Cricket: England short of one-day thunder

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England go into their penultimate World Series qualifying match against Australia here tomorrow with the slight motivational problem of knowing that the match is largely irrelevant. The same could probably be said of the entire competition, althou gh England could certainly do without the negative aspects of failing to make the three-match final.

In simple terms, England's only requirement is to beat Australia's A team in their final qualifier in Sydney on Thursday, regardless of the result at the MCG. Should they lose to both Australian sides they will be eliminated, and even if they beat Australia, Australia A could still qualify ahead of them on overall run-rate.

Currently, only a handful of runs separates England and Australia A, who are level on four points each behind the already qualified Australia. The run-rate is unlikely to be hugely affected here, where the pitch is generally unsatisfactory for one-day cricket, and a par score is not much above 200.

Australia's second victory over their reserves yesterday also meant that England's win against Zimbabwe was largely without relevance - apart, that is, from finally managing to beat them for the first time in international competition. Zimbabwe had won both their previous one-day meetings, and losing to England may be regarded as a big enough shock to prompt them to burn a pair of bails and send them back to Harare inside an urn.

There was, as is now the custom with England, a price to pay for winning. Shaun Udal damaged a side muscle in the field, possibly as seriously as Craig White, while Graham Thorpe spent four hours after the match on a saline drip in a Brisbane hospital. Queensland's tropical capital was at its most steamy on Saturday, and Thorpe's 155-minute innings left him acutely dehydrated.

As Thorpe has suffered from this problem twice before (once, would you believe, in England) he must be more susceptible than most to heat exposure, and he spent the last hour of his innings downing bottles of water every other over. "I felt knackered andfaint, and couldn't keep anything down," Thorpe said. "The most frightening thing was lying down in the dressing-room, with several guys in a circle talking about me, and I didn't really know what was happening."

Thorpe's temperature went up to 103 at one stage, but he has now made a decent recovery, and is hoping to play here tomorrow. As Melbourne's climate is the most unpredictable of almost any city in the world, Thorpe could either spend another night on a saline drip, or wrapped in electric blankets suffering from hypothermia.

Darren Gough has a bruised left foot, which was strapped up on Saturday, but X-rays have happily revealed no stress fracture. Devon Malcolm and Joey Benjamin are carrying minor strains, but Alec Stewart's twice broken finger is healing well enough for him to be back in the nets this week.

The only other obvious medical condition during the Zimbabwe game belonged to the recently arrived Neil Fairbrother. Jet lag seemed the only possible explanation for him approaching a quick single as if, in his own mind, he was not only wearing pyjamas, but also climbing the stairs clutching a cup of cocoa.

Fairbrother's late lunge for the crease failed to save him, and he was one of five cases referred to arbitration by the third umpire. What with waiting for all those red and green lights, it looked more like Brisbane High Street in the rush hour than a game of cricket.

The umpires certainly took to heart the comments of the International Cricket Council referee John Reid, who asked before the game for more use of the available technology. Michael Atherton also complained after the Sydney Test that the Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, had twice on this tour declined to call in the third umpire for hairline decisions, and on the first occasion, in England's first qualifying match against Zimbabwe, Grant Flower went on to make what proved to be a match-winning scor e.

As expected, the two Australian sides attracted a much bigger crowd to the Gabba than England versus Zimbabwe, but the most encouraging spectator figures released over the weekend were the ones for the second and third Test matches. In Australia, one-daycricket has been so hysterically hyped, that audiences had come to regard it as the only form of the game that offered any excitement.

In reality, three-quarters of a one-day cricket match is usually about as exciting as watching someone paint a World Series logo on the outfield and then waiting for it to dry, but a combination of Shane Warne, and the recently introduced Australian Cricket Board policy of marketing Test matches as the "real" game, has produced bigger attendances.

During the second Test, the 51,260 was the biggest Boxing Day attendance at the MCG since Mike Gatting's side were here in 1986, and in Sydney, they had the biggest final-day crowd there for 32 years. Neither figure, though, will match tomorrow's attendance, as it is the extra spectacle provided by the floodlights that really drags them in.

Unfortunately, a good many are also dragged back out again, and while day-night cricket remains the opium of the masses here, if there is one section of the community on which its delights are almost entirely lost, it is the various branches of Her Majesty's Australian Constabulary.