England v Australia, NatWest Series, Chester-le-Street June 23, 2005

A terse statement of intent



Andrew Symonds: muted but effective © Getty Images

On Tuesday, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood spanked 349 runs from 279 balls as England rattled along to a monstrous total of 391 for 4 against Bangladesh, the second-highest one-day score in history. On Thursday, the same three batsmen mustered a paltry three runs between them from 30 shaky deliveries, as Australia restored some normality to this most surreal of NatWest Series.

No stat could more adequately describe the gulf that has traditionally existed between the three teams in this competition, which once again begs the eternal question, how on earth did Australia manage to lose that match? The bitter aftertaste of the Bangladesh defeat is sure to linger awhile yet for the Aussies, but this victory will go a long, long way towards ramming England's taunts straight back down their throats.

It won't go all the way, mind you, thanks to an important late stand between Steve Harmison and the ever irrepressible Darren Gough, who ensured that England avoided the ignomity of being bowled out under the lights and confirmed that Jason Gillespie remains some way short of his buzzsaw best. But after the criticism that has being flying their way of late, a terse statement of intent - much like the angry snap of an irritated Doberman - was more than sufficient to send England scurrying to defeat. Six balls, two runs, three wickets. Point made and contest over.

There is a long way to go yet before Australia are back to full match fitness, although they were at least able to field their two limited-overs linchpins for the first time this series. And it made a massive difference. Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee are the cutting edges of Australia's batting and bowling, but they were unable to play a part in last weekend's debacles, and consequently the Aussies were obliged to bludgeon their opposition with a range of blunt instruments.

Symonds has an ability to belt the cover off a cricket ball that has been granted to few others, but today he was temperance personified, as he set about securing a serviceable target for his team-mates. Symonds was no less abstemious with the ball either, and he once again showed that his tough-to-dispatch medium-pacers and offspinners are a vital part of Australia's armoury in the middle overs of their innings. It was Lee's venom that really had England hopping. He needs a rampant performance in the remainder of these one-day games to regain his berth in the Test side. On this evidence, he is already a shoo-in.

England, it has to be said, did not exactly aid their predicament. There are one or two golden rules to be observed when playing Australia at cricket. The most fundamental is, when you have your foot on their throat, do not remove it for an instant. It is a rule that England have been observing with unrelenting discipline against Bangladesh all summer and yet, for some puzzling reason, Marcus Trescothick saw fit to bowl first against the big beast, in a day-night fixture, on a baking hot afternoon, on a blameless batting wicket.

Perhaps England are of the opinion that, with their place in the final secure and psychological points in the bank, there is nothing more to be gained from this competition, other than practicing all conceivable match situations. If so, then they are as guilty as Ricky Ponting and the Australians were at Cardiff, when they bucked the weather warnings and chose to set their fateful target. That excuse didn't wash then, so there is no way on earth it will wash now.

After the traumas that the Aussies went through last week, on the pitch and in the hotel room, they were damned if England were going to get the better of them for a third match in a row. Symonds and Damien Martyn enjoyed the feeling of bat on ball, and later Gillespie grooved his troubled action with a tight spell against the tail. But, in that brutal spell of three wickets in six balls at the top of the innings, Australia reminded everyone of their true selves.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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