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Australia whip England, stay unbeaten
Prem Panicker | April 08, 2007 21:05 IST
Last Updated: April 09, 2007 03:54 IST
Defending champions Australia beat England by seven wickets in a World Cup Super Eights match on Sunday and maintained their unbeaten run in the tournament.
Chasing England's total of 247, which was powered by a fine 104 from 122 balls from South Africa-born Kevin Pietersen, Australia cruised home, finishing on 248 for 3 in 47.2 overs.
Skipper Ricky Ponting led the charge, scoring 86 off 106 deliveries. He was well-supported by Michael Clarke, who scored an unbeaten 55 off 63 balls.
Glenn McGrath bowled his first ball to Kevin Pietersen after breaking the latter's rib and putting him out of action in the VB Series - and 'KP' took a step forward and flicked easily off his pads, through midwicket, for four.
At the end of the over, KP gave the bowler some lip; McGrath took vocal notice; and skipper Ricky Ponting came racing up out of nowhere to join the pow-wow.
Talk of defining moments in a game � this wasn't it.
The real defining moments of the first half of the England innings, after Michael Vaughan won the toss and opted to take first strike at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua; came in the 11th and 14th overs.
In the 11th over, Ricky Ponting signaled the first of his power plays � and tossed the ball to part time spinner Michael Clarke.
Shaun Tait, getting great pace out of a good batting strip, had gone 4-0-17-2; Nathan Bracken at the other end was moving the ball around nicely, and had figures of 5-1-13-0; England after ten had lost two early wickets, and were struggling.
You would imagine that a captain in that position would go for the kill, look to take out another wicket or two with his main bowlers and put England really under the hammer. In the commentary box, Nasser Hussain wondered whether the move was to reserve Tait for later, so he could do a Malinga with some quick reversing Yorkers � but then, if you take wickets out early and cheap, it doesn't matter that much whether you have such options for the death.
The second turning point came in the 14th over � when Ian Bell, who had taken a fancy to Glenn McGrath ever since the senior bowler took the ball in the 10th, really cut loose: the second ball was lofted inside out over cover; the third saw the batsman rock back and smash through point; to the fifth, Bell came forward and drove, sweet as you please, through wide mid off.
That assault on Australia's favorite enforcer put the bowling side under the pump; Ponting faced the prospect of runs bleeding at both ends, and the even more daunting fact that McGrath had been blasted out of the firing line with his first three overs going for 25 runs.
Showing a great sense of occasion and timing, Pietersen rubbed it all in by going after Clarke in the very next over � two strides down the track to the pitch, and the drive rocketed the ball to the long on fence; the next ball was short and Pietersen stayed back and slog-scooped the ball high over the ropes, in pretty much the same direction. Clarke's first two overs had gone for 5; the third one went for 13 and suddenly, two overs had produced 25 and it was Australia's turn to feel the heat, as Bell and Pietersen brought up the 50 of their partnership off just 55 balls.
At the start, it seemed like Australia would roll the opposition up pretty quick. In the 4th over, Tait bowled one short, Vaughan went back, made some passes at the ball with his bat rather in the manner of an amateur magician holding a wand for the first time, and managed only to chop it onto his stumps 5/8; 10/1).
Andrew Strauss, who has been more out than in the squad, was next to go � and again, it was Tait, again it was short, and like his captain, Strauss fiddled in a parody of a cut, and dragged the ball back on (7/10; 24/2).
And then Ponting inexplicably took his foot off the pedal, got both his lead quicks out of the attack, and England turned it round in a hurry. With Clarke and McGrath getting tap, Ponting had to go to Brad Hogg and Andrew Symonds for relief; it wasn't really forthcoming as Pietersen in particular walked forward, backward, sideways, nudged, paddled, smacked, and took eight off Symonds' first over.
