Australians crash to humbling defeat
Somerset 345 for 6 (Smith 108, Jayasuriya 101) beat Australians 342 for 5 (Ponting 80, Hayden 76)
On Monday it was Australia's batsmen who imploded in spectacular fashion. Today, as if to prove a point, it was the turn of the bowlers. Somerset, powered by two brilliant centuries from their international imports, Sanath Jayasuriya and Graeme Smith, chased down a monumental target of 343 to win by four wickets with a massive 19 deliveries to spare.
Two days ago, Ricky Ponting tried to laugh off the relevance of Australia's 100-run defeat in the Twenty20 international, but he will have to come up with a better excuse this time around. This was a bona fide humiliation for Australia. Michael Kasprowicz looked every one of his 33 years as he was belted for 89 runs in eight innocuous overs, and the management's worries were compounded when Brett Lee left the field with a shoulder problem. But he will have ended the day cherishing his relatively economical figures of four overs for 26.
All of a sudden, Australia are being forced to face up to a crisis situation. In years gone by, they have had merely to step off the plane and their opponents would prostrate themselves at their feet. Not any more. Where once Somerset might have been tempted to rest several key players to save them for the Championship, today they fronted up in the manner that any self-respecting state side would do if England came to call.
Those local favourites "Gray-bags" Smith and "Farmer" Jayasuriya caught the mood magnificently, and had elderly members recalling the days of Gimblett and Alley as they clobbered 26 fours and four sixes between them while adding 197 in just 23 overs. They each brought up their half-centuries in a mere 42 balls, and then accelerated on from that point, flogging Kasprowicz for 61 runs in his first six overs. Smith was eventually stumped for a superb 108 from 74 balls, and Jayasuriya was scarcely any slower, rattling along to 101 from 79 until he was caught at fine leg off Glenn McGrath.
McGrath, as usual, was the pick of the attack, but he was still dispatched at nearly five runs an over, and such was Australia's disarray that he had to bowl all ten of his overs long before the end of the innings. He added the wicket of John Francis as well to peg Somerset back to 254 for 3, and when Ian Blackwell's potent innings of 25 was ended by Shane Watson, Australia began to believe they could haul the match out of the fire.
But they had reckoned without the nerveless 20-year-old, James Hildreth, who climbed into Kasprowicz's second spell and turned a taxing run-chase into a cakewalk. The wicketkeeper, Carl Gazzard, chipped in with 21 from 12 balls and Australia were a beaten outfit well before the end.
The day had started so well for Australia. After Ponting had won the toss on a belter of a pitch, Matthew Hayden laid into a Somerset attack lacking the services of the injured Andrew Caddick, and did his utmost to erase the memory of that 79 all out at The Rose Bowl. Of the top six, only Simon Katich - opening in place of the rested Adam Gilchrist - failed to make an impact as he fell for 12, and while Hayden was crashing along to 76 from 53 balls, the sky seemed the limit of Australia's ambitions.
But, in a gesture that seemed contemptuous at the time and later proved utterly hubristic, both Hayden and Ponting (80) chose to retire when well set. It enabled Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey to gain valuable time at the crease, but after an embarrassment of the magnitude they suffered on Monday, Australia's primary aim should have been to ramp up the highest total imaginable.
In the event, 342 seemed formidable, but it proved to be some 25 runs too few. Australia's opening encounter of the NatWest Series takes place at Cardiff on Saturday, and on this evidence, even Bangladesh might fancy their chances of landing a punch or two. In the week that one aging pugilist was put on the canvas for the very last time, Australia are also showing signs of going weak at the knees.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo