England v Australia

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England Gathers the Momentum

News by Neil Robinson 20/06/05

One of the commonly held assumptions in the lead up to this summerís England v Australia contests was that England were a strong team unit, while Australia held most of the trump cards in the form of world-class individuals. Yet it was three performances of individual brilliance from the English which stole the match from under the noses of an Australian team which had played much the better cricket for most of this 50-over contest at Bristol.

After having misread the pitch in choosing to bat first against Bangladesh, Australian captain Ricky Ponting took a deep breath and made the same choice again; this time getting it absolutely right on a wicket which grew slower and lower as the match wore on. For the first few overs it looked as though Australiaís nightmare week would swiftly be relegated to a memory as Gilchrist and Hayden got off to a typically bullish start. Local boy Jon Lewis was lofted for huge leg-side sixes by both men as the runs flowed at more than five per over.

But at the start of the twelfth over, the first bit of English brilliance forced Australia to regroup. Steve Harmison, charging in with real venom, had Gilchrist caught behind, trying to cut a ball which wasnít quite short or wide enough. His next ball was a 93mph yorker which trapped Ponting in front of off-stump. Damien Martyn was able to let the hat-trick ball go just outside off-stump, but cut the next one high over the slips down to third man where Kevin Pietersen, inevitably, was waiting. Harmison really needed a big performance in this match to put the bad memories of South Africa behind him and give him confidence going into the main part of the summer. This was the Harmison all England loves, and all the world fears.

But it was one of Harmisonís poorer balls that earned Englandís next breakthrough four overs later. A short ball outside off-stump produced a thunderbolt cut from Hayden, high over backward point. As Paul Collingwood took off to try and stop it, few gave him much hope. But if this was a leap of faith, it was well rewarded. His arm flashed out like a chameleonís tongue, with improbable swiftness and length. It was unlikely enough for him to grasp the ball as he did, high and behind his right shoulder. That he should hang on to it as he crashed back to earth was unlikelier still. All Hayden could do was shake his head and walk off.

That brief spell was the height of Englandís dominance during the Australian innings. Now they were forced to be patient as Hussey and Clarke built a total that put Australia back in the game. England seemed to have a theory for Hussey, that he prefers to stay on the back foot to cut and pull. They tried to bowl full on an off-stump line, hoping to draw him into the drive, but Hussey, who has been one of the most prolific scorers in county cricket recently, was too composed to do anything foolish. Soon, England were forced to fall back on their fifth bowling option, the combination of Collingwood, Vaughan and Solanki. How the team misses Ashley Giles.

Now there were plenty of bad balls for the Australians to feast off, and plenty of gaps in the vast Bristol outfield for them to play the good ones into. Hussey, in particular, found those gaps wth unerring accuracy. With the partnership past 100, England brought back Lewis, and the Gloucestershire seamer managed to bowl Clarke off an inside edge. But Shane Watson came in to provide equally strong support, hoiking Lewis over midwicket for another six.

Another fifty were added, before Harmison returned to end Husseyís classy and cultured 84 with a beautifully disguised slower ball which yorked him. The very next ball Flintoff got a very fast yorker right through Watsonís defence. With the last five overs upon them, Australia suddenly had two new batsmen at the crease, just when they needed to accelerate. Gillespie managed one hefty blow over long-on, but the momentum had gone, and their total of 252-9 looked inadequate.

Things did not start well for Australia when England batted. Gillespie began with an 11-ball over which had the spread of a batsmanís cartwheel. But at the other end, Glenn McGrath, perhaps stung by allegations in the British press that he is a couple of yards slower than he was in 2001 (when he was a couple of yards slower than he was in 1997), was up around Andy Caddick pace and as accurate as ever. The fast, inswinging yorker which rattled Trescothickís leg stump was probably the ball of the day. Soon afterwards, the merest hint of width tempted Andrew Strauss into cutting a ball which was far too close to him and he played it on to his stumps.

Both openers had fallen for 16, which was to be the story for too many of Englandís batsmen; promising beginnings not built upon. Vaughan came in at three to play in his natural, serene style, the right sort of pace for him in one-day cricket, rather than trying to match the ballistics of Pietersen and Flintoff. But Collingwood fell for 14, offering a tame defensive prod at a Kasprowicz off-cutter and watching it trickle on to his stumps. Flintoff produced one massive hooked six, but didnít really know what to make of Brad Hoggís chinamen, and holed out to long-off, where Kasprowicz  took a good catch running in from the boundary.

That brought Pietersen in to join Vaughan. There was little excitement at first. Pietersen, despite the fantastic pace at which he scores his runs, rarely hits out from ball one. Instead he likes to play sensibly until he has worked out the bowling and the pitch, and only then does the assault begin. But it is an assault like nothing on earth. There was an early scare when an edged drive flashed just wide of Gilchrist, and then another blow when Vaughan played back to a Hogg top-spinner and was plumb lbw. Hoggís 3-42 off 10 overs were an excellent reward for his control and variety.

Geraint Jones fell second ball, and at 160 for 6 the game looked beyond England, even with Pietersen still at the crease. If there was one moment which decided the match, it was probably Ricky Pontingís direct hit from mid-on, which looked, to the naked eye, as if it had run Pietersen out for 34. The TV replay proved that Pietersen had made his ground, but by the narrowest of margins.

It was Vikram Solanki who pressed the accelerator first, striking Kasprowicz for a huge six over long-off, but after that it was the Pietersen show. He began with a series of big hits over midwicket, off perfectly straight deliveries, Viv Richards style. The bowlers altered their line to a foot outside off stump. Pietersen stepped outside leg, freed his arms and hit them over cover. They tried following him down the leg side when he moved early, he hit them straight back over their heads. The one thing they might try next time is a series of fast bouncers, but that will probably have to wait for Brett Leeís return.

Solanki made just 13 in a stand worth 54 before being brilliantly run out by Gilchrist. That left Peitersen with the tail for company and 39 runs still needed. Run rate was no longer an issue. Local boy Jon Lewis kept his head, and ran singles when required. Pietersen kept thumping the ball wherever he wanted to, and Aussie heads began to drop. Only McGrath never really got clattered; but poor Kasprowicz, 9 overs for 68, Gillespie 10 for 66 (heíd have preferred the Arthur Mailey version.) They new that as long as Pietersen was there, the game was gone. And they knew no way to get rid of him.

The winning run came off Lewisís bat, a dab down to third man where a tired misfield allowed a single. But, no question, it was the third piece of English brilliance, the 91 off 65 balls which hurtled off Kevin Pietersenís bat, which won the game for England.

After the match, Ricky Ponting said that his team could take plenty of positives from this game, and he was right. Australia were much improved in the field, and despite losing wickets at crucial times, they batted pretty well. They missed the pace of Lee, and the striking power and extra variety with the ball offered by the suspended Andrew Symonds. They are also coming off the back of a long period of inactivity and it may take some weeks yet before they are back to their peak. There is a long way to go yet before the real business of the summer begins, and, as far as the Ashes goes, Kevin Pietersen is unlikely to make Englandís team for the start of the Test series. Itís not quite time to hit that panic button yet.

Scorecard Summary

Australia 252-9 (Hussey 84, Clarke 45, Harmison 5-33)

England 253-7 (47.3 overs) (Pietersen 91*, Vaughan 57, Hogg 3-42)

England won by 3 wickets.

Man of the Match

Kevin Pietersen

 

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