Stormy end to a stormy match
Match abandoned - England 37 for 1 v Australia 261 for 9 (Symonds 74, Hogg 45)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball
There were fireworks aplenty at Edgbaston as England and Australia set about using this dress rehearsal for Saturday's final to wage mental war. The stormy weather may have been the eventual winner but, with psychological points aplenty at stake, neither team wanted to save their efforts for a rainy day: and they made this clear from the outset, with each naming a full-strength side. Both sides emerged with honours even in a match stacked with plenty of needle.
Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist ran on to the pitch to start Australia's innings after Ricky Ponting chose to bat, to lay down an early marker, and Australia soon had the edge with both openers clattering Darren Gough out of the attack after just his second over, before Simon Jones struck back with two wickets. Then Andrew Symonds swung the momentum Australia's way with 74, Mike Hussey joining him in a fourth-wicket stand of 101. Australia lost a flurry of wickets as England's bowlers recovered to peg them back to 261 for 9. "I think it became apparent today that we're still a little bit off," admitted Ponting on Sky Sports after the match. "We lost wickets at crucial times, but we have been very competitive in the last couple of games."
Symonds once again gave an object lesson in controlled powerplay as he pulled, hooked and cut on his merry way to his second fifty in his two innings this series. He was unusually muted to begin with but he soon found his groove, targeting Gough in particular as he staked a claim for inclusion in the Ashes side. He has played only twice at Test level, against Sri Lanka in 2003-04, but he has announced his desires to return to that arena. While he and Hussey (45) were at the crease, Australia always had the potential to clatter 300 but Symonds' dismissal precipitated a mini-collapse: they lost four quick wickets for 18, slumping from 224 for 4 to 242 for 8.
Gough struggled throughout. He picked up 3 for 70 from nine overs, with his first six overs spread over three painful spells at a cost of 49. Three fours were taken from his first over, although poor fielding was the cause of the last one, when Kevin Pietersen gifted Australia four overthrows with a sling and a miss. Hayden collected two fours from Gough's second over and, after four, Australia were 31 without loss, 23 of the runs coming from Gough. Vaughan persevered with him, though, and in his fourth burst he removed Hussey, then Brad Hogg and Jason Gillespie. But the wickets came among a battery of boundaries and the damage to his figures was done.
The first fireworks were lit by Australia, but Jones replied with his own firecrackers, first removing Gilchrist with an edge - the faultless Geraint Jones holding the first of five catches.
Soon afterwards, Jones S became involved in a heated incident with Hayden, which set the innings up for a feisty confrontation. Hayden patted one back to Jones and the bowler threw the ball directly at him from short range to try to run him out. It struck his arm, a clear mistake, and Jones apologised immediately. Hayden strode down the wicket to give Jones a verbal blasting, and when Paul Collingwood raced across from point to have his say, it was left to Australia's captain Ricky Ponting, the non-striker, to act as peacemaker. Jones went on to win that battle, trapping Hayden lbw for 14 with a perfectly straight one. "It's all played in the right spirit," said Vaughan after the match.
Steve Harmison, though, was the pick of England's attack on his return from a rest, with 2 for 38. He and Ashley Giles (0 for 44) managed to becalm Australia - until Symonds came to the crease. As he moved through the gears, Australia began to size up a total in excess of 300, but his run-out after a mix-up proved crucial. Initially, it was Hussey who began the trudge back to the pavilion, as both players had been stuck at the same end of the pitch, but the TV replays proved that, at the moment the bails were removed, Symonds was half a bat's width closer to the crease.
His demise heralded the start of an England comeback and by the break the game was in the balance. England made a cautious start to the first three overs of their reply. But, following the rain delay, the target was revised to an eminently gettable 200 from 33 overs. Strauss duly collected four fours from McGrath's first return over, all of them square of the wicket. He then despatched another from an unimpressed McGrath's next over, but this was a false shot, a leading edge through cover which he had tried to guide through midwicket. Strauss fell next ball, for 25, offering another leading edge which this time found Gillespie at mid-on as McGrath ultimately triumphed. The real prize, though, is at stake on Saturday at Lord's.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo