MAYBE IT was Australia's idea of one last cruel joke to belittle the Poms at the end of a long, long winter. It was a beauty. There England were in the first final of the Carlton & United Series needing 35 runs off seven overs with six wickets in hand. It was a position for which the term sitting pretty could have been coined.
Twenty-two balls later, England had reduced the target by six. Unfortunately, they had also lost five of their remaining wickets and the match was effectively over. It had turned distinctly ugly. Australia, who must have taken their time only because they were laughing till they were fit to burst, eventually won by 10 runs with four balls to spare.
England, running on desperation, did not play well in that short period. Australia, fuelled by self-belief, played extremely well. This was the punchline. The jape had been set up a few overs earlier.
Nasser Hussain and Vince Wells, a man exhibiting calm maturity and surely cementing his place in the World Cup, had taken control of the game. For Hussain it had been a struggle. He had been responsible for the run-out of Graeme Hick, he had been in poor touch but he had battled his way through.
When at last he played a slog-cum-sweep against Shane Warne it seemed the shackles had come loose. But, as Warne revealed later, he seized the moment to tighten them. "You're allowed to get one out of 20," he snarled at Hussain, and then immediately broke into that cheesy grin of his. Hussain did not smile. He was offended.
When Warne came back in the 43rd over it was the last shake of the dice. He needed wickets but England were so close they were touching victory. Hussain and Wells simply had to nudge it about. Instead, Hussain decided to advance down the pitch and make room to hit on the off side by opening the face and show Warne what he was made of.
As a gamble it was about as sensible as backing a non-runner in a one- horse race. It turned past the bat, Hussain was stranded and Adam Gilchrist took off the bails at his leisure. He had made 58 in 98 balls, the sort of pace which meant he had to finish the job. "I was trying to get up his nose a little bit," Warne said. "I do anything to try and get a wicket."
Still, there was no need to panic, at least not until the next ball. Adam Hollioake swept. Perhaps this was a piece of ill judgement but it was matched by the umpire, Steve Davis. The ball appeared to pitch outside leg stump but he raised his finger in answer to Warne's appeal.
Two wickets in two balls was bad enough but, just as importantly, the runs had dried up. Wells had already come to England's rescue once after Hussain had played a maiden over by striking six off the first ball of the next to sustain the rate. He took on the responsibility again by driving Shane Lee straight. Up in the air went the ball. It seemed to be soaring towards the sight screen but running round from long off was Brendon Julian. With his giant loping strides he made 15, 20, 25, 30 yards and suddenly he was able to stretch for his heart's desire and hold on to it.
Panic entered England's game now and so did Glenn McGrath. The great fast bowler was not about to spurn this opportunity. He quickly had Mark Ealham caught behind fencing and then took Darren Gough's off stump. How all of England should have felt for their own big-hearted fast bowler then. Ten minutes earlier he must have had his feet up in the dressing- room thinking of making it 2-0 at Melbourne and home by Sunday. McGrath it was who polished it off by sending Alan Mullally's middle pole tumbling in the final over.
Australia might have been satisfied with their score but they were probably unsure that it was enough. England kept at them. Gough, used in three spells, was as Trojan as ever and Wells was commendable. His line was tight, his length more so. It brought him three wickets and the best figures of his short international career. He has spent a long apprenticeship on the county circuit and some eyebrows were not so much raised as in full flight when he was picked for this party. He has singed them.
Michael Bevan, the so-called best finisher in the one-day game, was there at the finish of Australia's innings. He never seemed to be in a hurry even when he was running the fastest singles around but he made 69 off 74 balls.
England and Alec Stewart started in a flurry. Stewart had been asked many times in the past week how he intended to deal with Adam Dale and had not said much in reply. When he flicked him for six in the bowler's second over he appeared to have an answer. In the fifth over of the innings McGrath pitched four successive balls short and Stewart hit them all for four. The second almost took Bevan's thumb off at midwicket. The dislocation it actually caused will force him to miss the rest of the series.
Stewart then prodded Dale to short midwicket and, unsure that it had carried to Mark Waugh, waited for the verdict. Nick Knight again got out, bowled playing round a straight one, when he knows he should have gone on.
