Ashes summer as England and Australia played out a tied match at Lordís.
Memorable is not a word often used about limited overs matches . So many fill the schedules these days that players and spectators alike seem to view them as another day at the office, while the format itself, now stale and predictable, is sufficiently vulnerable that the ICCís new regulations allowing tactical substitutions and flexible fielding restrictions are being rushed in for the three further internationals to be contested between these two sides before the Ashes begin.
The essential weakness of the shorter game is the fact that it is set up for the benefit of batsmen. Big shots and big runs are what the fans want, but in between the first 15 overs and the endgame thrash a slow, turgid stalemate is what they mostly get. But this time, a fast Lordís pitch and an overcast, humid day, produced conditions in which the bowlers thrived. Both teams lost wickets too early in their innings and were forced to rebuild cautiously, while never letting the run-rate seize up completely. The result was tension, nerve-shredding tension of the kind that only high quality cricket can provide.
Put in by England, Australia got off to a flying start as Hayden and Gilchrist fed off some over-pitched stuff from Simon Jones. The first five overs went for eight apiece until Hayden toe-ended Gough to mid-off. There followed some of the finest fast bowling seen from an English attack in years. Gilchrist, troubled again by Flintoff bowling round the wicket, skied a pull to midwicket, then Ponting tried to work Harmisonís first ball off his hip, but glanced it too fine and Geraint Jones took a fine diving catch.
That leg side loosener was probably the worst ball Harmison bowled all day. I have held a theory about him (which happens to be shared by Richie Benaud) that he is most effective when ambling up to the crease, arriving taller and better balanced. Now he blew that theory to bits by charging in like Curtly Ambrose at his angriest, finding a beautiful length and causing serious trouble to every batsman. Martyn got a feather to a searing outswinger (he had missed a similar delivery from Flintoff which grazed off-stump without dislodging the bails) and Geraint Jones took a simple catch.
The improved Simon Jones joined him in a superb combined spell of three consecutive maidens, the last ball of which earned Jones a reward as he seamed one back up the slope to trap Michael Clarke lbw. Symonds and Hussey put together another solid rebuilding partnership, but it was tough going as even Collingwood and Giles gave nothing away. When Symonds finally tried to break free, he aimed a big swipe through the covers off Collingwood, but hit it straight to Strauss. Hogg then got a vicious ball from Harmison which he could only glove over his shoulder. The innings subsided away, although the 17 that the irrepressible Hussey put on for the last wicket with Glenn McGrath was to prove vital in the end.
A target of 197 should have been well within Englandís grasp. It wasnít. There was a collective madness about Englandís top order batting, a manic determination to dominate the Australian bowling before the Ashes, whether the situation called for dominance or not. Almost immediately Trescothick was advancing down the wicket, aiming to slash McGrath through the off-side. Almost immediately he was out, nudging, rather than edging, to second slip with usual lack of foot-movement.
An equally firm-footed Strauss had his stumps rattled by a rapid Brett Lee inswinger. Michael Vaughan dragged on trying to pull a ball which was too full, then Kevin Pietersen, after one thumping cover drive, flirted outside off stump and gave a catch behind. The misery was complete when Flintoff went the same way as Pietersen, to slip this time. 33 for 5, and England were dead and buried.
Mad though the batting was, so good were McGrath and Lee that England might have been skittled anyway. But with every false stroke, every poor decision, the image of a defiant Graham Thorpe grew greater in the minds of England fans.
It was defiance of a similar sort, with occasional bursts of fine strokeplay, from Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones which dragged England slowly back into the game. If the batting of the top five was the spirit and confidence of this England side gone too far, this was that spirit allied to judgement, nous and a little bit of luck. The stand had reached 116 when Collingwood hit a full-toss to cover, set off for the single, turned back, slipped and was stranded well short. Jones, with Giles for support, fell lbw to Hogg in the next over, and at 161 for 7 with 5 overs left, Australia were in command again.
Simon Jones fell quickly, but Giles remained, and with the determined Gough in tandem, the runs kept coming. When a boundary was needed in the penultimate over, it came courtesy of a misjudgement by Lee; seeing Giles back away to hit him through cover, he dropped it short instead of spearing in the yorker, allowing Giles to thrash it wildly over the keeperís head.
10 runs were needed off the last over to win. McGrath was bowling, and with two tailenders to bowl at, few would have backed England. The last thing anyone expected was a no-ball, but out came Bowdenís arm, eight needed off six. Giles stepped back for a mow and a miss at the next, eight off five. Next came a full toss, above waist height surely, but the no ball was not called, and Giles shovelled it to mid-off for one. Seven off four. Gough hit the next out to deep point where Symonds fumbled and the batsmen took two. Five off three. Another slog out to deep extra cover, where Symonds this time fielded cleanly, brought another two. Three off two. Gough hit the next just to McGrathís left, but the big paceman stretched out an arm to field, turned and calmly threw down the stumps with Gough well short. Three off one, but Giles back on strike. Last ball, unspeakable tension, it was a good one too, full and swinging in to land on Gilesís boot. McGrath turned to appeal, but the ball struck Giles outside the line. One run had been taken, they turned for the second to see that Lee had fumbled down at third man, a roar from the crowd and they raced home.
It is easy to read too much into one-day matches as a build up for the Tests, but it was hard to stop from giggling in anticipation of what lies ahead. England at last look to have an attack capable of putting the Australians under pressure, on the evidence here there appears to be little between the sides. But it remains to be proven that Englandís batsmen can prosper against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warne as they have against the lesser lights of the rest of the world. The general standard of pace bowling in particular is low at the moment, and these two attacks look a class above anything else.
And even if Englandís batsmen are good enough, they will need to show a lot more cool judgement than they did here.
Australia 196 (48.5 overs) (Hussey 62*, Flintoff 3-23, Harmison 3-27)
England 196-9 (50 overs) (GO Jones 71, Collingwood 53, McGrath 3-27)
Man of the Match
Man of the Series