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England 188-9

Australia 157

(England win by 31 runs)

As the International Cricket Council declines to recognise all matches involving Australia A, England responded yesterday by failing to recognise themselves. The powder blue outfits were vaguely familiar, as were the faces, but Channel Nine's closing TV

credits might well have carried the disclaimer that any resemblance to England cricketers, alive or dead, was purely unintentional.

Before we start lighting bonfires, pealing the church bells, and organising street parties, it should be pointed out that England won a non-official one-day international against Australia Seconds here yesterday. However, coming after back-to-back spank i ngs by the Australian bum fluff and acne brigade, it will do very nicely, thank you.

By far the most encouraging aspect of England's performance was that just when they were about to lose again, they at last gave the impression that they would only do so over a few dead bodies. The net result was that England's own dead body suddenly sprang from the mortuary slab, and in terms of jerking an ailing tour back to life, this result could yet represent a badly needed cattle prod to the posterior.

There were many heartening moments to choose from, but two of the more illuminating were a couple of near tantrums from England bowlers in the closing stages of the game. Firstly, Philip Tufnell hurled the ball angrily into the ground at the end of an over in which he felt an umpiring decision had gone against him, and then Phillip DeFreitas cut loose with a verbal tirade after a misfield had cost him a run. It showed something that had been sadly missing of late, namely that England cared.

It was, therefore, a touch sad that the first serious evidence on this tour that England do actually have some passion in their veins should have resulted in a 30 per cent match fee fine (about £350) for Tufnell (who was reported by both umpires for "unaceptable behaviour and bringing the game in disrepute") from the ICC referee, John Reid. However, as the ICC has declined to recognise the game, it seems perfectly reasonable for Tufnell to decline to cough up on the grounds that match referees are only mandated for official internationals.

The key moment of a game that apparently never took place could also have been a mirage, in that it involved a swooping pick-up at third man from Angus Fraser, and a 45-yard direct hit to run out the Australian top scorer (and one remaining match-winner)Justin Langer. This was a bit like watching Devon Malcolm come in to bat and knock off an elegant half-century.

There was no chance of that happening yesterday, as Malcolm could not even get into a team with only 12 fit players. Darren Gough (hamstring), John Crawley (calf) and Joey Benjamin (chicken pox) were all ruled out at breakfast-time, and England then losttheir captain, Michael Atherton, when his back seized up during the fielding warm-up. It is hoped that this will not be too serious, although three years ago Atherton had a long spell out of the game after major back surgery.

The injury bulletin after the game was even more worrying. DeFreitas and Graham Thorpe have groin strains, Alec Stewart a knee injury, and the man of the match, Craig White, strained his left side in the over in which he finished off the opposition. Eng l and play Zimbabwe at the SCG tomorrow, and the prospect of them naming a team containing M J K Smith and K W R Fletcher cannot entirely be ruled out.

White's performance yesterday, with both bat and ball, does not yet lift him out of the bracket of a handy bloke to have around, and in the Cinderella-like search for someone to fill Ian Botham's boots, White has yet to make it into the fitting room. However, he certainly has character, and given that every cricketer requires a breakthrough performance to convince him he can make it on the bigger stage, this might turn out to his.

For a long time yesterday, England did not give the impression that they were about to deviate from the same monotonous script. This was not much of a pitch, but no England innings would be recognisable without a series of cock-ups, and before White camein, they were heading for a hopelessly undefendable total.

Merv Hughes' presence in the Australian A side gave little credence to one of the officially stated reasons for its existence, development, as the only development Hughes is involved in is around his waistline. However, give him an England team to bowl at, and he will doubtless be knocking them over when he is an 80-year-old barrage balloon, and his 2 for 22 from 10 overs was a potential match-winner.

England's hopes of posting a decent score had apparently evaporated when Thorpe was stupidly run out to leave England 95 for 4 in the 29th over, and that made it imperative for his well-set (in the cricketing sense) partner Mike Gatting to take charge ofthe innings. So what happens? Two balls later, Gatting ran down the pitch to the off spinner Gavin Robertson, and was stumped by two yards.

However, White's chiselled 43 then gave England something to bowl at, and although DeFreitas and Tufnell then bowled well enough to make the Australians work hard for their runs, at 138 for 3 from 38 overs, it remained an apparently lost cause.

At that point, though, White bowled Ricky Ponting off an inside edge, to precipitate the home team losing their last seven wickets for 19 runs in 49 balls, including three wickets (two of them run out) in one over. This was the sort of collapse that ought to have had England issuing a writ against the Australians for stealing their patent.

There again, there remains the ghastly doubt that the ICC was right, and the whole thing never actually happened. "England won a game? Nothing here in the record books, mate." Ah well, it was a nice dream anyway.

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