Honours Even in NatWest Final

The preliminaries over, the big guns, as expected, made it to the final of the NatWest Series at Australia’s ‘lucky ground’, Lord’s, and both sides fielded their strongest possible sides in their efforts to pick up the first silverware of the summer.

England won the toss on a typical Lord’s morning, overcast, muggy, and had no hesitation whatsoever in inviting Australia to make first use of the wicket which seemed to threaten a little movement.

Darren Gough opened the bowling and both Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden were presented with routine singles before Gough bent his back and got one to fly over wicketkeeper Geraint Jones for four byes.

Simon Jones was called upon to share the new ball and the confrontation that caused so much controversy last Tuesday evening was resumed as early as the start of the second over. Hayden won round one on this occasion, straight-driving the Welshman firmly past mid off for the first boundary off the bat.

An out-of-sorts Gough bowled short and wide to Hayden and the opener powered the ball square of the wicket before Adam Gilchrist grabbed the initiative in no uncertain terms, smashing four successive boundaries off Simon Jones’s second over to take Australia along at a fraction under nine runs per over.

Both bowlers switched to around the wicket in an attempt to cramp the flowing Gilchrist, but again a decent line and length was lacking from Gough as the slugger smashed another boundary through extra cover. At this early stage, only one side was stamping their authority on the occasion, and it wasn’t the home team.

Another flashing square drive by Hayden further dented Jones’s already decidedly battered figures, then Gilchrist nudged a single off his pads to bring up the fifty partnership in the seventh over. Two balls later, Hayden (17) took liberties with Darren Gough and only succeeded in cue-ending the ball straight to Ashley Giles at mid off.

Andrew Flintoff replaced the profligate Simon Jones, and the big Lancastrian beat Gilchrist all ends up with his first three balls to no avail before a single brought the Australian captain on strike. Ricky Ponting opened his own account with a comfortable single to third man, then Gough produced a testing maiden to the same player as England finally exerted a little control in helpful conditions.

The benefits of bowling a good length to Adam Gilchrist were ably demonstrated yet again. The most destructive opener in One-Day International cricket is at his most vulnerable when his patience is tested, and Flintoff tested him sorely. Eventually, Gilchrist (27) heaved across the line and Kevin Pietersen took a steepling catch at midwicket to leave Australia on 54-2.

Ponting had scratched around for a couple of overs looking decidedly uncomfortable when he suddenly rocked back to a ball from Gough that was only marginally short of a length. The ball soared long and high before it took new residence in the crowd for the first maximum of the day.

Damien Martyn started with a pushed single wide of cover off the miserly bowling of Andrew Flintoff. Meanwhile, at the other end, Steve Harmison replaced Darren Gough and was rewarded immediately with the wicket of Ricky Ponting (7). The Australian captain could consider himself somewhat unfortunate to be caught down the leg side by the tumbling Geraint Jones off the tall paceman’s very first ball.

It had been a brilliant comeback by England in response to a mighty early onslaught by the Australian upper order who had been pegged back to 71-3 at the start of the 13th over. It could have been even worse for Australia, but the normally destructive Andrew Symonds had an amazing let-off when he was to all intents and purposes clean bowled by Flintoff, only for the bails to remain firmly attached to the top of the stumps.

Harmison too repeatedly troubled Symonds with an excellent line just outside off stump, and the Australian big-hitter repeatedly admonished himself for being drawn into injudicious strokes. At the end of the 15th over, when the fielding regulations were relaxed somewhat, Australia had reached 74-3.

Symonds went hard at one just outside off stump from Andrew Flintoff and was fortunate again, on this occasion the ball just evading the outstretched hand of a leaping Marcus Trescothick in the slips as Australia sought to regroup. At this stage, Harmison and Flintoff were offering little to hit, and Symonds, frustratingly for England, was trying his hardest to throw his wicket away but failing every time.