But Hick came in and played with control. It did not seem to matter that Hussain was out of sorts. But then Hussain jabbed to point, called for a single and then sent Hick back. Ricky Ponting was as unerring as usual as he threw down the stumps at the bowler's end.
Hussain might have thought his day could not become worse. It was only just beginning. Australia will still be laughing.
Australia won toss
M E Waugh c Stewart b Wells 42
85 mins, 56 balls, 3 fours
+A C Gilchrist b Gough 29
33 mins, 30 balls, 3 fours
R T Ponting c Stewart b Wells 10
23 mins, 14 balls
D S Lehmann c Mullally b Wells 19
49 mins, 33 balls, 1 four
D R Martyn c Stewart b Ealham 21
46 mins, 38 balls, 1 six
M G Bevan not out 69
110 mins, 74 balls, 6 fours
S Lee c Fairbrother b Ealham 12
42 mins, 27 balls
B P Julian c sub (B Hollioake) b Ealham 12
16 mins, 13 balls, 1 four
*S K Warne b Gough 9
17 mins, 13 balls, 1 four
A C Dale not out 1
7 mins, 3 balls
Extras (lb6,w1,nb1) 8
Total (8 wkts, 218 mins, 50 overs) 232
Fall: 1-40 (Gilchrist), 2-67 (Ponting), 3-98 (Waugh), 4-115 (Lehmann), 5-139 (Martyn), 6-176 (Lee), 7-199 (Julian), 8-222 (Warne).
Did not bat: G D McGrath.
Bowling: Gough 10-0-43-2 (nb1) (6-0-25-1 2-0-4-0 2-0-14-1), Mullally 7-0-42-0 (5-0-33-0 2-0-9-0), Wells 10-2-30-3 (one spell), Ealham 10-0- 45-3 (w1) (3-0-13-0 3-0-16-1 4-0-16-2), Croft 5-1-28-0, Hollioake 8-0- 38-0 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 41 mins, 62 balls. 100: 94 mins, 131 balls. 150: 146 mins, 200 balls. 200: 193 mins, 268 balls. 15 overs score: 73-2.
Bevan 50: 85 mins, 57 balls, 5 fours.
N V Knight b Dale 22
59 mins, 35 balls, 2 fours
*+A J Stewart c Waugh b Dale 27
25 mins, 18 balls, 4 fours, 1 six
G A Hick run out (Ponting) 42
87 mins, 58 balls, 2 fours
N Hussain st Gilchrist b Warne 58
125 mins, 98 balls, 4 fours
N H Fairbrother c Gilchrist b McGrath 8
18 mins, 12 balls
V J Wells c Julian b Lee 33
61 mins, 39 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
A J Hollioake lbw b Warne 0
1 min, 1 ball
M A Ealham c Gilchrist b McGrath 4
16 mins, 14 balls
R B D Croft not out 12
32 mins, 12 balls, 1 four
D Gough b McGrath 0
2 mins, 2 balls
A D Mullally b McGrath 7
18 mins, 11 balls, 1 four
Extras (lb3,w2,nb4) 9
Total (226 mins, 49.2 overs) 222
Fall: 1-34 (Stewart), 2-67 (Knight), 3-114 (Hick), 4-131 (Fairbrother), 5-198 (Hussain), 6-198 (Hollioake), 7-198 (Wells), 8-204 (Ealham), 9-204 (Gough), 10-222 (Mullally).
Bowling: McGrath 9.2-1-45-4 (nb1) (5-1-33-0 2-0-6-1 2.2-0-6-3), Dale 10-0-33-2 (one spell), Lee 7-1-29-1 (w1) (2-0-9-0 2-1-6-0 1-0-3-1 2-0- 11-0), Warne 10-0-40-2 (nb1) (4-0-15-0 4-0-20-0 2-0-5-2), Julian 4-0-28- 0 (nb2,w1) (one spell), Martyn 6-0-27-0 (2- 0-7-0 4-0-20-0) Lehmann 3- 0-17-0 (one spell).
Progress: 50: 42 mins, 57 balls. 100: 103 mins, 140 balls. 150: 154 mins, 209 balls. 200: 197 mins, 267 balls. 15 overs score: 69-2.
Hussain 50: 107 mins, 84 balls, 4 fours.
Result: Australia won by 10 runs
Umpires: S J Davis and D B Hair
Man of the match: M G Bevan
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content