Australia teach England lesson
Australia twice demonstrated their powers of recovery to all but end England’s ICC Champions Trophy hopes courtesy of a six-wicket win in Jaipur.
The world champions bowled England out for 169 after they had been 83 without loss, then overcame the loss of three quick wickets early on to triumph with more than 13 overs to spare.
Not only does this defeat leave England needing to beat West Indies in their last group and other results going their way if they are to have any chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, but it represented an early psychological blow ahead of this winter’s Ashes series.
Damien Martyn spearheaded Australia’s fightback with the bat, hitting a 35-ball fifty after they had lost Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson for the addition of only four runs.
Martyn, who looked in sublime touch from the start of his innings, fell for a brilliant 78 with victory in sight, having shared a crucial stand of 118 for the fourth wicket - comfortably the highest of the match - with Mike Hussey, who finished unbeaten on 32.
England’s Andrew Strauss was the only other batsman to reach 50 - Ian Bell made 43 - while Australia's young seamers Watson and Mitchell Johnson returned impressive figures of 3-16 and 3-40 respectively.
Having mustered only 125 on the same surface last Sunday against India, England appeared set for a much improved total during Strauss and Bell's measured opening stand.
The breakthrough did not arrive until the 19th over when Bell slapped Watson’s second ball straight to cover.
Despite Andrew Flintoff’s commitment to batting at three in this tournament, it was Kevin Pietersen who emerged at the fall of the first wicket.
However, he did not last long. Having received a flier which struck the splice of the bat from short of a length the previous delivery, he nicked Johnson behind.
Flintoff was a target for the short ball and fell into the trap set for him when, two balls after being rapped on the helmet, he skied a Watson bouncer to Hussey at deep square-leg.
Those departures sucked the vibrancy out of the innings and when Strauss followed, cutting at Andrew Symonds’ off-spin shortly after bringing up a 78-ball half-century, England were left in need of a repair job.
Michael Yardy was given out caught down the leg-side despite the ball appearing to brush his trousers, while Steve Harmison also felt harshly done by when a snorter from Johnson brushed his shirt on its way through to Gilchrist.
In between, Jamie Dalrymple, Chris Read and Sajid Mahmood perished for single-figure scores and the innings was emphatically ended when Glenn McGrath uprooted James Anderson’s off stump.
With early wickets a necessity if England were to stand any chance, Flintoff opted to throw the new ball to Mahmood in preference to the more experienced Harmison.
Australia had charged to 30 without loss in the fourth over when one of the floodlights failed, forcing the players off the field for five minutes.
But, with the first ball back after the interruption, Mahmood swung one in to send Gilchrist’s off stump cartwheeling out of the ground.
Working up an impressive head of steam, Mahmood found the edge of Ponting’s bat and Strauss took a fine catch low down at slip to further improve the mood.
Anderson bowled Watson with a delivery which kept a touch low to leave Australia 34 for three and charge the atmosphere in a stadium only one-third full.
But Martyn blitzed his side out of danger with a thrilling counter-attack - Hussey’s contribution when their stand had reached 100 was just 18.
Martyn took his toll on Harmison, in particular, striking the Durham bowler’s first three balls to the rope as his initial two overs cost 26 runs.
Although Harmison responded late on by having Martyn caught behind off a lifter, he finished with figures of 4.5-0-45-1.
The Diwali fireworks displays around the city were still in their relative infancy, in fact, when England’s under-par performance fizzled out.