January 11, 2003

England fall agonising seven runs short

After a drubbing at the hands of Sri Lanka in their last match, to say nothing of defeat in the final Ashes Test, Australia got back to winning ways in the latest VB Series encounter with a tense victory over England in Hobart. With a hundred from Damien Martyn, and some wayward English bowling, Australia managed to get just enough to withstand an opening partnership of 165 by Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight that appeared to have put England right on course for a win. Then a mid-order collapse left the later batsmen with just too much to do and Australia got home by a mere seven runs.

The Australians had suffered a collapse at the start of their innings. They were reduced to 53 for three in the eleventh over, having lost Adam Gilchrist - given out lbw despite an inside edge - and Ricky Ponting to Jimmy Anderson before Matthew Hayden gave a return catch to Steve Harmison's second ball.

It was a day, however, when Harmison's radar proved to be on the blink. He bowled five wides in that first over, and 11 in total during his eight overs. The total of 22 wides in the innings proved to be England's undoing. The Australian bowlers delivered only two wides and six no balls throughout the England innings and England coach Duncan Fletcher will no doubt impress on his attack that in this form of cricket such indiscipline can prove to be costly, as it did here.

After the dismissal of Hayden, Martyn began to stage the recovery, featuring in century partnerships with both Michael Bevan and Jimmy Maher. Bevan is as adept as anyone in world cricket in these situations. He was ruffled by being hit on the grille by Anderson, but came through to restore Australia to a competitive position.

When Bevan fell for 52, edging a ball from Ian Blackwell onto his stumps, Australia were 171 for four after 35 overs, allowing the new batsman, Maher, to play with more freedom. But while he was seeing the innings through with a run-a-ball 49, Martyn was also becoming more expansive so that 89 runs came from the final ten overs.

Martyn was dropped by Paul Collingwood off Anderson when he was on 51. It was one of a number of missed opportunities by England, but this proved to be the most costly by far as Martyn steered Australia towards a defendable total. After facing 113 balls and taking nine fours, he turned the last ball of the innings off Andrew Caddick to fine leg for another boundary to bring up his fourth one-day international hundred.

Glenn McGrath was back in the Australian attack but he suffered like all the bowlers as Knight and Trescothick got the innings away to a perfect start for England. However, it was not his bowling that proved painful to McGrath for he was not leaking runs at the same rate as the others. It was his back, and he was forced to limp from the field after bowling seven overs.

After such a good start, it was the fall of Knight's wicket when he was bowled by Andy Bichel for 85 that began a collapse that saw seven wickets fall for the addition of 99 runs inside the last 20 overs of the innings. Left-arm wrist-spinner Brad Hogg picked up three of those wickets, including Owais Shah and Paul Collingwood in one over as England lost the momentum given them by the openers.

Nasser Hussain stayed to anchor the innings, but found nobody to support him and inject the necessary acceleration as overs ran out. There was a brief period when Alec Stewart appeared to be doing just that, adding 41 in five overs with Hussain for the sixth wicket. Had this pair been able to bat through to the end in this fashion, England would have got home with something to spare.

Australia's fielding had not been flawless, but Martyn made no mistake when holding Stewart off the bowling of Shane Watson. Watson, given the last over, then bowled Hussain for 43 with the 38th ball the captain had faced. Caddick took two off the next ball but two swings and two misses off the final two balls saw England's total remain seven runs short of Australia's and it was the home side who secured their place in the finals.