(England win by 37 runs)
Mildly encouraging though it was for England to edge a teeny bit closer to the finals of Australia's annual one-day cricket jamboree, their victory here yesterday bore a disturbing resemblance to one of those World War One offensives. Gain half a yard, and lose most of your men.
Very soon now, Graham Gooch's moustache will be adorning posters all over England with the message: "Your Country Needs You", or perhaps, given his captain's plea for a few less old codgers, it should be: "Your Country Needs Someone Younger Than Me." Darren Gough is almost certainly out of the tour with a stress fracture of the left foot, and Neil Fairbrother, who is only here as a replacement, sprung a shoulder diving in the field.
However, if Gooch is currently stifling a wry smile at the call for a touch less Phyllosan and few more Pampers, it is in the knowledge that at the age of 41, he is the only member of the original party not to have had a bodily failure of any description. In fact, Gooch's only danger of a trip to casualty is if he gets knocked over by a Melbourne tram during one of his dawn runs.
The catalogue of mishaps is probably unparalleled in the history of any touring side. The list can be split into Missing In Action (i.e. been ruled out of games) and Wounded But Fit For Duty. List 1: Atherton (bad back), Stewart (broken finger, twice), Thorpe (groin, hamstring, dehydration), Crawley (calf), White (side muscle, tour over), DeFreitas (calf, hamstring, groin, you name it) Gough (hamstring, foot, tour probably over), Malcolm, Benjamin (both chicken pox), Udal (broken thumb, side strain), Mc Cague (shin fractures, tour over). List 2: Gatting (cut mouth), Hick (sciatica), Rhodes (finger), Tufnell (neck, hamstring).
Of the five replacements that have been called in, Fraser is fit (and bowling exceptionally well) as is Jack Russell, who has yet to appear. However, Fairbrother now has his shoulder in a sling and packed in ice, and no sooner had Mark Illott left to join the A tour in India than he suffered a side muscle strain.
Number five, remarkably enough, is Chris Lewis, who only arrived in Melbourne on Sunday to play a bit of club cricket, and found himself not only pressed into action when Gough went bust yesterday, but is also to remain with the party for the forseeable future. Given Lewis' track record, a migraine, or an attack of heavy legs, is imminent.
Gough's stress fracture, just underneath the third toe, almost certainly occurred during the latter stages of the Sydney Test, but X-rays in Brisbane at the weekend only revealed bad bruising. The physiotherapist, Dave Roberts, said at the time that a stress fracture might still be a possibility, and this was confirmed by another X-ray last night.
Gough was taken to hospital after collapsing in his delivery stride when about to bowl the first ball of Australia's innings, and although eyebrows will be raised that he was playing at all, Roberts said that a doctor had confirmed before the game that Gough could not do any further damage if he already had the stress fracture. The full extent of Fairbrother's injury will not be known until today.
In the circumstances, England's 37-run victory (which now means that Australia A will have to beat them in Sydney tomorrow by a widish margin to go through instead to the finals against Australia) was a remarkable effort. However, with the best will in the world, it has to be said that Australia batted, bowled and fielded as though the lives of someone they did not particularly liked depended on it.
That someone was, in fact, Australia A, who were only (whatever the official line) whistled up for this competition when it became clear that a long series of qualifying games to whittle Australia, England and Zimbabwe into two finalists was as near to afarce as makes no difference. The A side having done their bit for ticket sales are now not wanted in the finals, particularly as their presence would mean them not being regarded as official internationals.
This is not to say, of course, that Australia were desperate to lose this match, even though they might have played as though they were. Let us be charitable, and say merely that they did not appear to have their minds entirely on the job in hand.
England's total of 225 was certainly above par on a crabby pitch and an outfield slower than a football ground, which indeed, the MCG is. It was underpinned by Graeme Hick's 91 off 122 balls, even though he had as much luck as he did in his 98 not out inthe Sydney Test, and Gough's bristling 45 off 49 balls. Gough twice unveiled the reverse pull, and his tally of four fours was as many as Australia managed in their entire innings.
If Hick was a little slow, it was entirely justified given England's poor start, and there is now increasing concern over Gooch's form. His 14-ball innings was so desperate that not even Malcolm could have looked worse, and it would be horribly sad to see Gooch's international career end in this kind of trough.
England's prospects of defending 225 were certainly not enhanced by losing Gough's 10 overs, but Fraser bowled beautifully, and Australia batted as if they could not have cared less. England's major worry, in fact, was in how many injuries they might collect before the end.
Fairbrother and Rhodes collided when Rhodes ran to catch Mark Taylor's skier, DeFreitas was bowled over by the umpire, of all people, and Rhodes had to have a damaged finger strapped. In fact, the physio spent almost as much time on the field as he did when pressed into emergency fielding service in Toowoomba.
The routine nature of England's win did not, remarkably, dampen the spirits of a huge 73,282 crowd who, when the game was all but dead, erupted with delirium when Ian Healy reached 50. However, the occasion is the thing in these day-night games, and theywould doubtless have gone just as potty if Healy had been boiling an egg, or performing a handstand.
As for England, they still stand a chance of becoming the only touring side in history to return with a totally different side to the one that set out, and have now consulted so many specialists that they could yet bankrupt the Test and County Cricket Board when they present their end of tour medical bill.
melbourne scoreboard England won toss ENGLAND G A Gooch c Taylor b McGrath 2
*M A Atherton c S Waugh b M Waugh 14
G A Hick c Fleming b Warne 91
G P Thorpe c Healy b M Waugh 8
N H Fairbrother c Healy b Warne 35
J P Crawley c Healy b McGrath 2
S J Rhodes lbw b McGrath 2
D Gough b McGrath 45
P A J DeFreitas not out 2
S D Udal not out 2
Extras (b4 lb10 w6 nb2) 22
Total (for 8, 50 overs) 225
Fall: 1-11, 2-31, 3-44, 4-133, 5-136, 6-142, 7-216, 8-223.
Did not bat: A R C Fraser.
Bowling: Fleming 10-1-36-0 (w4); McGrath 10-1-25-4 (w1); M Waugh 10-1-43-2 (nb2); Warne 10-0-37-2 (w1); Robertson 5-0-38-0; Law 5-0-32-0.
AUSTRALIA *M A Taylor c Rhodes b Fraser 6
M J Slater b Fraser 2
M E Waugh b Hick 41
S R Waugh c Rhodes b Fraser 0
S G Law c and b Udal 17
D C Boon b Hick 26
I A Healy c Atherton b Hick 56
G R Robertson run out 1
S K Warne b Fraser 21
D W Fleming not out 5
G D McGrath b DeFreitas 10
Extras (w3) 3
Total (48 overs) 188
Fall: 1-3, 2-16, 3-19, 4-62, 5-76, 6-125, 7-131, 8-173, 9-173.
Bowling: Fraser 10-2-22-4; DeFreitas 9-0-32-1; Gooch 10-0-50-0 (w3); Udal 9-1-43-1; Hick 10-1-41-3.
Umpires: P D Parker and S G Randell.
Man of the match: G A Hick.Reuse content