Martyn outclasses listless England
The pundits had been anticipating a firecracker of a contest to celebrate Diwali, but England's batsmen and bowlers contrived instead to produce yet another damp squib, as Australia secured an emphatic six-wicket victory in the unofficial Ashes curtain-raiser at Jaipur. In a game full of sub-plots and psychological by-plays, Australia's greater determination won the day, as they recovered from shaky starts in both innings to win by a margin even more emphatic than the scoreline would suggest.
It was Australia's young guns, Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, who stole the show with the ball, grabbing three wickets apiece as England capitulated dismally from 83 for 0 to 169 all out. And then, having lost three early wickets in reply, it was over to the old stager, Damien Martyn, on his 35th birthday, who steadied Australia's run-chase with a classy and confident 78 that included another filleting of Steve Harmison's bowling figures. Mike Hussey piloted his team home with an unbeaten 32, as England looked like becoming the first major nation to be eliminated from the ICC Champions Trophy.
It was a typically listless one-day display from England, although in the early exchanges of the innings it looked as though a real contest was on the cards. Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss established an excellent platform for their team with a coolly compiled opening stand, a partnership that included a premeditated assault on Glenn McGrath, who looked sluggish when he entered the attack as first-change, and whose demeanour was not improved when Martyn of all people dropped an absolute sitter at mid-off to reprieve Bell on 23.
At that stage the Ashes psychometer was swinging wildly in England's favour, but the balance was dramatically redressed in the second half of their innings. It was Bell who, inadvertently, started the collapse. He had located his touch and timing superbly in the early stages and demonstrated that he is a transformed character compared to the mousy walking wicket the Australians encountered in 2005. But his determination to play a shot a ball backfired when he slapped Watson's second delivery - a long-hop - straight to Hussey in the covers.
Andrew Flintoff had been pencilled in at No. 3 but out to the middle, in a bold statement of England's intent, came Kevin Pietersen. The experiment failed, however, thanks to a brilliant double-whammy from Johnson, who first softened his target up with a well-directed bouncer, then located the perfect length next ball to graze the edge of a groping bat. It was a big moment, as Australia's newest fast bowler had got one-up on England's biggest big-game player.
Not long afterwards, it was Watson's turn for a similar game of one-upmanship. Flintoff had been biding his time when he too was surprised by a bouncer that didn't get up and struck him in the visor. Both Watson and Flintoff grinned as they exchanged words, but two balls later it was the pretender to the allrounder's crown who had stolen the show. Another bouncer was dug in, and Flintoff could only pick out Hussey in the deep.
England were now in some disarray at 110 for 3, and everything rested on the shoulders of Andrew Strauss, who had been coolly accumulating all through his innings. But Andrew Symonds' offspin completely unsettled him, and after flapping all the way through a probing over, he slashed at a wide one and feathered a catch through to Adam Gilchrist.
Strauss threw his head back in disgust and little wonder. England now had two new batsmen at the crease in Michael Yardy and Paul Collingwood, and at 115 for 4 the momentum of the innings had completely dissipated. Yardy didn't last long, as he was strangled down the leg-side by Watson, and the rot had truly set in.
Jamie Dalrymple clipped Johnson to Ricky Ponting at short midwicket, and when McGrath returned for his second spell, he quickly re-established his aura, plucking Chris Read from the crease for a second-ball duck with a classic off-stump nibbler. Sajid Mahmood poked a slower ball back to Nathan Bracken, and only a gritty last-wicket stand of 18 between Collingwood and James Anderson was able to salvage any face for England.
England looked as though they were in a hurry to get the match out of the way when their turn came to bowl, as Sajid Mahmood in particular leaked boundaries down the leg-side. But a timely floodlight failure revived their prospects, and after a ten-minute delay, Mahmood returned with his radar locked full-on. He bowled Adam Gilchrist with his very first ball, and followed up with the big scalp of Ricky Ponting in his next over.
Anderson, the pick of England's bowlers by a mile, prised out Watson via an under-edged pull, and Australia had lost three prime wickets for four runs in 17 balls. But, just when a big effort was needed from Harmison, he decided instead to reprise his horrible opening over against India last week. Martyn clipped and slapped him for three fours in a row, and Andrew Flintoff had no option but to withdraw him from the attack with the dismal analysis of 2-0-26-0.
That was emphatically game, set and match. With England desperately needing wickets, Flintoff was forced to return to the excellent Anderson, and the move very nearly paid off when Martyn, on 48, carved a cut towards point. Collingwood leapt but couldn't gather, and the moment was lost.
Michael Yardy bowled a tidy spell of left-arm spin, but it was too little too late, and when Harmison returned, belatedly, to the attack, he was clipped for yet another four by Martyn. He did get some revenge by dismissing him for 78 shortly before the end, but it was scant consolation. "We can't take any positives from the game," admitted a candid Flintoff afterwards.
Ian Bell c Hussey b Watson 43 (83 for 1)
Slapped long-hop to cover
Kevin Pietersen c Gilchrist b Johnson 1 (84 for 2)
Softened up by bouncer, nibbled length-ball to keeper
Andrew Flintoff c Hussey b Watson 4 (110 for 3)
Top-edged short ball to deep midwicket
Andrew Strauss c Gilchrist b Symonds 56 (115 for 4)
Extra bounce, feathered cut to keeper
Michael Yardy c Gilchrist b Watson 4 (125 for 5)
Strangled down the leg-side
Jamie Dalrymple c Ponting b Johnson 3 (135 for 6)
Clipped leg-stump delivery to short midwicket
Chris Read c Gilchrist b McGrath 0 (136 for 7)
Tight line, hint of movement, thin nick
Sajid Mahmood c & b Bracken 8 (150 for 8)
Slower ball toe-ended back to bowler
Steve Harmison c Gilchrist b Johnson 1 (151 for 9)
Short ball reared at shoulder
James Anderson b McGrath 15 (169 for 10)
Perfect length, plucked the off stump
Adam Gilchrist b Mahmood 10 (30 for 1)
Round the wicket, perfect line on off stump
Ricky Ponting c Strauss b Mahmood 1 (34 for 2)
Flat-footed drive, juggling catch at slip
Shane Watson b Anderson 21 (34 for 3)
Short ball didn't get up, under-edged pull onto stumps
Damien Martyn c Read b Harmison 78 (151 for 4)
Extra bounce, fenced to keeper
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo