The one-day cricket match out in the playing arena was, for most of its duration, considerably less enthralling. This is always a dangerous judgement to reach when England's opponents are Australia, but it was bound to be difficult to be enraptured by a match on which nothing effectively depended - except, of course, the small matter of beating Australia. Over 35,000 people in the crowd cannot be wrong and they found the progress of the outsized beach ball much more alluring.
Both sides are already through to the finals of the Carlton & United series, the first game of which is in Sydney next Wednesday. The final qualifying game between them in this triangular tournament was not exactly meaningless, but nor was it imbued with relevance. At least, England would be well-advised to reflect on it in such a manner, having lost by four wickets with 18 balls left.
It was their fourth defeat in the past five games. Having won four of the opening five in the competition, this represents symmetry. What it does not represent is good form. They were on a roll, now they are on the slide. There is time to regroup but they were not the team which was bristling with confidence, belief and purpose three weeks ago. This may be because they were indeed not that team.
In the attempt to rest some players and examine the claims to future recognition of others, they again selected a side which is unlikely to contest the final. Unfortunately, they did not rest Darren Gough, who was forced to leave the proceedings with what was described as a stretched hamstring after bowling five overs. It is not thought to be serious, but if the leader of the attack is forced to miss the opening game of the final it will be a severe blow.
Of course, it was the law of sod that he should be hurt now after advancing through Australia all winter with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. He could have had a match off - the selectors might have insisted on it, but Gough has been injured too often before and he wanted to play. The prognosis on the injury was uncertain. The physiotherapist, Dean Conway, is leaving it for 48 hours before declaring a verdict. But he sounded upbeat. Having dealt with Neil Fairbrother's delicate hamstrings for a month he should know a bit about how to repair them.
The two players to whom England were particularly eager to give a match were Mark Alleyne and Vince Wells. They were surprising choices for this squad but might have proved to be inspired ones. If it has not quite worked out like that, the pair have performed as exactly what they are: solid, experienced professionals who let no team down.
Wells might have had his first international fifty for England yesterday but was run out backing up too far, Alleyne might again have been on a cross-Channel ferry struck by stormy seas for all the assurance of his footwork early on, but he battled through and took England to respectability. Both bowled adequately but it was all but a losing cause by then. Neither is likely to play again in this competition, barring injury to others, and they are probably contesting one place in the squad of 15 for the World Cup. It is a tough selectorial call.
The pitch was once more unsatisfactory for this sort of cricket. It was slow, low, helped spin a little and did not encourage placement. Those who could strike the ball hard might gather a few runs but this was not a style of play likely to succeed for long.
England started badly by losing two wickets before the eighth over was out. Nick Knight had managed to play himself out of form while making a half-century a couple of nights earlier and was not yet recovered. Graeme Hick was probably entitled to another failure, though it will not be long before the carpers carp once more. Both were victims of the admirable Adam Dale, who once again gave nothing away cheaply and found just enough late movement.
The innings never took off, though the seventh-wicket partnership of 58 in 60 balls between Alleyne and Mark Ealham revived matters. It did not appear that England's score of 211 would be enough if Australia could show patience. Most of their players went for enough big shots to stay ahead of the required rate and, like England, they got themselves out when they should not have done. Ricky Ponting, returning to Sydney for the first time since his scuffle in a pub which led to a ban and a fine, was dismissed when he looked about to see it through. Presumably, he was not heading for a bar.
There was a brief moment when Australia went from 180 for 4 to 181 for 6 that England might have seen an opportunity. But Australia's tail is long and Damien Martyn comfortably got them home. The crowd departed quickly in search of beach balls.
CARLTON & UNITED SERIES
P W L Pts
Australia 9 6 3 12
England 10 5 5 10
Sri Lanka 9 3 6 6
Tomorrow: Australia v Sri Lanka (Melbourne); 10 Feb: Final Australia v England (Sydney); 12 Feb: Second final Australia v England(Melbourne); 14 Feb: Third final (if needed): Australia v England (Melbourne).
England won toss
N V Knight b Dale 3
(16 mins, 10 balls)
*A J Stewart c Lee b Julian 25
(69 min, 48 balls, 3 fours)
G A Hick c Gilchrist b Dale 4
(13 min, 10 balls, 1 four)
N Hussain c Lehmann b Waugh 31
(82 min, 59 balls, 2 fours)
V J Wells run out 39
(90 min, 63 balls, 2 fours)
A J Hollioake c Gilchrist b Bevan 19
(23 min, 26 balls, 1 four)
M W Alleyne not out 38
(66 min, 48 balls, 1 four)
M A Ealham c Bevan b Warne 33
(35 min, 37 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)
R D B Croft c Gilchrist b Kasprowicz 0
(2 min, 1 ball)
D Gough not out 1
(4 min, 2 balls)
Extras (b2, lb6, w5, nb4) 17
Total (for 8, 50 overs) 210
Fall: 1-11 (Knight), 2-26 (Hick), 3-57 (Stewart), 4-90 (Hussain), 5-124 (Hollioake), 6-143 (Wells), 7-201 (Ealham), 8-205 (Croft).
Did not bat: A D Mullally.
Bowling: Kasprowicz 8-0-39-1 (w2) (5-0-19-0, 3-0-20-1); Dale 10-1-28- 2 (w1) (7-1-15-2, 3-0-13-0); Julian 10-0-39-1 (nb4) (6-0-20-1, 4-0-19- 0); Lee 5-0-22-0 (one spell); Warne 10-0-48-1 (w1) (5-0-18-0, 5-0-30-1); Waugh 3-0-11-1; Bevan 4-0-15-1 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 61 min, 90 balls. 100: 121 min, 180 balls. 150: 167 min, 249 balls. 200: 195 min, 295 balls. Score after 15 overs: 51-2.
M E Waugh c Stewart b Mullally 27
(58 min, 46 balls, 4 fours)
A C Gilchrist b Mullally 19
(56 min, 37 balls)
R T Ponting c Wells b Ealham 43
(102 min, 71 balls, 4 fours)
D S Lehmann lbw b Hollioake 41
(75 min, 57 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)
B P Julian c Hick b Wells 25
(40 min, 31 balls, 3 fours, 1 six)
D R Martyn not out 38
(40 min, 32 balls, 4 fours)
M G Bevan c Ealham b Croft 0
(5 min, 4 balls)
S Lee not out 8
(18 min, 7 balls, 1 four)
Extras (lb5, w2, nb3) 10
Total (for 6, 47 overs) 211
Fall: 1-50 (Gilchrist), 2-51 (Waugh), 3-130 (Lehmann), 4-158 (Ponting), 5-180 (Julian), 6-181 (Bevan).
Did not bat: *S K Warne, M S Kasprowicz, A C Dale.
Bowling: Gough 5-0-24-0 (nb2, w1) (one spell); Mullally 10-1-31-2 (w1) (8-1-21-2, 2-0-10-0); Ealham 9-0-46-1 (nb1) (6-0-25-0, 2-0-12-1, 1-0-9- 0); Alleyne 5-0-24-0 (one spell), Croft 10-2-43-1 (8-2-33-0, 2-0-10-1); Hollioake 6-0-28-1; Wells 2-0-10-1 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 53 min, 76 balls. 100: 113 min, 166 balls. 150: 151 min, 224 balls. 200: 196 min, 279 balls. Score after 15 overs: 55-2.
Result: Australia won by four wickets.
Umpires: D B Hair and P D Parker.
Man of the match: D R Martyn.
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content