Australia win by six wickets
YOU NEED more than one man to win a one-day game, and while Robin Smith's brilliant 167 not out here yesterday earned him the man-of-the-match award, Australia made a target of 278 to win look like a pea-shelling operation. Mark Waugh and Allan Border put together the decisive partnership of 168 in 27 overs, against such a toothless England attack that they were not even required to slog.
Australia, who made 279 to beat England at Lord's on their last tour here, thereby go to the same venue tomorrow with the Texaco Trophy already won, and England's only real interest is in whether they can halt a sequence of five consecutive defeats in one-day internationals.
Australia were apparently heading for defeat at 95 for 3 nearly half-way through their overs, but Waugh's high-class strokeplay, and the canny expertise of Allan Border (after 255 one-day internationals, he knows a bit about pacing a run-chase), got the tourists home with nine balls and six wickets to spare.
Waugh's 113 was his highest score in one-day matches, and it is hard to believe that he is far from certain to hold down a place in this summer's Ashes series. However, with Border watching him from the other end - one-day game or not - he will certainly have advanced his cause here.
It was a particularly galling defeat for Smith, who, still sporting the scar from an early-season fielding collision with an advertising board, extracted satisfying retribution yesterday with an innings that was remarkable even by one-day cricket's reputation for violence with the bat.
Smith drilled the ball into the Edgbaston hoardings 17 times, cleared them completely on three more occasions, and finally walked off with England's highest individual score - 167 not out - in a limited-over international. Wherever Exhibit A in last summer's ball-scuffing case is being kept, it cannot be in half as bad a state as the one that finished England's innings of 277 for 5.
The pitch had spent the night sweating under the covers, and, given his nervous disposition, so too had Smith in all probability. In addition, a dank, overcast morning made it such a nasty toss to lose that for a long time it looked as though England would be hard pressed to cobble together 167 from all 10 wickets, never mind one.
Judging by the amount of zinc cream plastered on his nose, Craig McDermott must have been worried about holes in Birmingham's ozone layer even before Smith began launching the ball into the stratosphere, but McDermott was barely playable early on, and managed to emerge from the final carnage with the remarkable figures of 2 for 29 from his 11 overs.
Smith's first ally in the repair job was Neil Fairbrother, who helped him put on 50 in 87 balls for the fourth wicket until he was brilliantly caught by Mark Taylor at short extra cover, at which point England (105 for 4 from 32 overs) would doubtless have settled for respectablity, and something in the region of 220.
However, Smith is a remarkable character in that he much prefers large, nasty men with bristling moustaches firing the ball at his nostrils to thin, wiry leg spinners making him look like a breathalyser case on dusty oriental pitches, and it was, almost inevitably, the sight of his old adversary Merv Hughes that made the balloon go up.
To be more accurate, the balloon - floating across Edgbaston with the Australian sponsors' name daubed all over it - was more in danger of coming down as Smith went from 91 to 108 in six balls from Hughes, and then dispatched the last three deliveries of Paul Reiffel's quota for 6, 4, 6.
Steve Waugh was next to go for six, straight back over his head, and Smith's 150 came up with a flat-batted cut off Waugh that went first bounce across the rope at wide long-off. Graham Thorpe - sensibly orchestrating the strike for his partner - contributed far more to a partnership of 142 in 21 overs than his own contribution of 36 might suggest.
Other statistics, however, told a more accurate story. England scored 89 from the first half of their innings, and 188 from the second. The first seven overs of their innings yielded seven runs, and the final seven, 102. Smith, who was only on 91 when those last seven overs began, scored his last 76 runs from 30 deliveries.
It is not easy to make 278 to win at the best of times, never mind when you have been semi-traumatised, and Australia might have been forgiven for thinking the game was up from as early as the loss of their second wicket at 55 in the 17th over. Edgbaston pitches are seldom regular in bounce, and Taylor would have had more chance of negotiating a shooter from Lewis had he been kneeling down with a trowel than standing up with a bat. The bottom edge made contact, but not enough to stop the bails from falling off.
However, Waugh and Border then knocked off the runs with all the effort of men in hammocks sipping dry martinis.
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