England crash out

England produced yet another dismal ODI display as arch-rivals Australia sent them crashing out of the Champions Trophy with a Diwali-day defeat at Jaipur. England threw away a position of 83 for 0 to be bowled out for 169, with Damien Martyn guiding Australia home with 78.

Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson did the damage with the ball for Australia, as England’s good start faded rapidly on yet another low-scoring pitch. The two young guns took three wickets each as England’s batsmen once again failed to provide anything remotely resembling a challenging total. Any hope of the clash providing an interesting prologue to the forthcoming Ashes series was flattened as seven English batsmen failed to reach double figures, and Australia clinched a comfortable six-wicket win.

The game began with Australia winning the toss and inserting England, something Ricky Ponting hasn’t had good experiences with in the past, and things didn’t begin too well for the Australian captain this time either. Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell played the early overs watchfully, but were also quick to latch onto anything loose. When Glenn McGrath entered the attack in the fifth over, Strauss greeted him by stepping down the pitch and pulling him through mid-wicket, a sign that England had developed a specific game plan to deal with McGrath’s metronomic accuracy. Bell followed suit in flicking McGrath through the leg-side, and before anyone knew it, England were off and running.

Strauss and Bell’s opening stand, even despite the collapse that followed, was a major plus for England – with Marcus Trescothick absent, England’s makeshift top-order partnership showed the necessary graft on a tough pitch, and yet managed to combine that with the occasional touch of undoubted class that both batsmen possess. Strauss is finally beginning to deliver consistent performances as an ODI opener, while Bell continues to prove that he is a changed man when on an international cricket field.

Bell was, however, the first to fall for 43, spooning a poor delivery from Watson straight to Mike Hussey at cover to break the stand at 83. England’s plan to bat Andrew Flintoff at three in this tournament was bizarrely abandoned after one game as Kevin Pietersen strode out at the fall of the first wicket – and promptly strode back again six balls later, nibbling at a Mitchell Johnson delivery after being softened up by a well-directed bouncer.

Captain Flintoff made his way to the crease at number four after Pietersen’s dismissal – however, he fared little better, making just four runs in half an hour’s batting before holing out off the bowling of Watson. Strauss, meanwhile, had progressed to a well-earned 50, but it wasn’t long before he too was headed back to the dressing-room, becoming Andrew Symonds’only victim of the game. England were in dire straits at 115-4, and when the lower middle-order began imploding completely, the game was all but up.

First Michael Yardy, then Jamie Dalrymple, then Chris Read – batsmen fell in single figures time after time as Watson picked up his third wicket in Yardy. Johnson and McGrath also picked up scalps as Paul Collingwood was left as the lone batsman. Sajid Mahmood helped him take the score past 150 before he and Steve Harmison both fell, Mahmood giving Bracken his only scalp and Harmison giving Johnson his third. Last man James Anderson made a spirited 15, before having his off-stump uprooted by McGrath, and that was it – England were all out for 169, and Collingwood was stranded on 22 not out.

Australia’s innings was dominated by a classy innings from Damien Martyn on his 35th birthday, the kind he has produced umpteen times in a long career. Following a ten-minute delay in play and a three-wicket burst from England’s new-ball pairing to check Australia’s early progress, Martyn and Mike Hussey set about taking control of the run-chase.

Hussey’s elevation to number five helped restore some equilibrium to a game which was in danger of slipping out of Australia’s control – three wickets fell for four runs in 17 balls in a tight spell of bowling from Saj Mahmood and James Anderson. Mahmood uprooted Adam Gilchrist’s off-stump with the first ball after the delay, caused by a floodlight failure, then had Ricky Ponting caught by Strauss at slip. Anderson forced a drag-on from Watson, and suddenly Australia were teetering.

Martyn and Hussey are not the kind of players to be flustered, however, and soon enough the run-chase was back on track – helped by two more horrific overs from Steve Harmison. Harmison’s first over of the tournament against India was nothing short of woeful – indeed, his very first ball was three feet outside leg stump – and there was no improvement here. His first two overs were taken for 26 by Martyn, and he did not return to the attack until the game was almost lost. He will have to improve his game over the next month if England are to stand any chance of retaining the Ashes.

Martyn reached his 50 off only 35 balls, while Hussey plodded along carefully, taking no unnecessary risks. England’s bowlers were, for the most part, not bad – Mahmood was threatening at times and Anderson was particularly impressive – but a lack of penetration was obvious. Mike Yardy’s spell of 10-1-18-0 was as economical as it gets, but that was not what was needed with such a small target to defend.

Martyn eventually perished once Harmison had returned to the attack – giving the Durham seamer the figures of 4.5-0-45-1 – but not before the bulk of Australia’s runs had been scored, and not before Paul Collingwood had failed to hold onto a chance he gave on 48. Andrew Symonds joined Hussey at the wicket for the final few balls, and that was that. Another one-day tournament, another early elimination for England.

This game could have told us much about the forthcoming Ashes series, and about both teams’ eagerness to gain a psychological edge, as with last year’s Twenty20 contest – instead, all it taught us was that England are hopeless at ODI cricket, and Australia are really quite good. In other words, nothing we don’t already know.

England 169 all out (45 overs)
Andrew Strauss 56; Shane Watson 3-16, Mitchell Johnson 3-40

Australia won by 6 wickets

Australia 170-4 (36.5 overs)
Damien Martyn 78, Mike Hussey 32*; Sajid Mahmood 2-57

Cricket Web Player of the Match – Damien Martyn, 78 (91 balls, 12×4)

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