Commonwealth Bank Series Wrap

The series began as a seeming formality for Australia, threatened to develop into a New Zealand win, then amazingly ended in victory for the much maligned England.

Australia shot to an early, unassailable lead in the preliminaries. As early as the fourth match it was apparent that the hosts would not miss the best of three finals series. Superb early season contributions from Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey gave credence to the view that Australia was unbeatable in the three-way contest.

The form of its batsmen, however, papered over a number of cracks in Australia’s armoury. Its bowlers were more expensive than in recent years, at one point conceding in excess of 270 runs in an innings for three matches in a row – a previously unheard of phenomenon for an Australian side. Stuart Clark was unable to replicate his excellent Test form, Brett Lee was rested from matches which later proved crucial, Shaun Tait was tried with mixed results, likewise Mitchell Johnson. Glenn McGrath began to look his age, Nathan Bracken seemed flat and Brad Hogg was omitted for much of the series as the hosts preferred a four-pronged pace attack. As the series wore on, the sameness of Australia’s attack began to count against it, particularly when arguably its most dynamic one day cricketer, Andrew Symonds suffered a severe bicep tear which ruled him out of the balance of the series and has him in doubt for the World Cup next month.

As the series progressed and the hosts plateaued, New Zealand and England each began to improve.

The Black Caps pressed Australia hard in a number of matches, but were unable to convert pressure into points on the table. Nevertheless, victories over England in the middle stages of the tournament saw them as favourites to join the hosts in the final. Throughout this period, the form of Jacob Oram and Lou Vincent with the bat was a stand out, whilst relative new comers Roger Taylor and Peter Fulton performed solidly. The form of the batsmen was also complimented by the return of the explosive Shane Bond (who took a hat-trick against Australia in Hobart), the consistent James Franklin and the miserly Daniel Vettori.

New Zealand, like Australia, began to plateau towards the end of the series. Oram’s form tapered without deserting him fully and England began to find an answer to Vettori, taking him for five runs per over in the final qualifying match to determine who would join Australia in the finals. England, having beaten Australia at the SCG on the back of an Ed Joyce 100 defeated New Zealand in this crucial last game, despite the Kiwis at point cruising at none for 81 in their pursuit of England’s 270. New Zealand fumbled and bumbled the latter stages of their chase and were eventually restricted to 256, despite a patient – if unevenly tempo-ed century from skipper Stephen Fleming.

Late wins against both of their opponents therefore left England in a buoyant mood entering the finals. Many pundits were of the view that New Zealand would have made a more competitive opponent for Australia. They reckoned, however, without the influence of Paul Collingwood with the bat and Andrew Flintoff and Liam Plunkett with the ball.

Decimated by injuries to Michael Vaughan and James Anderson to name but two, and with its technically best batsman Andrew Strauss woefully out of form, a brave England re-grouped. The introduction of Plunkett’s pacy late movement, the resurgence of Flintoff and Collingwood’s sublime form combined with a reinvigorated attitude in the field which saw England sweep Australia relatively comfortably in the best of three finals series.

The stand out performer of the latter part of the competition was undoubtedly Collingwood. Somnambulant since his double century in the Adelaide Test, Collingwood scored a century in each of the last qualifying game and the first final, then backed these up with an invaluable 70 in the second. The advent of Joyce at the top of the order in place of Strauss (who batted down the order) gave England a fresh outlook up front when combined with the aggression of mature debutant Mal Loye. Loye’s slog sweep was an entertaining and sometimes dangerous distraction, as Glenn Mcgrath showed when he struck the batsman a painful blow to the jaw at the SCG.

Ian Bell’s new-found positivity in the one day game summed up England’s change in attitude, as did their unrestrained celebrations after their win in the second final. This victory obviously meant a great deal to England, coming as it did on the heals of their five-nil drubbing at the hands of Australia in the Ashes series.

At the centre of England’s resurgence was the indomitable Flintoff, who bowled with real pace and bounce in the finals and batted with the long awaited freedom which brought back memories of the halcyon days of 2005. It was a deserving victory for a beleaguered but never bowed skipper, and it was perversely fitting that he rather than injured first-choice Michael Vaughan got to hold the trophy aloft.

It was, however, Paul Collingwood who was the player of the series. England’s resurgence coincided with his own, as he demonstrated to everyone what a fine one day player he is: outstanding accumulator, handy medium pacer and one of the world’s finest fielders.

For Australia and New Zealand, there were mixed signs. The return of Oram, Bond and Scott Styris bodes well for the Black Caps’ World Cup prospects, but they must rid themselves of the habit of losing matches they have placed themselves in a position to win. For the hosts, Ponting continues to score runs almost at will and Hayden has returned to reasonable one day form, but question marks remain around the balance of their side ahead of the World Cup. Symonds’ injury has been a devastating blow and has complicated the selectors’ job in trying to accommodate both Brad Hogg and Shane Watson in the one day side. The bowling looks at times to be devoid of answers – not a good sign so close to the world’s most important cricket tournament.

England snuck under the radar to win the series. They recovered from the pain of Kevin Pietersen’s broken rib in game one of the series and from the humiliation of the Australia Day debacle in Adelaide, where they were bowled out for 110 and the day-nighter finished in bright sunlight, to record a stunning series victory. They have a young side, many of whom are raw. But they are equally fearless. Their chances of featuring strongly in the latter stages of the World Cup have improved immeasurably on just three weeks ago.

In a game which moves as quickly as one day cricket, momentum is everything, as England will attest to, and as the Commonwealth Bank series of 2006-2007 amply demonstrated.

Series Summary:

England defeated Australia 2-0 in best of three finals series.

Player of the Series: Paul Collingwood – came good at the right time.

Batsman of the series: Collingwood by a half-head over Ponting

Bowler of the series: Shane Bond – as exciting a bowler in World Cricket, with the average and strike rate to prove it – when fit.

Best fielder: Collingwood – especially in the finals, where his run outs and catches were vital.

Biggest disappointment: Michael Vaughan – through no fault of his own, played little part through injury.

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