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September 9, 2009
It's getting on for mid-September, the Ashes are in the bag, and England's footballers have just qualified for the World Cup finals. Those are just three significant reasons why no-one other than the 21,000 punters who forked out 70-odd quid to sit in the Rose Bowl's evening chill will care too much about this latest result. This is just another day, just another defeat, for a team of cricketers going through the motions as the summer winds to a close.
Andrew Strauss, inevitably, protested the charge when it was put to him at the end of the match. "We're not good enough in one-day cricket to sit here and go easy, and I don't think we have for one minute," he said. But the evidence is all around him. No single England partnership was worth more than 41, and even that was more than 100 runs fewer than Cameron White and Michael Clarke managed in their game-breaking alliance. Whether they are setting the agenda or chasing the game, England are about as effective as the weather forecasters' prediction that 2009 would be a "barbeque summer".
"We haven't played well enough, clearly, but I don't think it's for lack of trying," said Strauss. "We've had three poor batting performances, and the first two were very winnable at the halfway mark, but as a batting unit we just haven't fired. We've got to be honest with ourselves and have a look at it, in terms of how we can improve. In one-day cricket, you can't go into your shell and grind it out, you've got to play with enough confidence to put a competitive score on the board, but at the same time make good decisions."
You've got to play, in other words, like Cameron White, who started this series with a reputation for a late-innings big hitting, but has morphed remarkably effectively into a man with the range of strokes for all occasions, and the temperament to utilise them at the correct moments. Admittedly he could - and maybe should - have been run out on 46 and 70 (just as he was for 53 in the first match at The Oval) but he didn't offer a chance off his own bat until he had made 92 and the game was already safe.
"The wickets can be quite hard to score on, so you can feel the scoreboard pressure, and pressure from the opposition at times," said White, who would not have been batting at No. 3 had Ricky Ponting not flown home for a break, and who will not feature there - injuries permitting - for the rest of the series. Either way, he did not snatch at the opportunity, and ended up teaching England's own batsmen how to survive in their own conditions.
"Maybe the scores haven't been as high because the pitches have been a little tough to score on," he said. "It just takes a little bit of time to get used to the pace of the pitch, and obviously if you bowl a good length and straight at the stump it is hard to score. It makes the run-rate a little bit slower."
"He played it very well," said Strauss. "When we were trying to squeeze the Australians he played some big shots to keep the momentum going, and he's taken his chance pretty well. We're a bit frustrated we didn't take all our chances, our fielding wasn't as good as it should have been, but fair play to him, he guided Australia home, which was what was needed in those circumstances - one guy to bat through and get a big score."
And that, as Strauss well knows, is exactly the role he himself should have played in each of the first three games. Regardless of the outcomes in the series to date, England's captain has still looked the most fluent and classy strokemaker on display. Each of his three innings, however, have been unfulfilled promises, undermined by the wrong shot at the wrong moment, not least as today's clip to midwicket when, with 63 out of a total of 98 for 4, he had scored almost two-thirds of England's runs.
|We've had three poor batting performances, and the first two were very winnable at the halfway mark, but as a batting unit we just haven't fired. We've got to be honest with ourselves and have a look at it, in terms of how we can improve Andrew Strauss|
"When you're batting well, you have to make hay," said Strauss. "But I haven't done that, and that's frustrating. Every time you pull on an England shirt you've got a chance to go on and achieve something, and I am as culpable as anyone."
England have two days to regroup before returning to Lord's for the first of their four must-win matches, and though Stuart Broad will be back to shore up the seam attack, Joe Denly's football-crunched knee is likely to keep him sidelined for yet another contest. With Kevin Pietersen proving an immeasurably huge void to fill, and Paul Collingwood so exhausted after featuring in every single international fixture this year that he has reportedly asked to be released from his Champions League obligations with Delhi Daredevils, there's little immediate hope of arresting the current decline.
So, can Australia achieve an unprecedented feat, and complete a 7-0 whitewash? "Yes, at the moment," said White. "I think, if we keep playing good, consistent cricket, keep bowling and fielding well, there's no reason why not. I definitely think we want to keep the momentum going, and I don't think we're playing at our total best at the moment.
"There are still areas we feel we can improve in," he said. "There's probably things we've got to work on to get better in the rest of these four games, and hopefully come four more games time, we are at our peak. Seven one-day wins against a really good side would be a pretty strange thing to happen, but I'm not saying it can't."
Nor, at this moment in time, are many of the few people in England still paying any attention.
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