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Australia bounce back

NatWest Series

Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke pulls in his unbeaten 99, a classy innings which helped Australia recover from a shaky start to reach 290

England's hopes of a NatWest Series whitewash over Australia were wrecked by a comprehensive 78-run defeat in the fourth match at the Brit Insurance Oval.

Australia's renowned fortitude was evident in a much-improved display that saw them bowl the hosts out for 212 with 7.2 overs unused - and condemn them to a first loss in nine ODIs stretching back to November.

Ryan Harris did much to undermine England's pursuit of 291 to win with the early wickets of Craig Kieswetter and Kevin Pietersen en route to figures of 5-32, while Doug Bollinger and leg-spinner Steven Smith shared four victims.

Andrew Strauss made 37, Eoin Morgan 47 and Michael Yardy 57 - a futile maiden ODI half-century - but no England batsman could match the composure shown by Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting.

Clarke batted with a great deal of common sense and no little style in making an unbeaten 99 off 106 balls, which, along with Ponting's equally pleasing 92, served as the cornerstone of a total of 290 for five.

That total, while the biggest of the series thus far, appeared far from daunting on a typically true surface, especially for an England side that had completed successful run-chases in the first three games to take an unassailable 3-0 lead.

However, Kieswetter, Pietersen and Strauss perished in the space of five overs to leave them tottering on 61 for three, and although Morgan and Yardy's 50-run stand for the fifth wicket - the biggest of the innings - restored some sort of order after Paul Collingwood fell cheaply, with Morgan went England's chances.

By contrast, the contributions of Clarke and Ponting, and their partnership of 155 for the third wicket in particular, proved decisive.

Their alliance, which spanned almost 26 overs, helped Australia rebuild from a potentially precarious 73 for two, Tim Paine having been caught at cover via a leading edge and Shane Watson failing to build on a promising start once again as he swept Graeme Swann straight to deep midwicket to depart for 41.

Craig Kieswetter & Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting added 155 with Clarke for the third wicket, only to perish within eight of what would have been a deserved century

Ponting's glare from the non-striker's end said everything about the merits of Watson's shot, and the captain proceeded to give his team-mates - and the England batsmen - a lesson in controlled strokeplay.

He and Clarke batted with great control, Ponting mixing sweetly-timed drives through extra-cover with the occasional cross-batted stroke to leg in his 219th one-day appearance as captain, beating former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming's record.

There were occasional strokes of aggression from Clarke, who was dropped on five by James Anderson at cover off Swann, but Ponting continued to play the leading role as he went to a 56-ball half-century.

Clarke repeated the feat four overs later - his fifty spanned 61 deliveries and contained just three fours - moments before the century stand arrived.

Aside from a hint of a run-out chance when Collingwood, having pulled off a fine stop at short cover, failed to hit the stumps with a throw on the turn with Ponting short of his ground, England opportunities were rare.

Indeed, a Ponting century looked a certainty until, immediately after taking the batting powerplay at the start of the 43rd over, he sliced a drive off Anderson to a leaping Strauss at extra-cover. He had faced 93 balls and hit 10 fours.

It was the first of three wickets to fall in six overs as Australia faltered somewhat, Stuart Broad hurrying Cameron White into a pull before Mike Hussey was comfortably run out by Strauss after Clarke, who hit the ball firmly to extra-cover, failed to respond to his call for an unlikely single.

Australia were thankful for Smith's enterprising unbeaten 18 off eight balls to add late impetus, yet in doing so he deprived Clarke of the strike and left him stranded within touching distance of three figures.

Craig Kieswetter

Craig Kieswetter has his off stump uprooted by Ryan Harris, the first of three wickets in five overs early in England's faltering chase

Harris was the architect behind England's faltering display with the bat, removing Kieswetter's off stump with one that nipped back through the gate and trapping Pietersen lbw as he attempting to work to leg.

Strauss played fitfully - there were as many crisp boundaries as wafts at thin air - before edging Shaun Tait behind, and when Smith won a fortunate lbw verdict against Collingwood, pushing forward, the responsibility on Morgan grew inexorably.

Having opened his account with a glorious six over long-on off James Hopes, the left-hander swept the same bowler over midwicket, only for Harris to locate his edge as he chased one angled across him.

Luke Wright was bowled round his legs by the effervescent Smith before Yardy, fighting a losing battle, and Tim Bresnan added 48 for the seventh wicket.

But England's last throw of the dice, taking the powerplay affter 39 overs, signalled the beginning of the end.

Bresnan swatted Harris to long-on, Swann gloved Bollinger down the leg side, Yardy miscued a pull off the left-armer to mid-on and Broad drove to extra-cover.

Those four wickets tumbled for 13 runs in the space of 15 balls, capping a thoroughly impressive Australia display.

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