It is double trouble for Australia, with both batsmen now in cruise mode. In the 23rd over, first Pietersen, then Bell, worked singles to reach their individual 50s, with the former getting there off 49 balls and Bell off 68. The very next ball saw Pietersen mishit a waft over midwicket; Ricky Ponting got airborne, bent like a bow, and managed to get his outstretched hand to the ball. That took more athleticism than most cricketers can manage; Ponting however failed to close the deal, as the ball slid out of his grasping fingers. Shortly after, the two brought up the 100 off 107, with Bell contributing 43 off 54 and Pietersen 55 off 53.
Both batsmen have been relying on clever placement and brilliant running to keep the momentum going, but just every once in a while, one or the other player has been producing a flurry of shots that upsets the rhythm of the Australian bowling and fielding. In the 25th over, thus, Bell played a delicate leg glance, then picked a short ball and flicked superbly for a second successive four.
At the halfway point, England are firmly in control, with a healthy 5.51 run rate and plenty of batting to come. Australia's part-timers have been put in their places, McGrath was knocked out of the attack, and Ponting still has a power play he needs to deploy, some time soon.
5 overs: 18/1 @ 3.60 (Strauss 7/8; Bell 4/14)
10 overs: 39/2 @ 3.90 (Bell 18/35; Pietersen 4/8)
15 overs: 74/2 @ 4.93 (Bell 34/49; Pietersen 23/24)
20 overs: 101/2 @ 5.05 (Bell 39/59; Pietersen 45/44)
25 overs: 138/2 @ 5.52 (Bell 62/76; Pietersen 59/57)
Overs 26 - 49
England played the second half of its innings like a starving pauper confronted with a no-limits, eat-all-you-like buffet � and standing there, paralyzed by the unexpected largesse and hence unable to wade in.
If every opportunity came gift-wrapped, this was it. With the runs coming freely and no signs of a breakthrough in sight, Ponting was forced to take the power play he had been delaying.
The Australian captain used Shaun Tait and Glenn McGrath for the critical five overs, and Bell greeted McGrath with a stunning back foot punch on the rise over cover in the bowler's first comeback over.
Bell, in fact, appeared to have developed a marked taste for the line and length offerings McGrath was serving up. After that comeback over, McGrath's analysis read 4-0-32-0 � and Bell had cracked 27 runs off 20 deliveries off the bowler, including five fours.
Australia was clearly feeling the pressure, and it manifested in the very next over when Pietersen tried to loft Tait straight, and managed only to slice. Mathew Hayden had a simple jog and an easy catch to make, from his deepish mid off position � and somehow, he managed to make the most awful meal of it, with Pietersen on 63 and England 161/2 at the time.
And then, the tide turned � or more accurately, England shook its collective head at the buffet spread out for it. In McGrath's second over, Bell yet again looked to go inside out over cover, but this time picked a ball that was going away from him, and opted to hit well away from his body.
The resulting slice ended in the hands of Michael Hussey at cover, to complete a tame dismissal just when the batsman appeared to have the bowling at his mercy (77/90; 163/3; partnership 139 runs at 6.04)
In the very next over, Tait produced bowling of the highest quality � first, a brilliant late reversing yorker that Paul Collingwood just about managed to dig out; then a ball at top pace down the channel, swinging late the other way, that Collingwood, playing for the reverse to bring the ball in, could only touch through to Gilchrist (2/5; 167/4).
Andrew Flintoff for once had a good platform to play off, but continued to look totally out of sorts. Not only was he unable to make his shots work, he couldn't take the singles and let his partner get the strike, to Pietersen's evident frustration.
Tait had tied Flintoff out; Hogg took him out, with a superlative display of back of the hand bowling. In the 36th over, he tossed one up that landed on middle, and spun sharply past Flintoff's defensive bat. The next ball was tossed even more; Flintoff looked to take a step down the track to try and negate the turn, but was beaten by the flight. The ball landed, bit into the deck, turned dramatically past the groping bat, and Gilchrist did the rest (4/19; 179/5).
Ravi Bopara earned a promotion thanks to his heroics against Sri Lanka, and joined Pietersen in the 36th over. Both played well within themselves, looking to bat well into the death before launching anything like an assault, and Australia used this period to drag the run rate back down under the 5 an over mark.
