Gilchrist and Watson lead canter to victory
Australia 200 for 5 (Gilchrist 72, Watson 55) beat England 197 (Vaughan 62, Bell 56, Tait 4-33) by five wickets
Adam Gilchrist and Shane Watson helped Australia to settle a score emphatically against England after their recent whitewash in the CB Series finals. The opening pair put on 140 to take Australia to a five-wicket victory, chasing down 198 with ease in the 41st over. England squandered a decent start from Ian Bell and Michael Vaughan as they lost 9 for 75 and ended up with a modest total.
Watson's claims for the opener's spot will have been enhanced by his rapid 55 off 68 balls, while Gilchrist showed a return to form after missing the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, making 72 from 82. England's fielders looked sloppy - and their heads quickly went down - but it was a sharp catch by Kevin Pietersen, low at gully, which finally dismissed Watson.
Monty Panesar was his conqueror, but he came on later than the crowd would have liked. They already sensed the game was up, but nevertheless rapturously applauded his entry - he continues to be a favourite wherever he goes. Sajid Mahmood was lucky to pick up Gilchrist shortly after, strangled down the leg-side, but it was another tidy piece of fielding which got him, this time from the keeper Paul Nixon.
The damage, however, was already done even when Ricky Ponting chopped on for 7 off Jamie Dalrymple and Australia lost a further two quick wickets. Michael Clarke (24*) and Brad Haddin (6*) then completed the formalities as Australia raced home.
"I'm disappointed with our performance," Vaughan told AFP. "Australia put the squeeze on. We should have got 250-260 but we were well beaten by a good side." The result ended England's three-game dominance of the defending world champions.
It had all started so well for England, with Vaughan making an encouraging 62, and Bell taking command after Ed Joyce fell for just 5. Vaughan was in particularly good touch, even unleashing his swivel-pull off a furious Glenn McGrath, and driving down the ground with a powerful straight bat. Notably, there were no signs of either his hamstring or his knee causing any discomfort and his running, with Bell, was quick and alert.
England's hundred was brought up in the 19th over, shortly followed by Vaughan raising his bat for a fine 55-ball fifty. "It was nice to spend some time in the middle and to get 20 overs in the field," Vaughan said. Australia's shoulders had slumped. However, rather predictably, the introduction of spin not only brought a wicket but stifled their run-rate - dramatically.
Ponting, frustrated by the free singles Bell and Vaughan were gifted, brought long-on up a few metres to tempt them into hitting over the top. Bell couldn't resist. Brad Hogg, bowling around the wicket, tossed one wider and Bell, skipping down the pitch, was beaten in the flight and expertly stumped by Gilchrist. The wicket immediately re-energised Australia.
"It was a good result," Ponting said. "We clawed things back, our slower bowlers took over and we did well in the field."
England's wheels didn't quite fall off, but the nuts were loosened. Vaughan cut Hogg to point; Kevin Pietersen scratched around before spooning Shaun Tait to cover; Paul Collingwood attempted one his grafting innings, and failed, before Andrew Flintoff - looking very short of form - hooked Stuart Clark to Mitchell Johnson at fine-leg. From 122 for 1, England had slipped to 168 for 6.
Tait's pace was too much for England's tail and he earned 4-33 while Clark - the eighth bowler - proved the critics wrong with a miserly 3 for 16. The collapse cost England the match.