June 21, 2001

Australia on the verge of comfortable victory

Australia's batsmen have made the last match before the NatWest Series final on Saturday look like a practice game in preparation for the showdown with Pakistan at Lord's on Saturday. They appeared totally unconcerned and at ease in facing the victory target of 177 set by England at The Oval.

England did claim an early wicket, though, when Matthew Hayden mistimed his pull to be caught for eight off Andy Caddick with the total on 39. Thereafter, it was all going Australia's way with Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist quickly getting the measure of the England attack.

The fifty partnership came from 45 balls as they kept pace with each other. Gilchrist reached the half-century first from 54 balls with 40 of those coming in boundaries.

Ponting raced to his fifty from 45 balls which included six fours and two sixes off Caddick. The first was an effortless lift over mid-wicket and the second over fine-leg which also brought up the Australian hundred.

The England bowling made little impression on the two Australians as they comfortably piled on the runs. After 25 overs Australia were 157 for one needing just 20 for victory.

Earlier a timely flourish from the England lower order batsmen propped up the innings which was on the verge of disintegrating.

Andy Caddick with 36 not out from 44 balls led the hard-hitting spree along with Robert Croft who showed his usefulness with the bat with 20 valuable runs when they were so needed by England.

Among the frontline batsmen only Nick Knight, who missed his half-century by two runs, seemed to settle in against the early onslaught of Australia's fast bowlers.

Apart from him, the innings of Ben Hollioake would have raised England's hopes. He opened his account with two boundaries to extra cover off Glenn McGrath, but was unlucky to be run out later on 22, from a deflection from the bowler as he backed up for a run.

Australia's bowlers had struck just when England seemed to have made a recovery after the the loss of Marcus Trescothick's wicket in the first over of the match - without a run on the board - when he played on to McGrath, Australia struck three times in quick succession to take early control of the England innings.

On 51 for one, Alec Stewart, 22 from 46 balls, was caught, pushing to point in Brett Lee's second over after he had replaced McGrath and in the next over, the 16th of the morning, Ian Harvey had Owais Shah caught behind for one.

England were 53 for three and to push them deeper into trouble, Lee claimed his second wicket. Alastair Brown failed to keep down a lifting ball which was not much short of a length, and was caught at gully off his gloves.

England, having decided to make first use of The Oval pitch which is usually full of runs, had lost their last three wickets within four overs and for the addition of eight runs to be reduced to 59 for four.

McGrath was back in the attack for the 23rd over and with his fourth ball he had Paul Collingwood taken at first slip off the outside edge from a push. It left England struggling on 81 with five wickets down and after 25 overs they were 91 for five. From that position England recovered considerably to be dismissed for 176 after 43.2 overs.

Lee finished with three wickets for 63 while McGrath and Harvey had two each.

Australia had made three changes in the side which lost to Pakistan on Tuesday and England had included Brown in place of Michael Vaughan and off-spinner Robert Croft replaced Dominic Cork.