Both sides were setting themselves up for the death � and Australia continued its good work into the first half of the slog, permitting a mere 27 runs between 41-45 through a combination of Symonds, McGrath and Tait.
The 50-run partnership � only the second of the England innings � came off 62 deliveries, with Bopara (21/34) playing an equal hand to his more illustrious partner (Pietersen 25/28). Pietersen seemed, for a while, intent on getting to his century � and the overs were ticking by; which meant Bopara had to take the initiative.
He tried � and fell when, in the 47th over, Bracken bowled one on middle going to off. Bopara leaned a long way forward looking to flick it out onto the on, and managed only to pick out Hussey at deep midwicket (21/35; 229/6); England had yet again managed to put itself in a good position, only to lose a wicket at the key moment.
Pietersen finally nudged a single in the 48th to get his century � his first against Australia, and coming as it did off 117 deliveries, his slowest to date.
His first 50 had come off 49 balls; the second took all of 68. At a time when he was the only man on the park capable of turning it on, Pietersen seemed to get bogged down by the landmark, and with that, a large part of the momentum of the England innings was squandered.
All might have been forgiven had he then accelerated to pull England well over the 275 mark � but time and again, players who bat themselves into a shell have perished when they try to explode out of it, and Pietersen here was no exception: looking to open out in the over after getting to his century, Pietersen stepped away, teed off at a full length delivery on middle and off from Bracken, and hit it straight to Michael Clarke at deep mid off (104/122; 240/7).
A culture that celebrates individual heroes will likely celebrate a century by the man recently ranked the best one day player in the world � but if you go by the game of the day, the second half of his innings was as self-centered as the first half was brilliant, and in the final analysis, that could cost England dear.
Two deliveries later, Bracken struck again, with a full toss that Sajid Mahmood sliced; Brad Hodge at backward point dived away to his right and held a beauty (0/2; 240/8).
Paul Nixon started the final over by flicking � an amazing shot, really, all wrist and timing � McGrath well over the long on boundary. The bowler shortened the length a trifle to the next ball, Nixon went aerial again, and Hodge, fielding now at long on, held with ease (8/5; 246/8).
Two deliveries later, McGrath produced an inswinging yorker that was too good for James Anderson � the ball hit his back boot, and England had been bowled out for 247, with one ball left in the allotted quota.
From being 163/2 in the 30th over, England managed to lose 8 wickets for 84 runs, and let Australia off the hook just when it seemed the fielding side was panicking, and losing even the normally keen edge of their fielding.
Australia, to its credit, held its nerve; Ponting gambled with his power play at just the right moment and the bowlers he went to delivered for him.
247 is a fairly decent total � but given the England bowling, and the conditions, it will take a near miraculous bowling effort to reel in this game. The momentum is now with Australia, and it should be favored to take this home.
30 overs: 166/3 @ 5.53 (Pietersen 64/71; Collingwood 2/3)
35 overs: 178/4 @ 5.08 (Pietersen 69/82; Flintoff 4/17)
40 overs: 196/5 @ 4.90 (Pietersen 75/91; Bopara 10/19)
45 overs: 223/5 @ 4.95 (Pietrsen 92/108; Bopara 19/32)
With the ball they may be showing the occasional sign of vulnerability, but when it comes to the Australian batting, there is a sort of cosmic inevitability about the whole thing that makes writing a 'report' somewhat superfluous.
A succession of grim-jawed men come sauntering out and biff the ball about till they have gotten to where they want to be, and then they go home till it is time to do it all over again � so what's to tell?
There are no nuances, no interesting passages between bat and ball where both are on equal terms; when the bowling and the conditions make the batsmen pause for thought, dig deep within themselves to come up with answers.
It is just biff, biff, tap, run, biff � fluent if it is a Gilchrist, brutal when it is Hayden, silken with Ponting at the business end, but the end result is the same; the score keeps mounting, and the opposition increasingly begins to go through the motions.
