Gilchrist's ton takes Australia home in style
Australia 229 for 2 (Gilchrist 121*) defeated England 228 for 7 (Pietersen 74, Solanki 53*) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
Adam Gilchrist led the charge with a fantastic unbeaten century as Australia romped to the NatWest Challenge title in a thoroughly one-sided match at The Oval. Gilchrist's sublime 121 took Australia to an eight-wicket victory, with a whopping 15.1 overs to spare. Kevin Pietersen hit 74 for England to rescue them from 93 for 6 and the Supersub Vikram Solanki added an unbeaten 53, but England's total of 228 for 7 was never going to be enough on a belter of a pitch.
England were thoroughly outplayed, but they were playing with one hand behind their back, too, from the moment they lost the toss, and so lost any advantage that could be gained from the Supersub. Solanki was drafted in to rescue them from 93 for 6, but this was a massive gamble as it meant sacrificing the pace bowler Simon Jones. Solanki answered the call but, with a seriously depleted attack, England were always going to struggle.
Regardless of the not-so-super sub ruling, Australia's bowlers were just too good for England. Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath were on the button from the off, before Jason Gillespie bounced back to form, taking 3 for 44 from his ten overs. Then came Gilchrist and his single-handed devastation. Once he got going, nothing could stop him on the way to his 11th one-day hundred.
Gilchrist hit runs all around the ground, off all types of bowling: pace, medium and spin, and his knock included 17 fours and two sixes. He and Matthew Hayden dominated from the outset, putting on 91 for the first wicket. Hayden muscled his way to 31 from 47 balls, before Ricky Ponting added a rapid 43 from 44; Australia, it seemed, couldn't wait to finish this match, pick up the trophy, and head towards the first Test.
Hayden eventually fell to Darren Gough, who had been brought back for a second spell. But Gough's wicket came at a price - his four overs cost 37 in what could be his last international match. Steve Harmison was also expensive, his 9.5 overs going for 81. Only Andrew Flintoff escaped serious punishment, giving up 34 in nine.
It was another important match for Ponting, who gained some more vital time at the crease ahead of the Test series. He is peaking at the right time after adding to his century at Lord's on Sunday. And so is Gillespie. A poor series got worse when he dropped a catch early on, but when he came on to bowl he showed steely determination and ended up the pick of the attack.
England's day got off to a bad start when Lee struck early to dismiss Marcus Trescothick for a duck. McGrath was bowling well from the other end, planting four perfectly pitched maidens to tie them up, and his fifth over should have been a wicket maiden, with Michael Vaughan nearly chopping on and then offering a dolly to fine-leg, where he was dropped by Gillespie. Gilchrist then fluffed a chance off Andrew Strauss - a difficult, over-the-head effort - and England drew a deep breath. They were soon in the mire, though, in the face of some hostile bowling.
As the pressure began to tell, Ponting ran Vaughan out in the 13th over. Strauss was the next to fall, for 36, when he prodded an outside edge through to Gilchrist off Michael Kasprowicz. Flintoff went the same way after making only 5 (74 for 4) and Australia were turning the screw. Gillespie then came on and induced Paul Collingwood to hole out to Andrew Symonds for 9 before removing Geraint Jones for 1 when Kasprowicz held on to a good catch at third man. At 93 for 6, England were struggling, and Vaughan pushed the panic button, bringing in Solanki.
Pietersen and Solanki both played powerfully and lifted the run-rate with a series of crashing fours. Pietersen, as ever, relied on his eye and chose to pummel shots through the legside. He was steady at first, employing a sensible, assured game, something which the England Test selectors, who meet tomorrow, will be taking note of. His case is gathering momentum. He moved through the gears with aplomb, and the highlight was a six off Michael Clarke over long-on, which Kasprowicz grabbed over his head, but he was already over the rope. Pietersen was finally undone by a slower ball from Gillespie, but not before he had played England back into the game (186 for 7). Ashley Giles, who made 25 not out, then joined Solanki and they posted 80 from the last ten overs.
But it was too little, too late and England knew it. Australia are back to their best and they will take vital psychological points away from this match - as well as the silverware.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo