Australian youth has its day

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The Independent Online
DANIEL MARSH sealed a lamentable day for England's cricketers yesterday when he stuck two mighty sixes from the first two balls of the penultimate over. The Australian Cricket Academy cruised to a five-wicket win in the one-day match at the North Sydney Oval and for once, the blame could be fairly laid at the feet of the bowlers and fielders, as England pitted their cream against Australian candy floss, and came up with egg all over their faces.

The humiliation of losing to a well-drilled team of youngsters aged between 17 and 20 is sobering enough, but it will be all the more galling after the glib but now prescient remark from Ian McDonald - the Australian Cricket Board's media manager - at last Tuesday's press conference, that "the kids might finish it early, anyway"

The remark had come after England had made an attempt to get the scheduled three-day match reduced to two one-day matches in preparation for this week's World Series matches.

After yesterday's match, which he watched from the sidelines, Michael Atherton said: "Losing, like winning, can become a habit and it is not particularly edifying to lose to a bunch of kids. When you come to Australia you expect every game to be a hard one. But we'll need to play better than that if we're going to do anything in the World Series."

It would be nice to think that this was just one of England's eccentric abberations. Alas, the problems are more deep-rooted. Yesterday, the England bowlers seemed clueless as to how to go about defending a decent total of 231 - and this was with Devon Malcolm and Angus Fraser back in the side, a pairing many believe represents England's best chance of making any headway in the Tests.

It was never going to be an easy comeback for either player as a sluggish pitch made life easy for opposition as keen as mustard. Fraser, in particular, had a torrid time and his 56 balls cost 54 runs, which included the two sixes that clinched the game with 10 balls to spare.

Malcolm, who built up a fair bit of pace, just looked pleased to be out in the fresh air. He gambolled around the outfield and at one point surprised everyone with a brilliant pick-up and throw that almost brought his side a third run-out, the other two being executed by Phillip DeFreitas, who bowled poorly with the new ball. The first run-out was a brilliant effort from cover to send back Brad Hodge, the other a simple bail removal, as Shaun Udal's underarm throw made Nathan Ashley pay for his partner's lax calling.

These hiccups apart, the Academy chased their target with skill and naked aggression. When Rob Baker was caught by Steven Rhodes cutting at Phil Tufnell, the game tilted England's way and might have fallen in their lap had Rhodes not dropped Ian Harvey off Fraser early on. Harvey went on to score 80 from 89 balls as he and Richard Allenby put on 96 for the fifth wicket.

Injury to Alec Stewart early in the tour has meant that Rhodes has kept wicket in every match and yesterday would have been the ideal opportunity for Stewart to assume his Surrey role and captain the side from behind the stumps. It might give England theoption of playing another batsman or another spinner. All avenues must be explored if they are to start winning.

Perhaps they thought that opening the innings with Mike Gatting was tinkering enough for one day, especially when the Middlesex captain was yorked first ball of the innings. This was a feat the tall left-arm swing bowler Mark Harrity has done three timesalready this season and Gatting looked particularly peeved as he stalked off.

England actually batted well. Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe looked in lusty mood and both struck the ball cleanly. After a cautious start, Hick in particular played with ferocious power and his 118 came off only 84 balls. Batting was not easy as the new ball swung and darted about, the pitch still damp from Friday's downpour. In fairness, England would liked to have bowled first, but so soggy were the run-ups that Keith Fletcher, the tour manager, did not dare risk further unnecessary injury to his bowlers, particularly with Joey Benjamin the latest casualty of chicken pox.

With the sun shining, this may have seemed a fairly cautious way to approach things, particularly to the few that turned up to watch from the quaint, mock- Victorian stands. In one way, England's presence here broke new ground, even if their performance did not. However, just about the time England's bowlers were resigning themselves to defeat, another game, a floodlit Sheffield Shield match was about to get under way in Sydney. This is only the second one of its kind. It may prove a flop, but it shows a willingness to experiment and improvise. a quality lacking in the English game.

England M W Gatting b Harrity 0

*A J Stewart c Campbell b Harrity 9

G A Hick c Hodge b Harrity 118

G P Thorpe c and b Marsh 62

C White not out 22

S J Rhodes not out 5

Extras (b2 lb2 w9 nb1) 15

Total (for 4, 50 overs) 231

Fall: 1-0 2-18 3-155 4-221.

Did not bat: P A J DeFreitas, S D Udal, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell, D E Malcolm.

Bowling: Harrity 10-1-44-3; Swain 10-2-41-0; Jurgensen 5-0-30-0; Harvey 10-1-42-0; Marsh 10-0-45-1; Baker 5-0-25-0.

AUSTRALIAN Cricket Academy M W Ashley run out 10

C J Richards c Tufnell b Malcolm 9

R J Baker c Rhodes b Tufnell 57

B J Hodge run out 2

I J Harvey c Udal b Fraser 80

R A Allanby not out 46

*D J Marsh not out 16

Extras (lb7 w3 nb2) 14

Total (for 5, 48.2 overs) 234

Fall: 1-15 2-43 3-65 4-106 5-202.

Did not bat: R M Campbell, B A Swain, S J Jurgensen, M A Harrity.

Bowling: Malcolm 10-0-36-1; DeFreitas 6-1-33-0; Fraser 9.2-0-54-1; Udal 7-0-28-0; Tufnell 7-1-39-1; White 9-1-37-0.

Umpires: I Jackson and S Taufel.