A couple of ‘Harmison of-old’ wides had Geraint Jones scrambling, then the big fellow produced a gem of a delivery to Damien Martyn on 11. The ball pitched on off stump and just held its own against the slope. Martyn, pushing out at the ball with feet firmly embedded as if in molasses, only succeeded in edging through to Jones who threw the ball aloft in delight. At 90-4 Australia, having enjoyed the early ascendency. desperately needed a period of consolidation.

Michael Vaughan brought Simon Jones back following his earlier mauling at the hands of the openers, and it was a very much better line and length which was presented to Symonds and Michael Clarke. Both batsmen at this stage were intent on survival, and Steve Harmison in particular repeatedly leaft both groping at nothing but air.

Three successive maiden overs in One-Day Internationals creates the type of pressure which is, on occasion, irresistible – and in this, Australia are no different to anyone else. Michael Clarke had taken root, unable or unwilling to play a shot in anger. Jones bowled full of length and Clarke, struck on the pad, was plumb for a nineteen-ball 2.

Mike Hussey finally loosened the stranglehold with the first scoring shot for five overs, but Australia’s last two specialist batsmen had almost half of the scheduled overs left available to them in which to redress the balance. Not for the first time, Jones over-pitched and Hussey sweetly drove through the covers for the first boundary in 10 overs.

The difficult decision for Vaughan was always going to be how long to keep the almost unplayable Harmison going, and with Australia 99-5, he opted for caution. Calling upon Paul Collingwood to perform the holding job during the middle overs, the Durham all-rounder conceded just a couple during his first six balls.

Hussey continued to hit the bad ball with some style, and again Jones was the man to suffer when he erred on the short side and was pummelled over midwicket. The left-handed Hussey had lost little time in moving into double figures, passing the becalmed Symonds in the process.

The spin of Ashley Giles was thrust to the fore in the 30th over and he too kept matters exceedingly tight, so much so that when the drinks were called for after 32 overs, Australia had limped on to 117-5 and were in danger of going nowhere slowly. Remarkably, the previous 14 overs had gone at just two runs per over.

A dreadful piece of fielding by the normally reliable Harmison gifted Symonds a rare boundary off Collingwood, but still England were content to restrict their antipodean counterparts as opposed to pressing home their advantage and going for the throat. Giles in particular was bowling quite beautifully to Symonds who was still gritting his teeth and curbing his natural aggression, but a delightful late dab seemed to indicate that things were about to change.

Mike Hussey struck Collingwood over midwicket for four, then an inside edge on to pad could have gone anywhere, but luckily for the batsman, ‘anywhere’ did not include going to hand. Symonds pushed a quick single to raise the fifty partnership but he now appeared to be straining at the leash.

Rather than the leash being slipped, it snapped. Collingwood persisted with a tight line outside off stump and the patience of Symonds (29) finally petered out. The head went up and the inside-out clout across the line came, only instead of the ball crashing into the boundary boards at extra cover, it found the waiting palms of Andrew Strauss short on the off side and Australia were six down with under 150 on the board.

Brad Hogg fenced at a short ball from Steve Harmison, returning for the 43rd over, only for the ball to fly through where second slip would be. To compound matters, third man was unable to get round in time to prevent the boundary. Hogg’s reprieve lasted barely an over. Harmison produced the most superb, explosive short ball and the Narrogin-born twirly couldn’t get back to the pavilion quickly enough after gloving through to Geraint Jones for 16 out of 169-7.

Harmison, warming to his task, had Brett Lee fending off just short of slip, then the long-overdue recall of Andrew Flintoff brought him face to face with his regular international sparring-partner. Hussey went airborne, just out of reach of Collingwood at backward point, then a single brought Lee back on strike. Marginally short of a length from Flintoff, the edge, the catch by Jones a formality – Lee out for 3 and Australia 179-8. One ball was more than enough for Jason Gillespie, going in identical fashion and Flintoff on a hat-trick. The only question was – would he get another ball?

Hussey had Glenn McGrath for company – and Harmison was more than willing to give a single to get the rabbit on strike. A fortunate edge took Hussey through to 49, then a slap to cover took him to a desperately valuable 50 and left McGrath one ball to face. He successfully dug out the yorker and all eyes turned to the other end.

