England are lending substantial proof to an old theory. Just when it seems that matters can get no worse they get much worse. In losing against Australia yesterday by seven wickets they surrendered, with white flags flying at full mast, all hope in the NatWest Series, which they now trail 4-0.
For the fourth successive time, England failed to make enough runs. If the batting was again inadequate – all out with 21 balls left – it was on this occasion also the victim of a wonderfully brutal burst of fast bowling from Brett Lee. It had venom, pace, swing and showmanship, probably in that order, and if Lee is much nearer the end of his career than the beginning he remains a compelling sight to behold.
His decisive intervention, with all the deliveries bowled at well over 90mph, brought him 5 for 49, utterly undermining England's innings when it looked as though they might muster a total that, if not formidable, would be competitive even on this friendly surface. It enabled Australia to win at a gentle trot, going at five runs an over and with 38 balls to spare. Their returning captain, Ricky Ponting, made 48 and their vice-captain, Michael Clarke, an unbeaten, unhurried 62 from 81 balls, but it was Lee to whom the tourists owed the serenity of their progress.
This was the ninth occasion on which he had taken five wickets in a one-day innings, and only Muttiah Murali-tharan and Waqar Younis have done so more frequently. Lee stands alone in having performed the feat twice at Lord's, and for a few overs yesterday he was irresistible. Four of his victims were bowled, three of them with full blown, unerring, extremely fast yorkers which swung in just, and only just, before they reached the batsman. There was probably something that could have been done to keep them out, but the time needed to work out a foolproof method probably meant that the stumps were uprooted before it could be enacted.
There are some who say – and they were saying it yesterday even as he pawed the ground – that Lee's reputation is greater than his achievement. But only one player of the 95 who have taken 100 wickets or more in one-day internationals has taken them more quickly than Lee. Few have bowled faster and none has played the game with such unfettered joy and competitive spirit.
There was a night in Melbourne six years ago when Lee turned a game on its head for Australia against England. Then England were cruising, 14 runs from victory, six wickets in hand. Lee blew them away, and he did it again yesterday.
The fear, and also perhaps the only point of interest still outstanding, is that England will become the first team to lose every game in a seven-match series. Almost nothing they did yesterday suggests that they can avoid such an outcome. They have played innocuous cricket in this series against a side not that much further along in their development, and some of the selections have been proven wrong.
Eoin Morgan was badly out of form, Jonathan Trott was palpably in it, and with Kevin Pietersen obviously to be grievously missed might not Ian Bell, a player of experience and centrally contracted to boot, have been a wiser option? This is not hindsight but part of a sensible selection balance sheet.
Once more, Andrew Strauss won the toss and, having chosen to bowl in the first two matches, he opted to bat for the second time. He had a new opening partner in Joe Denly, England's sixth different first-wicket pairing in 19 matches since June 2008. It was working well enough – but don't they all until they stop and someone decides it is time to change again – when Denly, wrongly balanced, drove at Lee and edged to slip.
This damage was repaired by Strauss and Ravi Bopara until Bopara, almost on cue, top-edged a limp sweep. Strauss's dismissal, essaying a sweep of the slog variety to be caught at short third man, was more culpable, because he had again made 63. Still, there was time, and plenty of it, for England to challenge Australia if they held their nerve. After Nathan Bracken had bowled nine solid overs, Ponting suddenly brought back Lee. If it seemed odd, it was to see if Lee could find any swing before the ball was changed. And how he did. His first ball homed in on Matt Prior's leg stump.
Lee was then immediately taken off and brought back seven overs later when England took the batting power-play. His first over yielded 11 runs. So far, so good for England. With the first and third balls of his next over Lee struck, bowling Luke Wright with a thunderous yorker and then Stuart Broad with one that also moved rakishly but was slightly full. In his next over Adil Rashid, who had somehow squeezed out one yorker, had not the sniff of a chance of doing a second time.
It was electrifying and it was the high point of the day. Mitchell Johnson prevented Lee acquiring his first six-wicket haul, as he assuredly would have done had he been able to bowl his final over, and Australia knew what they had to do.
For England now it is a case of damage limitation in the rest of this series and hoping against hope that they can recover for the Champions Trophy later this month. Ho hum.
England won toss
*A J Strauss c Bracken b Hauritz (75 balls, 104 min, 8 fours) 63
J L Denly c White b Lee (17 balls, 20 min, 2 fours) 11
R S Bopara lbw b Lee (36 balls, 61 min, 3 fours) 26
†M S Prior b Lee (45 balls, 43 min, 2 fours) 29
O A Shah c Ferguson b Watson (53 balls, 89 min, 3 fours) 39
E J G Morgan st †Paine b Bracken (26 balls, 33 min, 1 four) 13
L J Wright b Lee (11 balls, 15 min, 2 fours) 12
S C J Broad b Lee (2 balls, 1 min) 2
A U Rashid b Lee (5 balls, 6 min, 1 four) 4
T T Bresnan not out (9 balls, 12 min, 1 four) 11
R J Sidebottom b Johnson (4 balls, 2 min) 2
Extras (b1 lb1 w2 nb4)8
Total (46.3 overs)220
Fall: 1-29, 2-96, 3-111, 4-146, 5-174, 6-200, 7-202, 8-206, 9-212.
Bowling: B Lee 9-1-49-5, N W Bracken 8-0-40-1, M G Johnson 8.3-0-42-1, S R Watson 8-0-46-1, N M Hauritz 10-0-23-2, M J Clarke 3-0-18-0.
S R Watson lbw b Bresnan (32 balls, 39 min, 4 fours) 26
†T D Paine c †Prior b Rashid (62 balls, 76 min, 5 fours) 51
*R T Ponting c Bopara b Bresnan (60 balls, 98 min, 5 fours) 48
M J Clarke not out (81 balls, 102 min, 8 fours) 62
C J Ferguson not out (29 balls, 37 min, 2 fours) 23
Extras (b1 lb1 w7 nb2 )11
Total (3 wkts, 43.4 overs)221
Fall: 1-51, 2-108, 3-168.
Did not bat: C L White, M E K Hussey, N M Hauritz, M G Johnson, B Lee, N W Bracken.
Bowling: S C J Broad 9-0-43-0, R J Sidebottom 7.4-0-41-0, T T Bresnan 8-1-41-2, A U Rashid 10-0-56-1, O A Shah 3-0-12-0, L J Wright 6-0-26-0.
Umpires: Asad Rauf and N J Llong.
Australia won by 7 wkts, and lead 7-match series 4-0.
Man of the Match: B Lee (Aus).
Remaining matches: Tues: 5th One-Day International, Trent Bridge (d/n); Thurs: 6th ODI, Trent Bridge (d/n); Sun: 7th ODI, Chester-le-Street.Reuse content