England and Australia Natwest Challenge

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Aussies Find Form in Second Natwest Match

Report by Neil Robinson 11/07/2005

There are two things which invariably seem to bring out the best in the Australian cricket team. One is any kind of challenge to their reputation as the most talented, capable and cussed outfit on the face of the earth. The other is Lord’s. So perhaps it should not have been a surprise that, following their humbling defeat at English hands at Headingley last Thursday, the return encounter at headquarters saw the familiar Aussie juggernaut slide perceptibly up a gear or two to roll over an oddly subdued England.

The English performance seemed to encapsulate about half the national mood after the terrorist outrages in the capital last week, the vague numbness that is, with none of the stubborn defiance. The polite capacity crowd as usual here was appreciative of good cricket played by either side, which was just as well, since partisan home elements had little to cheer save a few meaty blows signifying Andrew Flintoff’s return to form, and the flypast of World War II aircraft which passed overhead after its duties at Buckingham Palace - the Avro Lancaster bringing up the rear producing a predictable rendition of the Dambusters theme from certain sections far removed from the members’ areas.

The match itself was virtually settled in the first few overs. On a beautiful pitch which just got better as the day wore on, England again lost cheap wickets to the devastating new-ball duo of McGrath and Lee - again due as much to their own lapses in concentration as the excellence of the bowling. Strauss perished trying to cut a ball which practically struck him on the hip, Vaughan padded up to one McGrath nipped back down the hill (and surely the England captain has played here often enough to know about the slope), Trescothick bizarrely tried to give Kasprowicz the charge and got an inside edge to the keeper. Then Pietersen, after one thumping four through midwicket, drove on the up again and dragged on. He will need runs on Tuesday if he is to continue his challenge for a Test place in two weeks, unless Thorpe’s back prevents his participation.

There followed a brief but encouraging period of English resurgence, stimulated by Flintoff in his first real performance with the bat this season. Fine support as usual came from Paul Collingwood, who must be wondering why his name is never mentioned in connection with a Test place. It was Big Fred, of course, who stole the show. Perhaps it was not Ponting’s smartest move of the day to put the uncertain Gillespie up against him, but it has never been the Australian instinct to hide a player. Flintoff took predictable toll, launching him for a couple of hefty leg-side blows, one of which landed in the upper tier of the Grandstand, as well as hitting one characteristic straight drive, all along the ground for four. Gillespie’s continuing lack of rhythm was the one flaw in an otherwise brilliant Australian performance.

The Flintoff-Geraint Jones partnership saw England to many fine totals last summer, but it has yet to really fire this year. Runs flowed for a while until Flintoff, on 87, hit out once too often and skied to cover where Hussey took a steepling catch. It was a deserved wicket for Lee, who then proceeded to wipe out the rest of the innings, helped by a moment of brilliance from his captain, who took three quick steps to his right then dived full length to catch Giles just an inch above the ground. There was one moment of levity when Harmison swept McGrath (yes, that’s not a typo) for four, and that was it. England’s 223-8 might have been alright at Headingley, but not here.

The main weakness in England’s bowling so far this summer has been their inability to take wickets with the new ball. Against Australia, typically the openers have got off to a fine start against Gough and Simon Jones, before Harmison and Flintoff come on to re-establish order and take a couple of wickets. Which rather suggests that a reversal of roles is called for. The same thing happened here. Gilchrist slammed the first ball over slip for four, then lost his off-stump to a Gough no-ball. There the stump flattening stopped. The slamming continued. Until Flintoff came on and found the edge of the prolific wicket-keeper.

But there was no more joy for England until the game was long gone, taken away from them by a beautiful hundred by Ponting, with solid if less convincing support from Simon Katich (in for the injured Hayden) and Damien Martyn. After 10 overs Vaughan decided to spread the field, so not using the second ‘powerplay’ immediately. The new umpire’s signal for the powerplay, by the way, is a circular motion made in front of the body with an outstretched arm. How long, I wonder, before Billy Bowden decides to perform it like a male stripper waving his underpants in the air?

Defensive fields, and the accuracy of Giles and Collingwood, slowed Australian progress somewhat, but needing less than five per over, and with two powerplays to come, this was never a problem. Ponting, meanwhile, just got better and better, until England didn’t know where to bowl at him. His excitement, on reaching his hundred, showed his relief at form regained.

He fell at 111, with the job all but done. The win was sealed by a Gough no-ball, which summed up the day for England, who will have to put in a much more lively performance if they are to win the deciding match on Tuesday.

Scorecard Summary

England 223-8 (Flintoff 87, Collingwood 34, Lee 5-41)

Australia 224-3 (44.2 overs) (Ponting 111, Martyn 39*)

Australia won by 7 wickets

Man of the Match

Brett Lee

 

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