Brilliant England snatch surprise series triumph
England 8 for 246 (Collingwood 70, Loye 45) beat Australia 8 for 152 (Hodge 49, Plunkett 3-43) by 34 runs on D/L
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England sparked the shock of the season by handing Australia their first home finals defeat for 14 years in a dramatic rain-reduced game at the SCG. On the same ground where a demoralised England handed over the Ashes last month, Andrew Flintoff completed a smaller but highly satisfying clean sweep by taking the CB Series in two games.
The Australians were shocked - and probably embarrassed - when they flopped to 5 for 63 in the 12th over chasing a revised total after Paul Collingwood drove England to 8 for 246. Rain offered a brief reprieve for Australia when it came with the match needing another 22 balls for a result, but the sky cleared for long enough and they lost by 34 runs on Duckworth-Lewis when more wet weather arrived.
"To pit our wits against Australia in a final is a great thing for us with a group of young guys," Andrew Flintoff said. "The guys in the dressing room are cock-a-hoop. It's been a tough tour and we've stayed together throughout."
Australia last gave up a home finals series when they were overrun by West Indies in 1992-93 and three weeks ago nobody in the England camp would have considered flying home with anything more than a damaged reputation. At that point they were outsiders even to reach the deciders, let alone win them in two games. Perhaps the expectations - and the injury to Andrew Symonds - affected Australia's outlook and if Ricky Ponting was unhappy with Friday's loss, he would have been livid over this performance. His team is now vulnerable ahead of next month's World Cup.
The hosts suffered severe setbacks when Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting departed before heavy rain arrived after six overs, but the major damage occurred when the players returned. Liam Plunkett gave England a perfect start by bowling Adam Gilchrist (20) and catching Michael Clarke's edge to drop Australia to 4 for 40. In a fantastic over he also had Brad Hodge dropped by Paul Collingwood in the cordon before he'd scored.
When Hussey drove at Andrew Flintoff and edged to Andrew Strauss Australia were relying on a miracle from Brad Hodge and Shane Watson. Watson flexed for 37 but left deflated when Jamie Dalrymple dived at full length at point for a one-handed take. Hodge, who hit three boundaries in a Plunkett over, raced to 49 from 46 balls and when he drove to Ian Bell the series was decided.
The start of Australia's reply was also strange as Gilchrist showed early aggression while watching two of his top-order team-mates fall. Hayden (5) was tricked by a clever Sajid Mahmood slower ball and Ponting's plans to level the series by himself were ended when he pushed at a fine Plunkett outswinger on 7. Plunkett's first five overs were incredible and he finished with a fine 3 for 43 while Flintoff, Collingwood and Mahmood appeared in important bowling roles.
However, Collingwood's defining performance came with the bat and he added 70 off 90 balls to his back-to-back centuries over the past week. After two rain breaks Australia surged into control before Collingwood and Flintoff rebuilt England during a 97-run partnership.
Collingwood was again highly industrious, picking up only two fours in another invaluable display. If it was not for Collingwood over the past week England would not have reached the finals and they would not have started this game with a 1-0 lead. Now he has steered them to an unexpected trophy.
His scampering ended with a reverse-swept edge to Gilchrist and England experienced a sombre finish of 21 runs in the last five overs. Dalrymple was run-out when sent back by Paul Nixon and Glenn McGrath, playing his last game at the SCG, rewarded the supporters who gave him a standing ovation on his final ball by dismissing Nixon, who clipped to deep midwicket.
It was a below-par conclusion for England after Collingwood's well-paced double-act with Flintoff. The pair took their time after Bell was run-out by Hussey at 4 for 112 - at one stage they went more than 11 overs without a boundary - but when Flintoff started to lift his players deserved to be confident.
Flintoff had collected 42 when he drove back hard at the bowler Brett Lee, who put his hands down and accepted the reflex catch in mid-air. Lee returned 1 for 53 from ten while McGrath was economical along with Nathan Bracken and they both grabbed two wickets.
England's push was interrupted by a couple of rain delays before the halfway stage of the innings. The tourists began well through Mal Loye and had 1 for 79 in 18.2 overs when the players were forced off the field for a second time. While Australia came back switched on, England paid for some lapses when Loye was run-out by a Hayden direct hit on 45 and Strauss edged in the following over.
The Australia batsmen did not learn from the situation and suffered as well. While England managed a memorable recovery, the home side completed a night and a tournament to forget.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo