Australia ease to comfortable win in VB Series opener
Australia eased to a seven-wicket victory with five overs to spare in the opening match of the VB Series in Sydney. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist set the tone with a blistering opening partnership to destroy the notion that England's 251 for eight might be competitive. An unbeaten hundred for Nick Knight and fifties for Marcus Trescothick and Nasser Hussain had raised English hopes before a collapse initiated by Brett Lee with four wickets and Darren Lehmann with three, and the tourists are still looking for their first win on Australian soil after 12 matches.
After Hussain had won the toss and batted, there was a welcome return to form from the England openers. Trescothick, with one fifty in 15 innings on tour, could have gone to the first ball when he edged Glenn McGrath through the slips, and he was far from chanceless thereafter.
Nevertheless, he stayed to compile a much-needed hundred opening partnership with Knight who played the sort of innings that many critics suggested might be behind him in his international career. Despite the fact that he was suffering from cramp and required a runner, he was quite superb.
The left-handed openers had put on 101 in 17 overs when Trescothick's innings of 60 from 57 balls came to an end as he attempted to cut Lee and only succeeded in finding Shane Warne at slip.
Ronnie Irani fell lbw to Warne's second ball, but Nasser Hussain steadied things when he joined Knight. He was not able to press on at the sort of rate he might have wanted, but he constructed an innings of 52 from 81 balls, at which point England were 205 for two in the 41st over and looking at a total at the thick end of 270 or so. Then came the collapse.
Lehmann had been introduced to the attack with his left-arm spin and Hussain, trying to take the initiative, was well held at long-off by Jason Gillespie. Ian Blackwell was caught behind off Lehmann first ball, Owais Shah, in the circumstances, was too eager and lifted Lehmann straight to Michael Bevan at long-on, and Alec Stewart followed, given out lbw to Lee despite an impression that the ball was going down the leg side.
Craig White kept Knight company with good effect until moving across his stumps to be bowled by Lee in the last over, and Gareth Batty's first ball in international cricket was a 95 mph straight yorker that might have beaten anybody.
The fall of wickets took the momentum out of the last ten overs, despite the fact that Knight kept runs flowing from one end with some clubbing strokes of total authority. They gave England hope, but were soon eclipsed by a savage Australian response.
Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden took the England attack apart in the early overs. James Kirtley began with an encouraging maiden, but there was little else to please the bowlers or their captain. Hussain applied some innovative field placings, but nothing could contain the batsmen in the sort of form they displayed.
Gilchrist went to his fifty from 44 balls and Hayden was even quicker as he reached the mark in 38 balls. It looked as if the bowlers were there simply to serve up balls for the batsmen to despatch. Despite opening with a maiden, Kirtley went for 33 from his other three in his opening spell. Andrew Caddick conceded 32 from his first four. White pegged it back slightly, while Irani at least had the satisfaction of a wicket.
Gilchrist had been going at better than a run a ball with seven boundaries when he tried to lift Irani over the mid-wicket boundary but fell a little short and Shah took a comfortable catch. He would have been disappointed not to go on, but he had done a first-rate job for his side as England's fragile confidence was battered once again.
Hayden went on, employing a wide array of sweeps to counter the introduction of England's young spinners - Batty and Blackwell. Some were frustratingly just out of reach of fielders, a few were thumped, others worked into gaps while one, off Batty, was deposited deep into the stand over square leg with a minimum of effort.
Ricky Ponting had an enjoyable task at the other end, being able to watch Hayden on the attack while playing himself in. He had done that when he pushed forward to a ball from Blackwell that turned enough to find the outside edge and Irani tumbled and juggled and held the catch at slip.
A hundred from Hayden was writ large on all the cards, but it was not to be. He had excited the crowd by sweeping at Blackwell on 98 and taking two, but those were signalled as leg byes. Still on 98, he drove the 92nd ball he faced over mid-off where Trescothick judged his leap to perfection to pluck the ball out of the air. A fine catch to end a splendid innings.
It left Damien Martyn and Lehmann to take Australia home with clinical efficiency. No risks were necessary and none taken. They saw off Blackwell, who finished with the most respectable of the bowling figures, and ran with supreme understanding as they stroked the ball into gaps with consummate ease.
Australia failed to win in time to pick up a bonus point, but they were totally in command in every other respect. It only remains to be seen whether England have the reserves of will power to come back and remain as contenders in the series.