Hussey negotiated the hat-trick ball and scrambled a couple before a McGrath trip when setting off cost him the strike. Hussey contented himself with taking up residence at the other end, waiting for Darren Gough. A heave over cover, two runs, then a repeat performance. Gough adjusted his line, Hussey countered with a great drive through mid on for four. These were valuable runs and Gough looked a shadow of his former self. Even the strut and the posturing were momentarily absent. Hussey eventually was forced into taking a single, McGrath smeared and Collingwood took the simplest of catches.

England, in particular Harmison and Flintoff who had proved far too hot to handle, had bowled out Australia within the fifty overs for just 196. You have to go back almost a decade for the last time they had done as well. Hussey had been left stranded on 62 when so many before him had simply thrown their wickets away. It remained to be seen whether England would find the going just as heavy. The smart money said they would, with cloud cover set in for the day.

Brett Lee bowled the first ball of the reply to Marcus Trescothick, short, on his pads. The resultant leg byes were followed by a nudged single to fine leg. Lee’s first over was decidedly sharp and he swung the ball prodigiously in the still heavy overcast conditions.

Trescothick gave Glenn McGrath the charge and was fortunate to see the ball evade the packed cover field as England sought a positive reply, then Andrew Strauss was fortunate to avoid one which was just too close to cut.

A huge appeal for a catch down the leg side against Lee was quite correctly turned down, then the frenetic start continued with Trescothick fortunate to see the ball fall just short of the diving Hogg. A scrambled single turned into two following an overthrow, then a vicious but clearly accidental beamer brought an apology from the bowler and the sternest of admonishments from umpire Shepherd. On this occasion, thankfully, there was no stupid confrontation in the middle of the pitch.

Trescothick’s stay at the wicket was short-lived, and his method of departure was familiar indeed. Glenn McGrath, proving a real handful, extracted just enough movement and the opener, in attempting to run the ball down to third man, merely steered the ball to Ricky Ponting for 6.

Strauss (2) eventually got off the mark, pushing comfortably to midwicket, but the next ball from Lee was far too good. Fast and straight, it arrowed in on middle and off and defeated the expansive drive when surely a more circumspect approach was called for. With England on 13-2, the victory target of 197 was a long, long way away.

Kevin Pietersen nudged a single as England maybe ought to have been looking to regroup at this very early stage, although no-one had told the big South African as he walked across his stumps and swatted McGrath dismissively through the covers for four. Michael Vaughan (0), also looking to dominate, pounced on a short one from McGrath. The ball, instead of whistling through the midwicket region, only made it as far as the England captain’s own wicket. Six overs, three down, less than 20 on the board, Australia were rampant.

Worse was to come – far worse, or better, depending upon your favoured hemisphere. Pietersen (6) lunged at a ball outside off stump but only succeeded in edging Lee through to Adam Gilchrist, and with it probably went any chance he had of figuring in the side for the first Ashes test match. Paul Collingwood came in and stroked Lee through the covers for four, but the England innings appeared to be in complete disarray.

Flintoff was quick to pounce when Lee over-pitched, twice finding the ropes, but even respectability was a long way away. Collingwood was put down by Ponting, but Flintoff (8) flashed loosely at one from the irrepressible McGrath and England were 33-5.

New batsman Geraint Jones flashed hard outside the off stump at McGrath as England continued to spurn any semblance of defence, and remarkably, yet unsurprisingly to anyone who had witnessed it, Australia had whipped five out inside ten overs of as intense an opening burst as you could wish to see.

Jason Gillespie was brought into the attack in place of Brett Lee, and Geraint Jones was lucky to avoid dragging on, the ball eventually squeezing down to fine leg for a single. Fortune smiled further a moment later when Michael Clarke failed with a relatively straightforward run out chance.

Gillespie dropped short to Jones and the wicket keeper cum erstwhile opening batsman cracked the ball through point for four to bring the first 15 eventful overs to a close. When Glenn McGrath at the other end was given a well-earned break, he had the splendid figures of 3-8 from seven exquisite overs.

