Bopara and Bell excel as Australians are throttled
Australia 251-7 England 252-4: Eight wins on the bounce as ruthless England put the squeeze on tourists
That makes it eight from eight for England. A display of resolute competence yesterday gave them a six-wicket victory over Australia, a 2-0 lead in the series and their record-equalling octet of straight wins this year.
To suggest there was never any doubt would be pushing it considering the opposition but it was as minimal as these things can be. England excelled with the ball (as usual) and then paced their innings more or less to pre-ordained plan.
Ian Bell's 75 was his third score above fifty in four innings since returning as opener, a veritable selectorial triumph. But Bell has been so dominant this summer that it was almost old hat.
The innings of 82 from 85 balls by England's new No 4, Ravi Bopara, was quite as significant. Bopara was hardly running out of chances but he needed a score for everybody's peace of mind, not least his own. And although Bopara started as usual with something that is not quite sloppiness but is definitely a lack of urgency, he warmed to the task with aplomb.
Yet as usual he was not there at the end, running himself out dashing for a needless quick single when two were needed, as England had 26 balls to spare in chasing down Australia's 251 for 7, with Eoin Morgan unbeaten on a do-as-he-pleased 43.
Only when Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, introduced his own occasional left-arm spin in a last throw of the dice was there the semblance of the topple necessary by then for Australia to level the series.
With his first ball, Clarke bowled Bell who was trying to cut one that slid on. Two balls later he won an lbw verdict against Morgan with another straightish one and game seemed to be on. But Morgan asked for a review and after an eternity it was decreed that there was sufficient evidence to show that the batsman had managed the thinnest of inside edges on to his pad. By such small degrees can affairs of sport be decided.
England could and should still have won whatever happened then but doubts may well have intruded and they are any sportsman's biggest enemy. As it was, Australia ran out of ideas on a pitch that stayed true.
At Edgbaston on Wednesday, England cannot only clinch the series but can take their sequence of victories to a record nine. Back in 1991-92 they had a run of 12 games without defeat but their 11 wins were interrupted by a rain-affected no result which counts in the annals.
As it is, they can dream realistically of going further. Between the 20th and 35th overs, the crucial middle part of the innings when there are no powerplays and no excess of fielding restrictions, Australia were squeezed dry. They were throttled as surely as if they were being put through a mangle trying desperately but unavailingly to wriggle free.
What fun it was to watch. The loss of their captain, Michael Clarke, at the start of this period which meant they were already three wickets to the bad, was grievous. But the quality of England's bowling and fielding (in the main) was again exemplary.
In years to come, perhaps sooner than that, this era will be looked back on with exorbitant affection as one when England's bowlers truly were the best in the world. They were without their kingpin, Jimmy Anderson, who was missing because of a groin strain yesterday, but it did not show.
His replacement, Jade Dernbach, was a delight, disconcertingly mixing pace and length. Such is his plethora of tattoos that Dernbach could probably get a gig as a painted man in an old-fashioned fairground show if the bowling does not work out, but for now the current employment looks perfectly safe.
Steve Finn generated a high degree of pace once more, Tim Bresnan had an off day but still took two wickets late in the innings. But perhaps peculiarly, it was the rare combination of Ravi Bopara, the sixth man in England's attack, and Graeme Swann, the best spin bowler around, who largely silenced the tourists in those 15 excruciating overs.
Having snared Clarke into dabbing one behind, Bopara's gentle medium pace was nagging. Swann was at his best, finding that the strong breeze aided his drift, with his length doing the rest. Sometimes the answer my friend really is blowin' in the wind.
The batsmen for the duration were Shane Watson, who knows how to judge a limited-overs innings, and George Bailey, who is learning. Watson was deprived of the bowling, Bailey could not work the singles necessary to rotate the strike.
Something had to give. It did so when Watson, sensing it was up to him, took on Swann and was caught low down on the mid-wicket boundary, a well-judged effort by Finn. It had the effect of energising Bailey – that or a message sent out to him at the drinks break to get a move on or else – but Australia were never able fully to restore themselves.
Bailey ended up with his highest ODI score, 65 from 86 balls, but it was the fact the first 26 took 60 balls that was the more telling statistic. But England's bowlers made the theory much easier than the practice and the fielding also helped.
The late and expected flourish might have been more troublesome had Finn not run out David Hussey with a brilliantly instinctive pick-up and underarm throw with one stump to aim at after he had initially misjudged the return push down the pitch off his own bowling. England are making their own luck.
Cricket: in figures
50: Shane Watson hit 50 runs off 50 balls before reaching 66
96.47: Ravi Bopara's strike rate, hitting 82 runs off 85 balls
8: Months since Mitchell Johnson last appeared for Australia
75: Ian Bell's score was the highest he has got in a ODI at The Oval
Scoreboard: THE OVAL (One Day): England beat Australia by 6 wickets
Australia won toss
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
S R Watson c Finn b Swann 66 0 8 80 161
D A Warner c Bell b Finn 10 0 2 20 17
P J Forrest c Kieswetter b Broad 12 0 0 30 69
*M J Clarke c Kieswetter b Bopara 10 0 1 21 29
G J Bailey b Bresnan 65 0 7 86 105
D J Hussey run out 29 0 1 37 56
†M S Wade c Broad b Bresnan 6 0 1 8 12
B Lee not out 20 1 0 11 17
M G Johnson not out 8 0 0 9 14
Extras (lb15 w8 nb2) 25
Total(for 7, 50 overs) 251
Fall: 1-15, 2-66, 3-101, 4-128, 5-206, 6-222, 7-223.
Did not bat: C J McKay, X J Doherty.
Bowling: S T Finn 9-0-36-1, J W Dernbach 10-1-59-0, T T Bresnan 8-0-50-2, S C J Broad 10-0-48-1, R S Bopara 5-0-16-1, G P Swann 8-0-27-1.
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
*A N Cook lbw b McKay 18 0 3 18 23
I R Bell b Clarke 75 1 6 113 143
I J L Trott b Watson 17 0 2 22 37
R S Bopara run out 82 0 8 85 126
E J G Morgan not out 43 0 5 40 52
†C Kieswetter not out 0 0 0 0 0
Extras (lb4 w9 nb4) 17
Total(for 4, 45.4 overs) 252
Fall: 1-40, 2-81, 3-171, 4-250.
Did not bat: T T Bresnan, G P Swann, S C J Broad, J W Dernbach, S T Finn.
Bowling: B Lee 10-0-58-0, M G Johnson 7-0-43-0, C J McKay 10-1-42-1, X J Doherty 7.4-0-41-0, S R Watson 6-0-34-1, D J Hussey 3-0-17-0, M J Clarke 2-0-13-1.
Umpires: M Erasmus and R K Illingworth.
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