That was pretty much how it was during the first half of the Australian chase. Sajid Mahmood tried bounce and pace; James Anderson tried swing and seam; Andrew Flintoff tried a mix of both and Monty Panesar flighted and turned � and the runs kept coming.
There was a brief hiccup in the 11th over, when Flintoff in his first over held one back a fraction and Gilchrist, foot forward, weight back, got a touch confused about his own intentions and ended up prodding the ball down the throat of Paul Collingwood at point (27/37; 57/1).
But then Ponting walked out, played a few exaggerated defensive pushes at Monty Panesar, got bored, came dancing down the wicket and deposited him, one bounce, over the long on boundary and it was back to business as usual.
England did what it could � using Panesar early, having Flintoff go around the wicket to the left-handers, even using the likes of Bell, Nixon and Collinwood to try and distract Hayden in particular with the verbals, but � as must be obvious from the innings progression -- nothing really worked.
If England had batted better, and built on the huge platform provided by Bell and Pietersen; if the scoreboard read 300+ then, perhaps, Australia might have been forced to take increasing risks. But a chase of 5 an over or thereabouts is pretty much how Australia bat anyway, so there really was no mental pressure on the batsmen, nor the need to do anything out of the ordinary.
To England's credit, they kept things tight, not allowing Australia to break free entirely � the two power plays produced a mere 39 runs. And by way of bonus, Paul Collingwood came on in the last over of the power plays and with his first ball, took Hayden out of the equation.
It was a bit anti-climactic: the ball landed middle and drifted to off; Hayden came half forward and pushed without any real intent, and the ball gently slid past the outside edge and clipped the outside of off stump (41/50; 89/2) � a strangely gentle end to an innings that was characteristically violent.
Approaching the halfway mark, England have picked on the best available gameplan � to bowl tight lines, bring the field in, make singles hard to obtain and look to force the run rate up, in the expectation, or hope, that something will crack as the ball softens and hard hitting becomes a touch more difficult.
England's cause might have had a huge boost had Vaughan, fielding a Ponting push at a shortish mid on, managed to hit the stumps with Ponting stranded half way down the track � but he missed.
At the halfway mark, it will take very little to tilt the contest either way � a bad over or two, and Australia will break free; a wicket, or better yet two, and England can still claw its way back into this game. On the basis of how it is going thus far, though, you would need to back Australia to take this one home.
Australia's progression: Overs 1-25
5 overs: 24/0 @ 4.80 (Hayden 8/14; Gilchrist 12/16); Required Rate 4.97 (224 runs in 45 overs)
10 overs: 52/0 @ 5.20 (Hayden 21/24; Gilchrist 27/36); Required Rate 4.90 (196 runs in 40 overs)
15 overs: 71/1 @ 4.73 (Hayden 34/41; Ponting 6/12); Required rate 5.05 (177 from 35 overs)
20 overs: 91/2 @ 4.55 (Ponting 18/31; Clarke 1/2); Required Rate 5.23 (157 from 30)
25 overs: 107/2 @ 4.28 (Ponting 28/49; Clarke 7/14); Required Rate 5.64 (141 from 25)
Overs 26 - 48
The second half of the game was all about Punter and the Pup; about inventiveness, a seemingly limitless capacity to absorb pressure, and a sure sense of when, and how, to relieve it with well placed hits.
The two batsmen focused on using the large size of the ground to run England ragged � they kept working the ball around, to the left or right of fielders, racing between wickets, sneaking singles and converting them into twos. And when the increasingly worried England skipper brought the field in to try and cut down the runs, one or the other � Ponting, mostly � would sashay out of the crease and go over the top to find the boundary � in the process pushing the fielder back, so the cycle could start all over again.
It really was brilliant batting � not in the flash-bang-crackle style that characterize the big-hitters, but as a mental battle between the batsmen and the fielding side.
