Elements have the final say

Billed as the ‘dress rehearsal’ for Saturday’s final, England and Australia’s NatWest Series clash was ultimately decided by the storm systems brewing over Birmingham.

Winning the toss and batting under glorious skies at Edgbaston, the Australian opening pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden instantly set about Darren Gough, striking 14 in the Yorkshireman’s first over, including four wild overthrows from Kevin Pietersen.

Gilchrist fell first, trying to cut Simon Jones but only succeeding in a thin edge through to the bowler’s namesake Geraint – the third time the wicketkeeper has fallen cutting in the series. The heat in the atmosphere then translated into the middle as Simon Jones collected a defensive push from Hayden and flung the ball back at the batsman, striking him on the shoulder and provoking a furious response from the left-hander, with the resulting hot-tempered afters including Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff.

Hayden didn’t last much longer – and Jones captured his second scalp as the opening batsman played around a pitched-up, straightening delivery to become trapped blatantly in front of the wicket ahead of a period of rebuilding between Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn before both again fell, strangling the Australian momentum as they threatened to cut loose.

Andrew Flintoff accounted for the Australian captain, before Martyn slashed at Steve Harmison to the charging Kevin Pietersen, advancing at third man. As the Hampshire batsman tumbled forward and grasped the ball inches above the turf, TV cameras appeared to show the ball touching the grass – but Pietersen insisted he’d made the take, and the umpires assented.

Nevertheless, Australia – through ODI specialists Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds, eased along at six an over as the English bowlers failed to stem the flow, skipper Vaughan’s single over leaking 13. It took inspirational fielding from England – and in particular, as ever, Paul Collingwood. The Durham allrounder charged round and laced a throw in to Geraint Jones, taking advantage of miscommunication between the two batsman to trap Symonds wandering out of his ground, following a mixup calling, and another deciding which batsman would return the the pavilion – the TV replays finally proving that Symonds was fractionally closer to the crease as the bails fell.

Their ballast weakened, Australia stumbled to further losses. First, Hussey aimed a loose drive at Steve Harmison to provide Geraint Jones’ third catch of the innings before Michael Clarke repeated the dosage off Gough and Brad Hogg mistimed a cut into the keeper’s hands. Jason Gillespie also fell as the Australian tail stuttered to 261-9.

England’s chase made a wavering start as they inched to eight without loss from three overs before a heavy thunderstorm interrupted play for over one and a half hours, reducing England’s target to 200 from 33 overs. An array of boundaries on all sides of the wicket from Andrew Strauss eased England on to 37 at the expense of Glenn McGrath’s bowling figures, the heavens opened once again.

Another brief break in the rain gave the capacity Edgbaston crowd hope, but a further spectacular cloudburst ended all hope of a resumption. Bangladesh meet Australia for the final game of the Tigers’ tour at Canterbury on Thursday, before the NatWest Series concludes with the England v Australia final on Saturday. Game on.

Australia 261-9
Andrew Symonds 74, Michael Hussey 45
Darren Gough 3-70, Steve Harmison 2-38

England 37-1
Andrew Strauss 25, Marcus Trescothick 11*
Glenn McGrath 1-24

Match Abandoned – Rain – 3pts each

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Neil Pickup