Ruthless Ponting makes it five
England’s vivid hopes of breaking their losing streak in the NatWest Series were cruelly scuppered by a masterful Ricky Ponting century under lights in the fifth match at Trent Bridge.
Unlike their four previous defeats in this series, England finally had a total, 299, which would be defendable in most one-day matches, even on such a good batting surface as they encountered today.
But the Australia captain, who had not added to a haul of 26 hundreds in this form of the game since February 2008, chose the perfect occasion to throw the monkey off his back, striking 126 from 109 balls to set his side up for a fifth successive win with 10 balls to spare.
It was precisely the sort of innings England’s batsmen seem incapable of this series, though Ponting is clearly a class above all-comers.
While there were encouraging signs for England, their improved performance should not mask perennial top-order problems.
Despite the huge total, only Eoin Morgan went on to a half-century - he made 58 - meaning England’s highest individual innings of the series remain Andrew Strauss’ knocks of 63 at the Rose Bowl and Lord’s.
In another uncanny run of events, Strauss won a fifth successive toss. Though he himself was inconvenienced by a blow to the lip from Graham Onions in the morning nets, the England skipper announced a single change to the XI, with Dimitri Mascarenhas replacing the injured Luke Wright.
For Australia, Peter Siddle was drafted in for a first match of the series in place of Brett Lee, rested despite taking five wickets in the previous game at Lord’s.
It took 14 deliveries for England to score their opening run, and a further 12 balls for Strauss to cut away for the game’s first boundary, but the England captain took 12 runs off Siddle’s third over to break the shackles.
England had scored 47 from the obligatory 10-over powerplay when Strauss came commandingly down the pitch to strike Nathan Hauritz over the top.
But from the following ball he attempted a reverse-sweep and was given out lbw after a considerable wait by umpire Asad Rauf. The ball also may have brushed Strauss’ glove on the way. Either way, it ended an opening stand of 66.
Ravi Bopara profited from a Mitchell Johnson overthrow to get off the mark with five, but did little else before lobbing Shane Watson to deep square-leg off his hips. Had it been a quicker bowler, the ball may have carried over the rope.
Having endured a testing period, Joe Denly gave his wicket away in identical fashion, trying to flick Johnson to leg when five short of 50. It left England 103 for three and in need of rebuilding.
Thankfully, Matt Prior and Owais Shah batted exactly as they should with the field spread. Rather than play extravagantly, they ran plenty of singles and rotated the strike. The only surprise was to see them decline to take the batting powerplay earlier.
Prior played a glorious extra-cover drive off a Hauritz slower ball in the 34th over, but advanced too far to his next ball and Hauritz saw him coming. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine whipped off the bails to end a 60-run stand.
Morgan, the 23-year-old Irishman, was playing just his sixth one-day international for his adopted country. Among his 41 balls, which included three sixes, one shot stood out – his much-vaunted ‘change-up’ shot, derived from hurling.
His alliance with Shah ended when the right-hander flashed an edge from Johnson to Paine. But Morgan received able support from Mascarenhas and Stuart Broad, who made 19 and 22 respectively.
Morgan struck his third six over midwicket to reach 50, and then unleashed his ‘change-up’ shot off Bracken. Trying to repeat the stroke, he holed out to point with three overs left.
It opened up the tail, but Adil Rashid threw the bat with abandon for 18 before being run out off the last ball of the 50 overs. Ninety-one runs came from the last 10 overs.
Australia began their reply at a pace, with Watson keen to hit Stuart Broad out of the attack.
Paine had already escaped two mishit pulls in the first nine overs before he holed out to backward square-leg for 16 in Tim Bresnan’s first over.
Watson followed for a run-a-ball 36 when he played an ugly heave off Bresnan to Mascarenhas at mid-on with the score on 76.
It was not all plain sailing for Ponting. He flashed a late cut in the air past backward point the ball after Watson’s dismissal, survived a referred stumping appeal, and looked initially uncertain against Mascarenhas.
Nonetheless, Ponting played the shot of the day, Morgan’s earlier heroics included, when he stepped down the track to hit Ryan Sidebottom straight into the Sir Garfield Sobers suite.
Although Strauss, at extra-cover, failed to get more than a fingertip to a fierce drive off Ponting when he had made 40, he hit two more exquisite sixes over cover and reached his 27th century in ODI cricket from just 92 balls.
There was barely a flutter when Michael Clarke, on 52, departed two balls later, holing out to Shah at deep square-leg to end a partnership of 133 for the third wicket. In retrospect, that alliance won the match.
When the out-of-form Mike Hussey holed out off Mascarenhas at 226, England had another sniff, but Ponting and Callum Ferguson whittled off a further 29 before the latter fell lbw to Broad.
Ponting’s innings ended at 126, but not before he had surpassed a previous ODI best of 111 in this country. He struck Broad down the ground, but Shah took a smart catch at long-off.
Lesser teams would have wobbled, especially against some expert death bowling from Ryan Sidebottom, but Cameron White and Johnson were calmness personified, though they were helped by some sloppy fielding.
Johnson sealed victory in withering fashion with a six off Sidebottom.