A classic instance was in the 38th over. Both batsmen had in earlier overs kept pushing at Panesar, against the turn into the off side and running singles. To counter that, Vaughan tried bringing his field in; the batsmen countered by pushing the ball onto the on side. Vaughan removed his sweeper from the off, to reinforce the on side cordon � and Ponting promptly leaned forward, opened the bat face and lofted one to the cover boundary, then danced down and lofted the next ball straighter, over mid off.
It was all cold calculation and percentage play and through it all, there was no real attempt to accelerate; it was almost as if neither batsman wanted to take the slightest chance of flubbing this one.
'Come on, Pup', Ponting kept exhorting his younger partner, and Clarke responded with amiable grins and electric heels between wickets.
Ponting batted well within himself, and showed a predator's sense of when to strike. Against tight stuff from the likes of Flintoff and Collingwood, he concentrated on maneuvering the ball around; when Sajid Mahmood came on, he smashed a square cut past point, then played a lovely, late leg glance, to bring up his 60th ODI fifty (69 balls) with those two boundaries.
As the partnership progressed in inexorable fashion, England shoulders began to droop; the fielding lost the edge and the bowlers their line, and even the indefatigable Paul Nixon behind the stumps lapsed into silence.
Australia got into the death needing 47 from 60 � and a moment of brilliance by Paul Collingwood brought some life back to the England fielders. Ponting flicked at a Flintoff delivery and missed; the ball crashed into the pads and everybody went up. Ponting meanwhile tried to sneak the single; Collingwood swooped from point, picked up and threw the stumps down in one fluid motion (86/106; 201/3).
It was not quite the most attractive innings Ponting has played � but if you wanted to showcase one knock as an example of leading from the front, this one will do.
Then came a most extraordinary moment � a YouTube moment, if the ICC weren't so recalcitrant. Andrew Symonds whacked Collingwood over midwicket. The next ball was hit in the same direction; Kevin Pietersen got the ball in his hands, about two feet inside the ropes, but then lost balance and began running towards the rope.
He fought for control, failed, went over the ropes and as he crossed, threw the ball back. Michael Vaughan and the others appealed for catch, suggesting that Pietersen had got the ball, then kept it in control for the four, five steps that he continued running, before throwing it up and back into the field of play.
The umpires ruled otherwise � rightly, because per the rules, for a catch to be completed the fielder has to control not only the ball, but also his own movements � and by no stretch of the imagination was Pietersen in control of his movements.
Symonds collected two for that effort, then blasted the next ball over the long off boundary, and suddenly 12 runs had come off three balls and Australia had stilled any hopes England might have had.
From then on, Clarke continued his tip and run, only even more energetically, and Symonds flexed his biceps and found the fence repeatedly, even on this huge ground, with ridiculous ease; together, they took Australia home with time to spare.
It was not an authoritative victory, not 'payback' for the VB Series upset, not a 'thrashing'. This seemed to be more about a professional team reckoning that its focus needed to be on collecting maximum points � everything else was a distraction Australia didn't need.
In the final analysis, England lost the game when it failed to build on an imposing platform � the target it set was, at a bare minimum, a good 35-40 short of what was needed to cause the Aussies, newly restored to the world number one slot, a moment of concern.
Here's a stat to leave you with: Ponting ran 30 singles and six twos; Clarke had 26 singles, six twos and two threes and needed just two fours in an unbeaten knock of 55/63.
Progression: 26-48 overs
30 overs: 134/2 @ 4.46 (Ponting 44/67; Clarke 17/26); Required rate 5.70 (114 runs from 20 overs)
35 overs: 171/2 @ 4.88 (Ponting 72/87; Clarke 24/36); Required rate 5.13 (77 from 15 overs)
40 overs: 201/2 @ 5.02 (Ponting 86/105; Clarke 40/48); Required rate 4.70 (47 from 10 overs)
45 overs: 232/3 @ 5.15 (Clarke 51/60; Symonds 19/17); Required rate 3.20 (16 from 5 overs)
The Cup: The Complete Coverage
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