Report by Neil Robinson 29/06/05
England and Australia head into Saturdayís Final with honours even after rain forced the abandonment of their third Natwest series group match at Edgbaston.
With England chasing a target of 262 to win, the game was evenly balanced when first the players fled from advancing lightning, then later heavy rain washed away all hope of a finish.
This was not the only cricket event disrupted by the violent thunderstorms which swept across the country; a schools Twenty20 contest nearby was cancelled when a lightning strike wrecked the pavilion roof.
This contest might have competed with those fireworks, and those which formed the climax of the Fleet review on the Solent, had it not been for the weather. Sparks flew early on when Simon Jonesís unnecessary attempt to throw down the stumps caught Matthew Hayden flush on the body. Heated words were exchanged despite Jonesís immediate apology, which was just about the only thing the Welshman offered the Australians in a tight, probing opening spell.
At the other end Gough took a pummelling, so much so that he was removed after two overs. But Jones removed the opening pair, and Ponting and Martyn both had promising starts cut off by Flintoff and Harmison. That Australiaís total came anywhere near respectability was entirely due to a fine partnership of 105 in 15 overs between Andrew Symonds and Michael Hussey, who ran hard between the wickets and probed all the gaps in the field to keep the run rate up.
During Australiaís long period of dominance over the old enemy, it has often been the case that Englandís progress was held up by a stubborn lower middle order pair who would not be shifted. Back in 1989 Stephen Waugh and Ian Healy probably broke more English hearts than anyone since The Beatles. Now Symonds and Hussey played the same role as they kept wickets in hand before the final onslaught.
Six wickets remained in hand as Australia entered the final ten overs, and they were poised for a total near 280, a mammoth task under lights. (Not, that is, that in the normal run of things this chase would have been made under lights. Just one week past the longest day of the year, had it not been for the weather all but the last 45 minutes of this contest would have been played in brilliant sunshine, as would the entire match had it been scheduled as a day game. The ground would have been full either way; it is simply the demands of the TV paymasters which forces English cricket to invest in the absurdity of floodlights.)
But thatís enough ranting for today. Australia would, and should, have taken the game beyond England (barring Pietersonian miracles), were it not for an almighty cock-up which found both batsmen at the same end. Hussey, ever a quick thinker, strode off immediately to leave the big-hitter at the wicket, but the TV replay clearly showed that Symonds should have gone, so Hussey was called back.
He didnít stick around for long though. Harmison roared back to have him caught behind, then Gough took three quick wickets in a much improved spell as five went down for just 30 runs. The collapse was sudden and irreversible, all momentum built up by that splendid stand now gone. Some late blows from Brett Lee raised the total to 261-9, which might still have been enough, but we shall never know. Four boundaries smashed in one McGrath over by Andrew Strauss were as much excitement as the crowd were going to get from the second half of the game, and Strauss too, as he quickly holed out for 25. Straight after that the rains came.
A pity, as the match was poised on a knife-edge. So too, seems the balance between these two sides going into the final. Both would prefer to have seen more solidity from their batting. England remain too reliant upon Kevin Pietersen, Australia upon Hussey and Symonds. Australiaís bowling has benefited from the return of Brett Lee, as has Englandís from Ashley Giles. Gillespe remains below par, but McGrath looks as good as ever.
With sound Australian judges like Jim Maxwell and Darren Lehmann having voiced their approval of Englandís young pace attack, Saturdayís final should be a fascinating battle between two rival attacks. Whichever side comes out on top, that, in itself, could be the strongest clue of all as to the destiny of the Ashes.
Australia 261-9 (50 overs) (Symonds 74, Hussey 45)
England 37-1 (6 overs)
Match abandoned due to rain Ė No result