England rebirth continues apace

Australia’s miserable summer took a further turn – from merely dismal towards disastrous – as Kevin Pietersen bludgeoned an uncomplicated 91* to rocket-fuel an England run-chase that seemed firmly anchored in the ordinary once Brad Hogg’s chinamen had ensared the middle order in Bristol.

England had no reason to change their side following their series-opening annihilation of Bangladesh at the Oval but the Australians, still smarting from Saturday’s cataclysmic defeat at the hands of the Tigers, brought in Shane Watson for Simon Katich to bolster their misfiring bowling attack.

Winning the toss, Ricky Ponting repeated his Cardiff call and chose to bat – knowing of the Neville Road track’s tendency to become slower and lower as a match progresses – and hoping to strangle the English reply. Nevertheless, whilst the bounce, pace and life remained in the wicket early on, Australia were vulnerable and despite Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden starting at six an over, clubbing home favourite Jon Lewis over the ropes and out of the attack, before the introduction of Steve Harmison – still looking for a big International performance following a miserable tour of South Africa – pre-empted the first of the day’s match-altering passages.

In the space of four deliveries, Ashington’s finest took three huge Australian wickets to rip the heart out of the Kangaroo batting. Adam Gilchrist was beaten by extra bounce and flicked a top edge through to the increasingly safe hands of Geraint Jones before England revealed their first Ponting-control masterplan of the series. Full, straight, 93.2mph, pad, finger. Ponting’s head fell across to the offside as his front leg propped forward and the Australian captain played around his pad, missing to present a simply-answered LBW shout. Damien Martyn followed, recklessly slashing at an invitingly-aimed short ball outside off stump and slicing the ball to the intentionally stationed Kevin Pietersen at third man.

If that three-wicket burst wasn’t enough for the Gloucester masses, Paul Collingwood’s next intervention proved more stunning than much that had passed before on the world’s fields. Launching himself upwards to snaffle a forcefully-struck Hayden square drive that seemed destine for the point boundary. The Queenslander stood in disbelief, and Australia were 63-4.

It was now that the injury-enforced weakness in the English side came to bear. Missing Ashley Giles, Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey were able to calmly and gradually rebuild their innings as Collingwood, Michael Vaughan and Vikram Solanki were taken toll of – 58 runs easily acquired from the part-timers’ ten overs. Lewis profited from Michael Clarke’s chop-on but Shane Watson continued in similar vein before the return of Harmison paid dividend.

Initially expensive as his return into the attack was seized upon by the settled batsmen until a slower ball broke through Hussey’s defences – the first time the left-hander had been dismissed in ODIs – to knock back the off-stump and record his first five wicket return, and when Clarke followed to another yorker – this time from Flintoff – Australia’s mid-innings momentum had been throttled and the visitors could do no more than accumulate 252-9 despite late maximums from Watson and Jason Gillespie.

England’s reply started in bizarre fashion as Gillespie’s first over lasted eleven deliveries, four huge wides sliding down Marcus Trescothick’s leg side – and getting wider – but Glenn McGrath was an ever-present threat as he returned to something approaching his best form. The veteran New South Welshman first speared a yorked through Marcus Trescothick’s defences and into the Somerset left-hander’s leg stump.

Andrew Strauss followed, chopping on as he attempted a cut to a ball that was to full and too straight to truly merit the shot selection, and as neither Vaughan nor Collingwood were able to break the shackles that Australia’s backup bowling – Shane Watson and Brad Hogg – imposed upon them. Something needed to give, and it proved to be England’s all rounder as Michael Kasprowicz darted an inswinger back towards the right-hander who did little more than guide it back onto his stumps.

As England’s required run rate edged towards six, Andrew Flintoff clubbed Kasprowicz into the midwicket stands before one shot too many off the naggingly accurate Hogg provoked a hole-out to Kasprowicz on the long-off fence. Nor could Vaughan lift the tempo as the run-chase stalled – before he wandered back and across his stumps to be pinned in front by the left arm spinner. A second hole-out followed swiftly after, this time Geraint Jones finding Damien Martyn at long on to bring England’s last recognised batsman, Solanki, to the middle.

A viciously struck maximum from the blade of the Worcestershire man sailed over extra cover to re-ignite England’s rapidly dwindling flame, before the true pyrotechnics began. Pietersen unveiled his trademark wrist-laden swat, pausing one bounce on its way the midwicket boundary as an eight-ball Kasprowicz over disappeared for eighteen runs and the balance of the game tumbled towards England. The third ball of the over was flicked by England’s number six to Aussie skipper Ponting at mid on, and the fielder’s quick turn, set and throw crashed into the base of the bowler’s end stumps as Pietersen’s despairing dive slid his bat home.

As the Australians celebrated – prematurely as it would prove – TV umpire Nigel Llong, along with viewers worldwide, saw pictures tell the story of the bat inching past the crucial line of the crease as the bail toppled before falling, inches that were enough of a cushion Pietersen to remain in the middle. The next ball entered the stands, and the balance of play had toppled decisively.

Another maximum ended Brad Hogg’s spell, againt into the midwicket stands, before a brace of boundaries off Shane Watson provoked a verbal volley from the frustrated bowler – dealt by Pietersen as easily as any other missile sent in his direction – before Vikram Solanki’s inattentive wander forwards provided Adam Gilchrist with the opportunity to flick in a return throw into the unguarded stumps and strike a blow into the English recovery – the onus falling heavily onto Pietersen to see his side home.

The question of whether he would do so was answered in the affirmative in the space of two Gillespie overs. The first was dispatched for 12, a clubbed four back past the bowler before a maximum thudded into the uppermost rows of the midwicket stand. Glenn McGrath kept the 45th over to four runs, but the subsequent over sailed for 17 as Pietersen cleared the same stand he’d targeted beforehand before bisecting the men at square midwicket and a straighter square leg – a gap of no more than ten yards – before bludgeoning the next delivery back down the ground for four.

The equation virtually solved, hometown hero Jon Lewis took a further step towards Bristol legend as he guided Shane Watson towards third man, where a misfield eased his path to a single and England to a three-wicket triump with fifteen balls left.

It’s played two, won two for England with nothing but bonus points to show for the hosts as the series heads to two floodlight matches – England taking on Bangladesh under the Trent Bridge lights on Tuesday and Australia at Chester-le-Street on Durham.

Any ideas what’s going to happen? I certainly haven’t…

Australia 252-9
Michael Hussey 84, Michael Clarke 45
Steven Harmison 5-33, Andrew Flintoff 2-39

England 253-7
Kevin Pietersen 91*, Michael Vaughan 57
Brad Hogg 3-42, Glenn McGrath 2-34

England won by 3 wickets

CricketWeb Player of the Match
Kevin Pietersen (England) – 91*

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