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    July 04, 2005

    A fascinating tie at Lord's but a shared final?

    England and Australia completed the first leg of the warmup for the forthcoming Ashes with a tie at Lord's in the final of the NatWest Series. Australia made 196. So did England. Australia were all out. England were not. This was an eagerly awaited final of a one-day competition. So why on earth there was no attempt to get an outright winner is totally beyond me.

    I'm fairly sure you'd have read a lot about the actual game, so I wont bore you with a complete match report. I think overall Australia will be the far more disappointed side with the result. When the summer started, they were expected to steamroll all opposition. That they have not won the final implies that they have performed below expectations. The problem with being super achievers is that people expect you to keep performing at a level above your efforts of yesterday. While I really do prefer to watch one-day games where bowlers have a say, I dont think this game was played on a pitch which levelled the playing field, and no, I dont have any intention of reading Friedman's offering where he confuses 'flat' with 'level'. There is no doubt that the game was a cracker, but the pitch also contributed its mite. Gilchrist and Hayden's blitz at the start was perhaps an attempt to take the pitch out of the equation, perhaps to try and put up 100 in the first 15 overs by playing outrageous cricket, although the four consecutive boundaries Gilchrist hit off Jones were great to watch.

    England did very well to drag Australia back but Gilchrist was really frustrated by Flintoff's tight bowling from around the wicket. The pitch then took over for a while and England will be quite disappointed at not bowling Australia out for 150 or so after having them at 100/5. Hussey and Symonds ensured that Australia set a fairly competitive total for England to chase. While Harmison and Flintoff bowled superbly, England will be concerned about the lack of support. Giles and Collingwood were harmless. Gough huffed and puffed his way to the bowling crease but disappeared even faster, conceding five an over in a lowscoring game does indicate that he is possibly past it. I have absolutely no idea why Vaughan didnt let Flintoff complete his quota. Australia were all out in the 49th over. At that stage, Flintoff had two overs to go. Who knows what may have happened had Vaughan's captaincy not been so senseless. Vaughan had also earlier shelled out sixteen overs to Collingwood and Giles which let Australia consolidate. I know England do have bowling options, but when you have a side such as Australia on the mat, why would you ever want to have anyone other than your top four (or perhaps five) bowlers bowl to numbers 6-11?

    England's top order was blasted out by Lee and McGrath, including yet another senseless beamer from Lee, this one to Trescothick. While a lot of writers seem to suggest that the beamer shook up Trescothick, resulting in his edge to second slip one over later, I really do differ. The guided edge to slip off an Australian quick is fast becoming a standard Trescothick offering. He'd have done the same even if Lee had not beamed him. Pietersen, promoted to #4, didnt last long either and Australia's quicks ended up scoring a lot of brownie points against England's top order batsmen. I dont quite think England's bowlers can claim that against Australia's batsmen.

    England were 33/5 and Australia would have really sniffed a chance to go in for the kill. Lee was taken off with analysis of 2/20 in 6 overs while McGrath had 3/9 in 7 overs. Lee didnt make his next bowling appeareance until the 36th over and at that time, Collingwood and Jones had batted beautifully to take England to 113. Ponting took a leaf out of Vaughan's book and choosing to bring on the likes of Symonds and Hogg to ensure that Lee and McGrath had a few overs left at the end. I think Ponting should have gone through with either Lee or McGrath and retained only one of those two for the end. Hogg took a pasting, although he did manage to get Jones out lbw at a crucial juncture. Australia normally pride themselves on having quite a few bowling options but Ponting only had Hussey as a backup. Clarke wasnt even used, perhaps because Pietersen had already been dismissed! Hogg and Hussey bowled 10 overs between them for 55 runs, and took two Jones wickets, and that really did prove costly. Effectively, in the absence of Warne in the one-day game, Australia are a three bowler side. If batsmen can keep their wickets intact against the three quicks (whoever among McGrath, Lee, Gillespie and Kasprowicz plays), they should really not have problems against the other bowlers. Either Australia need to bring back Warne saying "All is forgotten" or find some other decent bowlers.

    When Collingwood and Jones got out within a couple of overs of each other, Australia should won. England needed 36 off 31 and had three wickets in hand. One of them was Giles, and our contempt for him is well known, the others were Simon Jones, Gough and Harmison. Lee's 49th over was reasonably ok but he ended up making a huge mistake of trying to bounce Giles. At that stage, 18 were needed in 11 balls and the snorter at Giles' throat ended up being spooned over Gilchrist and the game had changed in the matter of one ball. McGrath's last over was terrible. He began with a no-ball when 10 were needed and conceded one run to Gough off that ball. Gough kept backing away to leg and smacked two extra-cover drives which brought him four runs and now with three required off 2 balls, England had to really bat senselessly to lose. The next ball was all McGrath magic. Gough tried to smash to long-off and didnt time it and started running. McGrath stretched out and fielded the ball, saw Gough running. He had three options - do nothing, attempt a direct hit or run up to the stumps and effect the runout since Gough was a fair distance behind. He showed his greatness and presence of mind when in the span of less than half a second, he decided to hit the stumps, took aim and succeeded! Three required off one ball now! At this stage, Australia really should have won, considering England had one wicket left and Ponting could have adjusted his field placing to ensure that the ball didn't squirt away through fineleg or third man. Giles added to the tension by pulling away as McGrath ran in to bowl (or was it the other way around?). An inswinging yorker attempted by McGrath hit Giles on the pad and the ball ran away to third man where Lee rushed in to prevent the second. One set of Aussie fielders, including McGrath and Ponting, were convinced Giles was out lbw. Lee made a mess of the fielding and allowed Giles to return for a second and the game was tied! Given that the umpire ruled leg-bye, I'm fairly sure Giles was out.

    What a superb game to end the series. Yet, this is not the end of Australia-England one-day encounters for the summer. Three more games coming up as part of the NatWest Challenge where the new rules proposed by the ICC will be tested out. If anything, I think these games will be damp squibs compared to the final. Isn't there an overdose of Australia-England one-dayers? Bring on the tests please! In any case, it does seem ironic that after such a wonderful game of one-day cricket, a low-scoring thriller at that, we will be seeing new rules being tried out to spice up the game. Then again, after 2258 one-dayers, we've only had 22 last-ball wins, 43 games decided on a 1 run or 1 wicket margin and 23 tied games. Given that less than 5% of all one-dayers appear to have been close games, the ICC may perhaps be right in tweaking things.

    I'm also sure that Vaughan can no longer take his place in a one-day side for granted. As pointed out here earlier, his average and strike-rate are quite pathetic. His failure in a big game such as Saturdays would see more ex-players, commentators etc. write about his failings and whether he deserves to be in the side.

    England must be convinced that tied one-dayers are like London buses. In their 34 year old experience with one-day international cricket, England had only been involved in two tied games until February this year. After that, they have tied two more, against South Africa and Saturday's final!

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    Thus spake Jagadish @ 8:30 AM |
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