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Game One - VB Series - Australia v England

Cricket News 14/12/02

Match Report by Jon Cocks

England made more of a fight of the VB Series opener in Sydney last night (13/12/02) than the end result indicated, with Nasser Hussain's post-match remarks that England lost in its last ten overs and Australia's first fifteen being particularly cogent.

England were respectively curtailed and slaughtered in that middle, but crucial period of the contest. The ball came less quickly onto the bat as the match progressed, which made Hayden's and Gilchrist's 8-an-over efforts all the more remarkable in the lengthening shadows of a warm Sydney evening.

Slashing boundaries square and an enormous Hayden straight six made a mockery of the pitch and England's attack. Hussainís win of the toss and decision to bat seemed a forlorn, happy memory, as Englandís total of 251 went from mountain to molehill status.

The very first ball of the VB series was from McGrath to Trescothick, who thick-edged it between Ponting and Martyn for a boundary at third man. It should have been Punter's catch; the Australian slips arrangements still need fine-tuning.

Nick Knight (111* from 131) was the England innings' ultimate hero, but struggled early against McGrath's relentless line, backing off towards square leg, seeking room for the cut shot.

Shortly afterwards, Knight hit a difficult return chance to Gillespie and - riding his luck - came down the wicket to both Australian opening bowlers. This was Knight's afternoon at least - a huge slash over point for six off Gillespie was well-taken in the crowd by the man in the third row.

This heartened Trescothick (60 in 57 balls) and by the 14th over, the England openers, chancing their arms, had pushed the runrate up to six an over. On 101, the breakthrough finally happened, as Lee pushed on across Trescothick, who slashed at it and Warne took the fast-flying chance to his right well in both hands.

Warne replaced the expensive Watson (3-0-25-0) and removed Irani LBW with a classy little topspinner on middle and leg. Hussain joined Knight and the two upper order batsmen kept the score mounting, but at an ever-decreasing rate as the not-so-secret Australian weapon, Darren Lehmann, joined Warne at the bowling crease. Taking the pace off the ball took the momentum out of the England innings, although it took some time for another wicket to fall.

Despite missing a sharp return catch from Hussain, Lehmann kept his end very tight and the boundary flow was cut off, as the runrate dipped below five. Damien Martyn replaced Warne for a couple of overs, but Hussain broke the shackles, smacking the West Australian over long on for a six, then a four.

Then came the breakthrough - an all South Australian affair, as Hussain (51 from 52) holed out to Gillespie at long off from one of Lehmann's cunning little left-arm twirlers. Dizzy had to run some distance in and judge a very high ball. In the end he had to stretch for it, but he held it well.

Lehmann snared Shah and Blackwell shortly afterwards and finished with a highly credtiable10-0-32-3. Using the crease inventively and bowling stump-to-stump in the main, with a little turn and some useful loop in his tossed up deliveries, he never allowed the batsmen to get into their stride.

Lee returned to the crease and bowled White around his legs for a quick 15 and yorked Batty - his first ball faced in Australia - but England's 8-251 still represented a very competitive total on a slow-ish wicket that would only get slower.

The first Australian wicket fell at 101, the same figure as for England, but in the 13th over, about six overs sooner. Gilchrist (53 from 50) holed out at deep mid wicket to Shah from the bowling of Irani. This merely caused a little hiccup in the Australian scoring rate, as Hayden brought up his 50 (from 38 balls) shortly after.

Ponting pulled Irani over mid wicket to the fence and the four England seamers had each bowled four overs, with none of them conceding less than seven an over. Blackwell's left arm orthodox was introduced and he was promptly swept by Hayden to the backward square rope.

Would Australia make a charge for the bonus point? The 252 had to be made inside 40 overs, but it looked feasible, especially after Hayden swept Blackwell into the square leg crowd, a harder, flatter hit you'd be hard pressed to beat.

Then, at 1-161 after 25 overs, Ponting (18) was taken by Irani at slip from Blackwell, and Martyn's circumspect beginning to his knock seemed to rule out the bonus point.

England's body language drooped as Hayden went on his merry way. However, in going for his ton, Matt the Bat leapt down the wicket to Blackwell and clubbed a lofted off drive, which Trescothick hooked in - overhead mark style - in a manner that any decent Aussie Rules Full Forward would applaud.

Hayden's 98 from 92 earnt him the Man of the match award, ahead of Knight's longer, unbeaten century, as his innings was instrumental in shattering the steep runrate England's total demanded at the outset.

Darren Lehmann (27*) emerged to join Martyn (46*) and they flirted with chasing the bonus point for an over or two, but when the asking rate for it went over nine, they clearly abandoned any further thought of it. Martyn played a couple of crisp cuts to the boundary and Lehmann rotated the strike deftly and smashed a couple square through point.

Australia cantered to 3-252 and victory with five overs to spare, while Ronnie Irani won a lot of fans down at the fine leg fence with his 'Best Of Merv Hughes' impressions.

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