England Choke in Second VB Series Final

Cricket News 25/01/03

Report by Jon Cocks

Despite magnificent batting from Michael Vaughan (60) and Alec Stewart (60) and a vibrant seventh wicket stand of 34 from Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood - with the required runs never exceeding balls remaining by more than two - Australia still triumphed in thrilling style in the second Final of the VB Series by five runs.

In the climactic moment of a contest that was hot in all ways, with six needed from four balls, Adam Gilchrist took the third ball of the final over from Lee. He threw down the stumps, running out Number Eleven James Anderson (0), who had sought to steal a bye to give the established Collingwood the strike. All credit was due to the character shown by England in bouncing back from the almighty flogging in Sydney to make Australia earn the 2-0 series victory.

It was a team performance by Australia, highlighted by Hayden with the bat, Lee and Warne with the ball and Brad Hogg with both. Even when England needed 14 from three overs with four wickets in hand, Australian self-belief reigned supreme and Brett Lee was able to fire in the yorker to rattle Flintoff’s middle stump.

Earlier, when Stewart and Vaughan seemed to have the target in hand, Shane Warne produced the magic when the script demanded it, having Vaughan caught by Ponting at midwicket from one that dipped and fizzed, and finding a thick top edge from Stewart to Lee at backward point. Shane Warne, playing his farewell home ODI, bowled better than his 10-0-58-2 suggested.

Warne removed key men Vaughan and Stewart, but Man of the Match and the Finals Series Brett Lee (9.3-0-30 -5) was the hero, capturing 2-3 in his ninth over and bowling Caddick with the first ball of his tenth over. The searing yorkers he produced were too much for the lower order England men, with Collingwood (25*) left stranded at the non-striker’s end, after the batsmen took a single from the final ball of the 49th over.

Anchored by Matt Hayden (69 from 91 balls) at the top and Brad Hogg (71* from 78) at the tail, Australia beat the Melbourne afternoon century heat and that applied by England in the first forty overs to post a competitive 7-229. Ricky Ponting won the toss, happy to bat first with an unchanged side on a flat wicket that resembled a block of concrete. England improved its batting, bringing in the recovered Flintoff for Hoggard.

Already on the back foot caused by the withdrawal of Shane Watson from the World Cup squad – due to persistent stress fractures in his lower back - the Australians were further rocked by a serious leg injury to Michael Bevan. He set off for a sharp single, but slumped to the ground at the non-striker’s end in great pain, his personal World Cup hopes ruptured like the muscle in his right leg.

England had resolved to abandon the shorter pitched bowling that had served them so badly earlier in the tournament and Caddick (10-2-23-2) began the first of ten consecutive overs with a maiden, allowing none of the room that Gilchrist exploited so savagely two evenings before in Sydney. Anderson opened well, but his second over conceded 13, as Gilchrist pulled him for six and drove him to the rope at extra cover.

Flintoff replaced Anderson (9-0-57-1) after the youngster’s first three overs cost 23 and induced a lofted drive from Gilchrist (26) that was well taken by Anderson at mid off. The England bowlers had found the line and length –supported by a ring of off side fielders - to keep Australia down to four an over.

Ponting (1) holed out to Flintoff at short cover off Caddick and Martyn (11) played a couple of aggressive shots before a delivery from Caddick kissed his glove, beat the attempted hook and Australia had slumped to 3-56 with Stewart’s catch. The accurate Blackwell (10-0-32-0) replaced Caddick, finding grip and turn at once, which reduced the batsmen to watching the ball closely and to be content with occasional singles.

When Bevan (10) felt his leg give way at 3-78, the home team’s innings threatened to do the same. Favoured by a dropped catch by Hussain at cover, Andy Symonds (8) blew a big chance to impress, absorbing 29 balls before missing a drive at a full-pitched delivery from Irani (10-1-46-3), and losing his off stump.

Enter Brad Hogg, circumspect at first with Australia’s back to the wall, but flourishing gradually to play an innings of intelligence and substance. Initially supporting Hayden, who was allowed singles so the visitors could attack at the other end, Hogg was wary of the footmarks that Blackwell exploited. While Hayden opened his shoulders with lofted boundaries on both sides of the wicket and a straight six, Hogg nudged into the on side gaps and ran the ball to third man to rotate the strike.

