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A wounded Australia is the most dangerous kind
September 14, 2007
A wounded Australia is the most dangerous kind. Their defeat against Zimbabwe had been a shock, Twenty20 or not, but the thought of being dumped out in the opening round of a global tournament - for the first time since the ICC Knockout in Kenya in 2000-01 - and by England of all teams, was enough to stir them into life. For one day (or 34.5 overs, as it turned out), this was taken as seriously as any other Anglo-Australian contest. It's too early to say whether the happenings of two days ago were a watershed moment as far as Australia and Twenty20 cricket is concerned, but here they looked like champions again.
Reacting to Kevin Pietersen's comments about a chance to humiliate Australia, Ricky Ponting turned the knife a little harder into England's backs. "Unless you can back them up they don't mean anything at all. If anything they were the ones who left humiliated today."
A typically intimidating innings from Matthew Hayden - who rekindled the form that earned him the One-Day Player of the Year title in Johannesburg a few days ago - wrapped up the victory, but it was in the field where Australia began repairing the damage from the other day. There was a familiar theme to England's troubles, with two left-arm seamers causing most of the problems. During the recent Test and ODIs against India, Zaheer Khan and RP Singh caused England's batsmen no end of difficulties and here it was Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson repeating the dose.
Johnson, who was part of Australia's World Cup squad but didn't play a match, claimed early wickets with his hit-the-deck, back-of-a-length attack, then it was the turn of Bracken with his changes of line and pace. Bracken showed the adaptability that is required in Twenty20, switching from over to round the wicket and cramping Andrew Flintoff for room, before spearing in yorkers at the lower order.
Australia's fielding was the other throttling factor on England. Michael Clarke, absent from the Zimbabwe match, set the tone early and was spectacular inside the circle and also on the boundary. Alongside Andrew Symonds they saved runs on reputation alone, turning threes into twos and twos into ones. With England unable to find the rope regularly, momentum never arrived.
The nature of the results in this group, lurching from nail-baiters to cake-walks is typical of Twenty20 and why it is often difficult to draw firm conclusions. But the best sides will have a degree of flexibility and England were unable to think on their feet. Kevin Pietersen, the in-form batsman, wasn't at the crease until 6.4 overs had elapsed and all the fielding restrictions had been used up. He should have come in at No. 3 after the openers used up nearly five overs making 29. Even though his first ball was a sublime cover-drive past mid-off, Australia already had a grip on the match that they would never let go.
"I'm not going to start panicking yet," said Paul Collingwood, but it was a good job for England that they beat Zimbabwe by such a healthy margin, giving them enough breathing space to survive a performance like this. When they were bowled out off the last ball of their 20 overs the calculators whirred into action and pumped out 9.3 overs as the cut-off for Australia's run-chase if England were to be sent home. That wasn't going to happen, but the crushing result was a timely reminder to them that, despite some promising performances of late, they shouldn't get ahead of themselves.
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