Geraint Jones won the race to become the first England batsman into double figures when he turned Gillespie for a single, then Collingwood followed suit in the same general direction, but it was still desperately grim stuff from England. Conversely, the Australians were cock-a-hoop, all mental scars inflicted during the early part of the summer being returned in spades.

In the 21st over, England supporters finally had something to celebrate as the total passed 50, but the muted applause told the full story. 50-5 is NOT a good platform from which to chase almost 200 for victory. Gillespie, still terribly out of sorts, dropped short and Geraint Jones, a compulsive hooker, barely got enough bat on the ball to clear fine leg – and the ropes – by a couple of yards to finally raise the noise level of the crowd by a couple of notches from ‘Silent’ to merely ‘Subdued’.

Brad Hogg, arguably the most successful Australian bowler in the competition thus far, replaced Gillespie at the Pavilion End, and there were no prizes for guessing that Jones’s first choice of shot would be the sweep. Collingwood, meanwhile, played with a vertical bat, driving to mid off but still for the most part finding singles hard to come by.

Brad Hogg persevered with Gillespie up inside the circle at mid off, so Collingwood danced down the track and drove straight for four. An interchange of singles and the pair had added fifty for the sixth wicket of eminently sensible batting, but it had taken a long, long time.

Symonds delivered a rare long hop to Collingwood who had no difficulty whatsoever in threading the ball through midwicket for four, then a streaky push down to third man kept the scoreboard ticking over. This prompted Ricky Ponting to turn to the vastly experienced Jason Gillespie in place of Brad Hogg in his endeavour to nip any England recovery in the bud.

The seemingly innocuous yet splendidly nagging Andrew Symonds continued into his final over, hardly looking as though he would take a wicket this side of August, yet no batsman had been able to get him off the square with any degree of authority. When drinks were taken at the end of the end of the 32nd over with England 95-5, Symonds’s stint had been completed at a personal cost of a McGrath-like 23 runs.

Immediately after the drinks break, Gillespie made two successive attempts to bounce Geraint Jones. The first, a tennis-ball wide, the second smashed over midwicket to the boundary to take England into three figures. Ponting made another brilliant attempt to pick up Jones at point, the ball dying just in front of his outstretched fingers, but Gillespie’s over went for ten.

Brad Hogg was switched to the Pavilion End, and Geraint Jones signalled his intent by dancing down the track, although the hard-hitting keeper failed to make decisive contact. Next ball was a different story, the ball sailing all the way to Row Q and England were 113-5, still a long way from victory but at least in the right street.

Ponting’s response was to turn immediately to his strike bowler Brett Lee, who had caused so much damage to England’s top order. Immediately, Jones looked less certain, wafting at one wide of off stump. Collingwood, on the other hand, was swift to pounce on a short one, thumping the ball through midwicket.

A deft nudge to square leg brought polite as opposed to exuberant applause which heralded a half century of immense character from Geraint Jones, then Lee produced the perfect yorker but Collingwood was more than equal to it, squeezing the ball to square leg. Two hours earlier, England had appeared dead and buried. At this stage they were still in dire straits, but the two in the middle looked the part.

Collingwood had a huge slice of luck when he tried to drive Gillespie over the top, only to see the ball fall tantalisingly between two fielders. Two balls later, Jones executed the stroke perfectly, way, way back into the crowd. A quick single and the century partnership had been hoisted.

Glenn McGrath is a man any captain would turn to in similar circumstances, and Ricky Ponting turned to his man to get him out of an enormous hole. After 40 overs, he had used five bowlers and one of them, the spinner Brad Hogg, had only bowled five. Ponting turned to the medium pace of Mike Hussey, the hero with the bat earlier in the day.

The margin between success and failure is measured in inches, and when Collingwood failed to get hold of Hussey’s second ball, it passed inches out of reach of Jason Gillespie. Instead of a wicket to the bowler, the reward was a boundary to the batsman. Ponting’s inspired moment of genius was in danger of turning into a faceful of egg, but there were many more twists and turns to come.

