Nervy England seal series win
England’s cricketers provided some much-needed sporting cheer by beating Australia to win the NatWest Series with two games to spare.
While their footballing counterparts were exiting the World Cup to Germany, Andrew Strauss and company were en route to a tense victory over their oldest adversaries at Old Trafford.
They triumphed by one wicket with five balls remaining, Tim Bresnan edging James Hopes to a vacant third man for four to carry England to their target of 213 and ease the nerves of a 22,500-strong sell-out crowd and beyond.
Victory gave England an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series, although the loss of six wickets for 18 runs in 39 balls late on ensured a breathless finish to a game which appeared to be heading only one way for much of the afternoon.
The pulsating conclusion served as just reward for the fans who were not lured elsewhere to watch the football. If Steven Gerrard and his team-mates went out in anticlimactic fashion, Strauss’ men can hardly be accused of not providing their fair share of entertainment.
Captain Strauss played a key role in England’s victory today, hitting a composed 87 to spearhead a run-chase that was for the most part serene.
He shared half-century stands with Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, who made 40, and Eoin Morgan to carry England to 185 for three, but Shaun Tait and Doug Bollinger induced panic with wonderful late spells.
Tait bowled with immense pace to finish with 3-28, while Bollinger capped a fine display with a double-wicket maiden that gave him figures of 3-20 off 10 overs and left England needing 10 off the last two overs with Bresnan and James Anderson at the crease.
That Anderson was not required to face a ball said much for Bresnan’s presence of mind, and the cheer which greeted the winning runs was laced with relief as much as delight.
The foundations for England’s victory were laid by man of the match Graeme Swann, who claimed 4-37 to precipitate an Australia collapse from 75 without loss to 212 all out.
Anderson took three wickets in seven balls to mop up the tail and, the aforementioned wobble aside, from that point on there seemed little doubt over the outcome of this contest on a pitch which offered some turn but remained typically reliable throughout.
England suffered an early scare in their pursuit as Tait – called up to the squad only this week – uprooted Craig Kieswetter’s middle stump with his fourth delivery.
He returned to the attack in the 13th over to break a 51-run stand for the second wicket between Strauss and Pietersen, who played a couple of imperious on-drives in his 25 before being he was caught and bowled as he checked his stroke.
Collingwood accompanied Strauss in adding 76 for the second wicket, largely eschewing risk as they accumulated steadily.
Strauss cut with authority on the way to a 68-ball half-century, but Collingwood, whose driven six over long-on off Michael Clarke was the exception, was bowled via the inside edge as he pushed forward at Bollinger.
Morgan dazzled briefly in making 27, most notably when he scooped Hopes over short fine-leg, only to toe-end a sweep to midwicket off Steven Smith with 28 needed from the last 8.2 overs.
Cue England’s slide. Strauss edged behind as drove flat-footedly at Ryan Harris, Luke Wright lifted Smith to long-off and Tait located Michael Yardy’s edge with the sort of quick, full delivery which marked his ferocious late spell.
When Swann and Stuart Broad were bowled in Bollinger’s immaculate last over, Australia could be considered favourites to win, but Bresnan hit Harris through midwicket for two, then over extra-cover for four before a scampered single reduced the equation to three off six balls. He needed just one.
Australia’s innings featured a similarly wasteful start, Shane Watson and Tim Paine sharing a fruitful opening stand before Swann got to work.
Paine supplied the early impetus with 44 off 48 balls, while Watson mixed the occasional lusty blow in an otherwise measured 61.
The introduction of spin changed the complexion of the game as Yardy struck with his third delivery, Paine trapped in front playing back to a ball that kept a shade low.
Although Watson lifted Yardy into the stand at wide long-on – the second of two sixes in his 76-ball innings – Swann’s dismissal of Ricky Ponting represented a key blow to Australian morale.
Advancing down the track, the captain was beaten by appreciable turn and Kieswetter completed a smart leg-side stumping.
Watson, who brought up a 54-ball half-century, became Swann’s second victim when he turned a seemingly innocuous delivery to Strauss at square-leg.
He took an altogether more difficult catch in the same position to account for Cameron White, although he made it look remarkably simple as he held a powerful sweep low to his left.
Swann was the bowler once more, and he capped a supremely skilful performance by removing Clarke in his final over.
Clarke laboured 54 balls over his 33 without finding the boundary and, in trying to force the pace, lofted tamely to substitute fielder Ian Bell at long-off.
Collingwood’s leg-cutter did for Mike Hussey, who was bowled attempting to force off the back foot, and Australia’s momentum had long since evaporated by the time Anderson ran through the tail.
He induced Hopes to drag on after Broad had hurried Harris into a pull, then struck Smith in front of leg stump as he stepped across to sweep, and bowled Bollinger two balls later.
That England’s batting lacked the same efficiency as their bowling at least made it that little bit more exciting.