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October 28, 2006
When taken in isolation, and given the rash of low scores that this tournament has thrown up, it seemed a pretty impressive performance from England's cricketers and Kevin Pietersen in particular - doubtless he'll be first off the plane, strutting his stuff as if the World Cup is already in his hands, when the team skulks back into London later this week.
But, as we have been repeating ad nauseam in this tournament, there is no isolation available to England at the moment. Far from being the dawn of a brave new world, this was a hollow victory in a dead rubber against opponents already guaranteed a semi-final berth, and no amount of positive spin can disguise that fact. Pietersen was as magnificently belligerent as only he can be, the flaws in the rest of England's performance were manifest, but hey, sod it. The Ashes are around the corner and our boys are back in the groove. Got any more of that bunting?
If you do, why not drape it over Andrew Flintoff's shoulders? His cheery performance may not have reaped many runs or any wickets, but for the first time since his ankle operation in June, he looked like a leader with a full armory at his disposal. He shook off several layers of rust with the ball while cranking his pace up towards 90mph, and until the moment he drilled Chris Gayle to cow corner, he was a batsman in control of the situation and, more pertinently, in control of himself.
Talking of Gayle, he was desperately unlucky to end up on the losing side. To judge by the solemn musings in his recent tour diary, he's not a man who's much enamoured with Ahmedabad - his idea of a good evening's entertainment is "chilling out in the hallways with Marlon [Samuels], Wavell [Hinds] and Sars [Sarwan]," and playing love songs down the phone to his "queen" back in Jamaica.
But he certainly found his release on the cricket field, turning in a coolly brilliant allround performance. His high-profile spat with Michael Clarke last week was a rare glimpse of his fierier side, but today he needed no histrionics to laud it over his opposition. Nothing epitomised his play better than Andrew Strauss's dismissal. For the second week running, Strauss descended into a blind panic as soon as the pace was taken off the ball. He should have been plumb lbw two balls before he was bowled, and when he did depart the crease it was with the same heavenward glance he had given in the last match against Australia. He knew, and England knew, that a collapse was just a faint nudge away. They are that sort of paranoid shambles at present.
And they are not being aided by the lumpen presence of Michael Yardy in the middle order. Despite the facial wound that leant an air of menace, Yardy has to be the least notorious and dangerous Yardy that Gayle and his team-mates can ever have encountered. His performance was meek from start to feeble finish, from the steepler he dropped off Ramnaresh Sarwan to his decision to walk off the pitch despite Dwayne Bravo looking every inch like a bloke who'd just claimed a bump-ball catch.
And then there's Chris Read. He has been on a one-man mission to oust himself from the team and today's pitiful innings should ensure just that. Back in the Sky Sports studio in Isleworth, Geraint Jones was being smugly diplomatic about his rival's travails, but given that he was just beginning to escape the stigma of that slower ball in 1999, Read's hopeless performance against Bravo can only have battered his confidence back out of shape. After popping countless such deliveries into no-man's land, the inevitability of his demise was tragic to behold.
And so, England end a dismal campaign on a pyrrhic high. Pietersen pulled this match off with a performance that, ironically, will have reinforced the sniffiness with which the one-day game is viewed in England. All it takes is one inspired player and a decent support cast and you can achieve the impossible. It is a blessed mercy that we are able at last to shelve the debate, at least until January and the start of the VB Series.
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