A single poked around the corner took Collingwood to his own half-century, then Jones took on McGrath over midwicket. Brad Hogg made yards haring in from the boundary, but his despairing dive was agonising inches short yet again. With seven overs to go, England had reached 149-5 and a game that hadn’t even been a contest for so long was rapidly approaching boiling point.

Everything had been going England’s way for an hour, yet suddenly a lapse in concentration stoked the intensity even higher. Collingwood swatted Hussey into the covers and set off for a single that was a figment of his own imagination. Sent back late, his despairing dive was never likely to beat the throw from Symonds.

Ashley Giles pushed a single to cover to take the score to 150, then successive boundaries by Jones, one bludgeoned square and one finessed to third man, brought the target below 40. Brad Hogg was brought back and a scampered single gave the strike back to Jones, desperate to get after the left arm spinner. The resultant full toss struck Geraint Jones on the toe and David Shepherd instantly adjudicated in favour of the bowler.

Simon Jones was sent in above Darren Gough as England, who had lived by the sword all day, signalled their intent to continue in similar vein, but the pendulum had swung very firmly in the direction of Australia. When Simon Jones played all round a ball of full length by Hussey to be clean bowled for a single, Ponting’s men looked to all intents and purposes as though they had won the day.

Sensing that the end was nigh, Ponting once more turned to Brett Lee in order to finish things quickly. Giles flailed at two balls short of a length as Lee seemed to be setting him up for the yorker, then a suicidal single presented Symonds with a run out chance only for the all-rounder to fluff the chance. Lee’s superb fiery yet controlled over produced just one run, leaving England’s tail with an almost impossible 28 to get from the final three overs.

Giles drove Hussey firmly through the covers, then straight as England eked out a precious nine runs from the over, but with the two men who had destroyed England’s upper order so comprehensively to share the last two overs, there were few prepared to give the home side a sniff.

Lee bowled short to Ashley Giles and the flailing blade edged over Gilchrist for a precious boundary. A handful of singles and a scrambled bye took England into the final over still, amazingly, in the contest.

The equation was simple – Glenn McGrath had to bowl his final over and concede less than nine runs in the process. Wickets of course would help. McGrath to Gough, a clubbed single but, horror of horrors, a no ball. Ponting furious, McGrath aghast, the crowd roared their approval. Giles swung hard at the next and missed. McGrath then produced a high full toss, terribly close to beamer height before Gough hacked the ball over point for a couple.

Three balls to go, five to win, and Gough smashed a McGrath ball through the covers for two more. Lord’s was in uproar, and Ponting cleverly tried to take the heat out of the situation by changing the field. McGrath fired in the yorker, Gough dug it out and charged down the wicket, desperate to get Giles on strike. McGrath, cool as a cucumber, threw down the stumps with The Dazzler yards shy of safety.

One ball to go, three to win, Giles on strike. McGrath in, a false start and the jeers of the crowd said it all. Eventually, McGrath produced the perfect ball, full and straight. Giles, rapped on the pad, didn’t wait for any decision. He and Steve Harmison were out of the blocks like scalded cats, haring up and down. A slight misfield at third man meant that two runs were a formality, three out of the question.

England’s quite breathtaking comeback from 31-5 was as unlikely as it sounded, yet somehow they had dashed one half of the trophy from the hands of Ricky Ponting’s Australia. The match was tied, a result that can be interpreted in one of two ways. If you are a ‘Glass is Half Empty’ sort of person, you can say “No-one won” – but you will be wrong. England won, Australia won, but more than that, cricket won.

Match Summary

Australia 196 all out, 48.5 overs
M Hussey 62 not out
A Flintoff 3-23, S Harmison 3-27

England 196-9, 50 overs
G Jones 71, P Collingwood 53
G McGrath 3-27, B Lee 2-36

CricketWeb Man of the Match:
G Jones (England)

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