Strauss endures 'horrendous' climax
England captain Andrew Strauss led England to the brink of today’s NatWest Series-clinching victory over Australia - yet had to endure an “horrendous” last 10 overs before he could celebrate.
Strauss’ 87 gave England seven wickets and seven overs with which to make the last 28 runs, chasing 212 all out at Old Trafford.
In the end, though, they had only one wicket and five balls to spare when Tim Bresnan held his nerve to hit the winning boundary off James Hopes.
It was a close shave which should surely never have come about. But a relieved Strauss gave credit to Australia’s bowlers, as well as Bresnan, when it came to reflecting on the narrow margin by which England went 3-0 up with only two matches left to play.
Fast bowlers Shaun Tait and Doug Bollinger took three wickets each, at a combined cost of only 48 runs.
But England off-spinner Graeme Swann and James Anderson had, in the final analysis, given the hosts enough breathing space to suffer a collapse of six wickets for 18 runs.
At a suggestion the outcome had become a touch closer than he might have hoped, Strauss said: “I think that’s a bit of an understatement. It was quite horrendous, those last 10 overs.
“Getting past the 40th over three wickets down, needing 35 or so to win, we thought we’d just cruise over.
“But it just goes to show your job is never done - which is a good lesson for us.
“Australia bowled fantastically, with reverse-swing, to put us under pressure - and in the end, it was just a relief to get over the line.
“That’s a shame, because we did so much well over the course of the game.”
England’s cricketers came within one delivery of following their footballing counterparts’ 4-1 World Cup exit against Germany this afternoon with more disappointment against their own old enemy.
Instead, they claimed a notable success which means they have now beaten Australia in all three international formats in their most recent meetings.
“There aren’t many sides that go 3-0 up against Australia, so I think we should take a huge amount of confidence from the way we’ve played,” added the captain.
As for the collapse, Strauss - who shared half-century stands with Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and then Eoin Morgan - admits it is easy to lose perspective when a match changes so abruptly.
“The problem is the momentum shifts so quickly, and suddenly you’re thinking every ball is a hand grenade and could get a wicket.
“The lesson to take out of that is that one of I or Morgy should have been there at the end; then it wouldn’t have been an issue. That was probably the biggest mistake we made.”
Fortunately, brawny all-rounder Bresnan came to the rescue - earning his captain’s undying gratitude.
“It was clear what he had to do. With Jimmy at the other end, he had to look for those boundary opportunities.
“But he did it really well; he was clear in what he was trying to achieve, looking to hit straight.
“I think when you’re used to winning you just back yourself to get over the line in those circumstances.
“If we’d lost our last seven one-dayers, we almost certainly would have thought we were going to lose that one. That’s the difference.”
For Strauss’ opposite number Ricky Ponting, there is an equal and opposite side of the same equation.
“It’s a bit of the same old, same old from the first two games, we just didn’t get enough runs again,” he said, of an innings in which Australia failed to cash in on the start given them by openers Shane Watson and Tim Paine.
“Nought for 75 and all out 212 is not good enough - you’re not going to win many games doing that.
“Although that total was pretty competitive at this venue, we just weren’t quite good enough.”
There has been a striking similarity to England’s three victories, which have become progressively tight affairs but have also incorporated successful chases of below-par targets at the Rose Bowl at the SWALEC Stadium.
“If there’s a positive to be taken out of the first three games, it’s that we’ve stuck to our task pretty well with the ball,” added Ponting.
“Even in Cardiff we were probably half a chance of almost pinching that one as well. Sitting here now, I feel as though we should have won today - close, but not close enough.”