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The Verdict by Peter English
October 21, 2006
A new year of an old rivalry has produced a fresh batch of performers. Instead of Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath arm-wrestling with Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Steve Harmison for mythical points ahead of the Ashes, the main men were mostly overshadowed by youthful figures who played no part in the 2005 campaign.
Rather than giving clear pointers as to how the Test re-match would run, the game was commandeered by those on the fringes until Damien Martyn swept towards a six-wicket victory with a flurry of 12 boundaries in his 78. The fast bowling of Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and Sajid Mahmood was excellent and James Anderson also managed some scares as the next generation outperformed their predecessors.
McGrath gave up consecutive boundaries to his opening two deliveries, a feat bettered by Harmison's three fours from Martyn, and laboured again until getting someone to play and miss five balls in a row before toppling off stump with the sixth. Unfortunately for McGrath the batsman was Anderson, the No. 11, instead of one of the top order.
Johnson and Watson did the dismantling as England suffered the sort of collapse that revived memories of 16 years of Australian Ashes superiority. From the confidence of 0 for 83, they crashed to five for 135 just 17 overs later on the way to 169. The result appeared certain until one of the four light towers at the ground went on strike and forced a short interruption, which sparked Mahmood to alter his over-pitched, legside line.
Adam Gilchrist will face another series of round-the-wicket attack after Mahmood removed his off stump with a fine ball and the same bowler also exploited Ponting's early-innings tendency to play on the move. Three wickets went for four runs and the swing brought back a competitive edge that disappeared as soon as Harmison dropped 26 runs in his initial two overs.
Pietersen and Flintoff, England's two other most-highly decorated veterans of '05, also suffered, but their wounds were not opened by McGrath or Brett Lee. Instead Johnson and Watson, who are not certainties for any Tests over the next three months, delivered and exposed a tail as long as a decorative kite. England's batting has flopped in two matches and will be responsible for their early exit and a couple of extra weeks at home thinking of the Ashes.
More short balls will be ordered for Pietersen after Johnson, 24, softened him with a bouncer that popped off the bat handle and cleverly followed up with a full delivery angling away, giving Gilchrist one of five catches. Johnson also threatened Andrew Strauss when he darted into his pads and his three for 40 will give Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors sitting in the dressing room, more to consider over the next four weeks.
Watson, 25, is a contender for No. 6 - his batting remains unconvincing despite a bright 21 - and he helped his claims against those of Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds by unsettling Flintoff. After clattering Flintoff's visor Watson waited a ball before trying another short one, which was mis-hit to Michael Hussey at deep square leg. England's big two had collapsed against the plans of Australia's underlings and Watson had a vital three for 16 from seven.
Following the listless performance against West Indies on Wednesday, Australia relied on their fresh faces to provide the energy for a recovery. As fireworks splashed the sky for Diwali, a celebration of good over evil, Ponting's squad was cheering their young over their old.
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