Just as the partnership was blooming, Hayden was well caught by a running Shah at deep mid wicket from Irani. 5-147 became 6-147 one ball later, as Irani’s one-handed return catch dampened all the emotion of Warne’s farewell home ODI knock and Australian hopes of a decent total looked as distant as relief from the bushfire crisis.

However, Brad Hogg simply noted an opportunity for himself to cement the Number Seven all rounder’s spot as his own. Nudges into the on side became boundaries and he found gaps in the off side field, late-cutting and driving with assurance. Supported at first by Lee (18) and then Bichel (11*), he found the form to set England back on its heels. Vaughan’s sole over went for twelve, with a six and a four to Hogg and he added to his boundaries with successive late cuts to the backward point rope off Flintoff (10-0-56-1).

Hogg’s fifty came from a near suicidal single, and Lee celebrated the failure of the throw to hit the stumps by smearing the next over the bowler’s head and into the crowd. Although he holed out shortly after, Bichel was able to stay with Hogg and Australia ultimately managed 86 from the last ten overs.

This momentum continued immediately after the resumption, as Lee dismissed Trescothick (0), caught by Bichel and Knight (5) caught by Symonds, attempting to paddle around the corner. Williams removed pinch-hitter Irani (7) with a good outfield catch by Symonds. England slumped to 3-20 after the first seven overs.

Vaughan and Hussain (28) added 68 at over five an over for the fourth wicket to rescue England hopes, but the England captain was all at sea against Brad Hogg (10-1-41-1), totally unable to read him. Vaughan swept the chinaman bowler for a flat six over mid wicket, as if to show his captain how it was done. When Bichel (10-0-42-0) joined Hogg, however, the pair tightened the screws in this fluctuating match.

Hogg ended Hussain’s misery with a ball that spun back sharply onto his off stump, but this brought Stewart to the crease to begin the fifth wicket liaison of 63 with Vaughan that went a long way to winning the match for England. Warne had been treated disdainfully in his first two overs, but his return to the crease raised the tension, as his legions of fans chanted and cheered every move he made.

With twenty overs required, an even hundred was the required figure. With the best and most experienced men at the crease for England, there would have been sudden activity in the ticket offices of the SACA, a third final in Adelaide suddenly very much on the cards. The MCG crowd became subdued, except for the remaining squadrons of the Barmy Army, whose musical repertoire – like the proverbial song - remained the same.

Enter Shane Warne, replacing Hogg, and some wizardry to remove first Vaughan and Stewart a couple of overs later and the pendulum swung back Australia’s way. Stewart had chipped the bowlers into the gaps, but his two lofted straight boundaries from Warne signalled his determination to end England’s long losing streak in ODIs to Australia. Paul Collingwood gave every indication of his desire to be there with him at the end.

When Stewart misread the bounce of Warne’s first ball of the 42nd over, the decisive last eight over stanza of 5-42 began, England’s last desperate grasp a victory slid from its always tenacious grasp. Flintoff (16) struck two glorious lofted drives from Warne in his spirited cameo partnership with Collingwood, and Williams (10-1-47-1) returned, to be treated roughly in his penultimate over.

England needed 14 from 18 with four wickets in hand. Re-enter Brett Lee, having of late rediscovered his line, length and pace. Knocking back Flintoff’s middle stump and having Collingwood caught brilliantly – low to his left by Martyn, he set in motion the decisive blows as Six singles from Williams’ last over meant that England needed six from six balls with two wickets in hand.

The scorching, reverse-swinging yorker to Caddick was just too good, cannoning from his pad onto the stumps and the ask was too great for James Anderson. Unable to lay bat on ball, he left his crease, trying to get something – anything – on it for two deliveries. Gilchrist’s first attempt at the stumps to deny the bye was a rehearsal for the next delivery, in which he hit them, to end the match and give Shane Warne a moment he’ll always remember, his teammates chairing him from the field. England had lost 4-8.

Warney left the MCG in the ODI colours a winner, but he wasn’t the only one. This match was a great advertisement for the one-day game, an exciting, tense and fluctuating contest that had everything.

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