England Win CB Series 2-0

Two weeks ago England were a rabble. They had lost a day-night game in Adelaide so early that the lights weren’t turned on and spectators leaving the ground were scrounging for scones for afternoon tea. Their turn-around has been remarkable and is a tribute to Andrew Flintoff’s persistence, the emergence of Liam Plunkett and the fighting qualities of the doughty man-of-the-series Paul Collingwood.

Batting first, England amassed a respectable but hardly insurmountable 8-246, with Collingwood’s rich vein of form continuing as he compiled 70 from 90 balls. For Australia, Glenn McGrath was the pick of the bowlers for the hosts, picking up a wicket with his last ball in an international match on his home ground on his way to taking 2 for 41 from his ten overs.

Australia’s reply began with ineptitude, struggled through mediocrity, suffered a false dawn then ended in a dispirited shambles. Whether Australia are stale, out of form, have an ill-balanced side or are suffering from an unfortunate combination of all three, nothing can detract from the renewed vigour with which England are playing.

Matthew Hayden was the first to go, dollying a catch to short cover from Saj Mahmood’s slower ball, a delivery which the bowler finally appears to be sending down with a degree of alacrity. Captain Ricky Ponting followed soon after, caught behind to a fine outswinger from Plunkett. Ponting had begun positively and still looked in imperious form, however, Plunkett’s offering proved too good on this occasion.

Soon after Ponting’s demise a lengthy rain delay ensued with Australia’s score at 2 for 39. First ball after the resumption, Plunkett produced a sublime inswinger to Gilchrist, bowling the Australian ‘keeper for a well-made 20. The out-of-sorts Michael Clarke was then caught behind in similar circumstances to Ponting for nought, and when Mike Hussey was caught by Andrew Strauss at slip off Flintoff without scoring, Australia had slumped to an ignominious five for 63.

Shane Watson and Brad Hodge then joined forces for a spirited partnership which was punctuated by another rain delay after 16.2 overs, causing Australia’s target to be reduced to 211 runs from 33 overs.

Despite some stout resistance from Watson and Hodge, Australia never realistically threatened the new target. Watson fell trying to force the pace for an encouraging 37 from 44 balls, snared spectacularly by Jamie Dalrymple at backward point off Collingwood’s medium pace. Dalrymple’s interception – full stretch to his left whilst horizontal to the ground, was a genuine contender for catch of the summer. It was a catch worthy of winning a final, which is exactly what it was. To top off his day, Collingwood had Brad Hogg caught soon after by Flintoff for 10 from 14, but by this time the game was well and truly up for the Aussies.

Despite the disappointment of recent matches for his team, Hodge’s one-day redemption continued as he complied 49 before falling to Dalrymple, well held by Ian Bell. From this point the game really petered out until 10.38 p.m., at which point further rain intervened and brought to an end the international season of 2006-2007 with Australia 33 runs behind the par score under the Duckworth-Lewis system.

Earlier, Andrew Flintoff won the toss and decided to bat, with Mal Loye and Ed Joyce opening in comparative comfort against Lee and Bracken. Joyce was first to go, mis-timing a pull shot from McGrath who is still erroneously being used as first change. To suggest that the greatest fast bowler of his era and one of the finest of all time is a lesser bowler with the new ball than Lee and Bracken is nothing short of pure folly. For his part Loye played his most orthodox innings of the summer and in turn made his highest one-day score to date, 45 from 61 balls before being farcically run-out first ball after a rain delay in a horrible mix up with Ian Bell.

Strauss’ lamentable tour continued when he edged to Gilchrist from Bracken, before Bell and man-of-the-match Collingwood got together for a 26 run partnership before Bell took on Mike Hussey at backward point and lost – being run out by a direct hit.

Skipper Flintoff played arguably his most confident innings of the summer, striking a handsome 42 from 50 balls before falling to a wonderful caught and bowled by Lee. Flintoff smashed the ball straight back to Lee, who somehow managed to hang on with both hands in the blink of an eye. Collingwood fell not long after to Bracken, and the tail scrambled as hard as it could before Nixon skied the last ball of the innings to deep mid wicket and was caught by Hodge off McGrath, giving the latter a wicket with his last ball in an ODI in Australia and a standing ovation from a full house at the SCG.

At the half way mark, England’s total seemed challenging but gettable to those watching, however, they had reckoned without both the damage wrought by Plunkett’s new ball spell and the insipid display of Australia’s top order.

Put simply, England seemed hungrier than Australia in their last three matches. When one considers that James Anderson, Kevin Pietersen and possibly Michael Vaughan are all to return to the squad for the World Cup, England must now be considered better than a remote chance to figure in that tournament’s latter stages. In Collingwood they have a player in supreme form – no one can recall the last time a player won three man-of-the-match awards in consecutive ODIs in Australia. In Plunkett they have found a bowler capable of moving the ball late at good pace, even if he is prone to being expensive, whilst Bell continues to mature. Monty Panesar varies his flight wonderfully and Dalrymple is capable of reasonable off spin. Their concerns will be the health of Vaughan, the form of Strauss and the consistency of a (mostly) inexperienced pace attack.

For the hosts, an otherwise triumphant summer ended in disappointment. The pace bowling currently lacks incisiveness, the top order is no longer in form and the issue of who plays as a specialist spinner (if any) remains unanswered. They next head to New Zealand, sans Gilchrist and Ponting who are being rested. Whilst both of these players deserve a rest, the merit or otherwise of such integral members of the side missing a series just before a World Cup is open to discussion, especially in light of the injury to Andrew Symonds.

Australia will do well to start favourites across the Tasman, where former Kiwi captain Martin Crowe has already described the absence of Ponting and Gilchrist as a slight and a sign of arrogance. The fact that Gilchrist’s wife is due to give birth and Ponting has been nursing a back injury indicate that Crowe’s comments are largely ill-informed, but the issue will doubtless be raised once the team arrives in New Zealand. Reference by the Aussies to the number of missing Kiwis in the Super 14 Rugby tournament in what is a World Cup year in that sport might serve as sufficient rejoinder.

The absence of Symonds is a greater conundrum than perhaps anyone thought. He is a three-in-one cricketer: devastating batsman, handy off spinner and a medium pacer who has taken some important wickets at test level. When one combines these attributes with the brilliance of his fielding, his loss to the World Cup squad may be more than Australia can cope with. For the moment, there are more questions than answers concerning the make-up of their best side.


England 8/246 (50 overs)
Collingwood 70, Loye 45
McGrath 2/41(10)

Australia 8/152 (27 overs)
Hodge 49, Watson 37
Plunkett 3/43 (6)

England won by 34 runs (D/L Method) and claim best of three finals series 2-0.

Man of the Match: Paul Collingwood (England).
Man of the Series: Paul Collingwood (England).

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