Cricket: England victory lifts the gloom

England 225 for 8 Prime Minister's XI 209 England win by 16 runs
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ENGLAND WERE second favourites to beat the Prime Minister's XI in Canberra. At odds of 6-4, their victory by 16 runs was one in the eye for the bookies, who, presumably with no inside information to go on anymore, are ready for a roasting. Either that or England have been sufficiently stirred to raise their game.

The margin of victory, while representing a decent win by one-day standards, was significant, and the 225 that the Prime Minister's XI chased consisted of 16 runs generously donated by Mark Taylor, who sportingly bowled the last over. Whether Alec Stewart was set to do likewise is untested, England taking their opponent's last wicket in the 49th over.

"I was warming up," said Stewart, who was asked if a reciprocal arrangement had been made. "I'll let you know that I've got three first-class wickets at 109 runs apiece," he joked.

If past tours are anything to go by, the win should not be dismissed lightly. The host XI usually picks a team of young thrusters desperate to strut their stuff and England had lost seven of the previous eight matches here.

"I didn't realise that it's the first time we've won here since 1986- 87," said Stewart. "It's got a bit of a festival atmosphere to it, a bit like the Lilac Hill game, but we needed to win. I can only imagine what people would have said if we'd lost."

That said, England, having won the toss, got off to the kind of start that would have tested the toughest of constitutions. With Mark Butcher falling to a sensational salmon leap of a catch by Corey Richards at square- leg in the opening over, a steady stream followed, and England were floundering at 26 for 4 by the seventh over.

Ben Hollioake, anonymous on this tour so far, made a further bid for anonymity, when he edged a ball from Matthew Nicholson to the keeper for a duck. He was expensive when he bowled too, and must now realise that youthful promise can be tolerated for only so long.

Soon after, Graeme Hick, his Test career back in the doldrums, gave Nicholson a second wicket when he pulled a short ball to Simon Katich at square- leg. John Crawley then completed a miserable fortnight for himself by nicking a wide one from Harrity to keeper Ryan Campbell, before he had scored.

The setback did not deter Stewart and Nasser Hussain, who went about the repair work with a mixture of positive strokes and quick singles. When Stewart went in the 17th over and Hussain in the 26th, it was Warren Hegg who took up the mantle with a controlled 47, the highest score of the innings.

Indeed, Hegg's knock has probably got him a game in Hobart on Saturday, when England face an Australian Invitation XI, essentially an Aussie second team. If he does well there, a berth in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG beckons.

After he had gone, bowled giving himself room to carve the ball over cover, it was left to Robert Croft and Angus Fraser to eke out a competitive total, something the latter did well when he clobbered Taylor for a brace of sixes in the last over.

After a long lunch, the Prime Minister's team began almost as poorly as England had in the morning, and Alan Mullally, striking twice in his first two overs, reduced them to 2 for 2.

When wickets tumble that quickly, the repair takes longer than usual, and the home side were soon behind the clock. In fact, they never really got back on terms as England fielded and bowled with determination, an attitude personified by Butcher, who took four catches.

Only a late blitz by Daniel Marsh, son of Rodney Marsh, the great Australian keeper, kept things interesting. A right-hander now with Tasmania, Marsh played for the Australian Academy side that inflicted two defeats on England four years ago. This time he did not quite manage it, and his quickfire 74 ended when he looped one to cover off Croft.

If the win came as a relief to the players, the management will also have benefited from it. Graham Gooch, having no doubt fielded awkward questions from the high and mighty of Canberra for most of the day, was later given a 10-minute ear bashing from a disgruntled England supporter.

Cricketers are generally far more accessible than other sportsmen, and Gooch tolerated the fellow, who, temporarily consoled by England's win, eventually wandered off.

English cricket may have its problems, but you cannot imagine someone like Alex Ferguson being as diplomatic, had Manchester United suffered as England have these past weeks.


England won toss


M A Butcher c Richards b Harrity 4

*A J Stewart c Campbell b Creevey 34

B C Hollioake c Campbell b Nicholson 0

G A Hick c Katich b Nicholson 6

J P Crawley c Campbell b Harrity 0

N Hussain c Creevey b Marsh 41

W K Hegg b Creevey 47

D G Cork c Katich b Harrity 22

R D B Croft not out 19

A R C Fraser not out 23

Extras (lb12 w15 nb2) 29

Total (for 8 wkts, 50 overs) 225

Fall: 1-5 2-8 3-21 4-26 5-85 6-107 7-160 8-196

Did not bat: A D Mullally.

Bowling: Harrity 10-0-46-3; Nicholson 9-0-37-2; Creevey 9-0-32-2; Hensen 6-0-27-0; Marsh 10-0-33-1; Symonds 5-0-22-0; Taylor 1-0-16-0.


R J Campbell c Butcher b Mullally 0

C J Richards c Croft b Fraser 28

S M Katich b Mullally 0

A Symonds c Stewart b Fraser 18

B J Hodge b Hollioake 12

*M A Taylor c Butcher b Cork 25

D J Marsh c Butcher b Hick 74

B N Creevey c Hegg b Croft 7

M Nicholson c Butcher b Hick 13

L Hensen not out 1

M A Harrity b Hick 14

Extras (b4 lb10 w1 nb2) 17

Total (48.4 overs) 209

Fall: 1-2 2-2 3-48 4-52 5-70 6-105 7-122 8-185 9-185.

Bowling: Fraser 10-2-40-2; Mullally 10-2-28-2; Cork 10-1-25-1; Hollioake 6-0-41-1; Croft 10-0-49-1; Hick 2.4-0-12-3.


Umpires: S J A Tausel and B N Thornton