Collingwood's limited form costs side dear as record run ends
Australia 147-7 England 143-6 (Australia win by four runs)
England knew that all good things must come to an end. Sooner or later, they had to lose another Twenty20 match, and the time finally arrived last night when Australia defeated them by four runs.
Thus, was their record sequence of victories terminated at eight – and indeed Australia's consecutive losses were stopped at five. Had the tourists managed to eke out a win the damage to their opponents' psyche might not have recovered this winter.
As it was, Australia, as vibrant and efficiently led as they have been at any time in the past two months, might think they have laid a bogey or two. They dried up England's batsmen in the middle of the innings when there were too many dot balls for the tourists' liking and fielded with a precision that has recently been alien to them.
England were left with simply too much to do and although Chris Woakes struck a large six off the fourth ball of the last over – any six at the MCG qualifies for the description – to narrow the gap, it was too much to expect him to win the game again following his last-ditch intervention on his debut earlier in the week.
Paul Collingwood, England's captain, said: "We have had a good run in the Twenty20 form of the game and while it's disappointing to lose we were probably 10 per cent off the mark. The pitch was pretty much the same for both sides. We took the pace off the ball a lot and they resorted to bowling a lot of cutters into the wicket that made it difficult for us to score boundaries at the appropriate times."
Having restricted Australia to 147 for 7, England would have felt they were favourites at the interval. So adept have they been at calculating run rates and chasing down targets this was well within their scope and when the first-wicket pair put on 60 by the eighth over it looked as though they might get far enough ahead of the run rate to stroll home. The loss of two wickets in four balls to Mitchell Johnson, their intermittent scourge, arrested the development of the innings.
Equally, Australia scored more than they should have done from being 80 for 5. One of their new boys, Aaron Finch, who had been quietly efficient in his side's narrow defeat in Adelaide on his debut, calmly took control. He ran hard, placed well, took no risks and was in a position to have a dash at the end. His unbeaten 53 from 33 balls was exactly what Australia needed.
Finch is a Victorian and rose to the occasion of playing in front of his home crowd with a verve that suggests the selectors might have acted unwisely in omitting him from the plans for the World Cup. England had done their own strangling in the middle of the innings with their spin twins, Graeme Swann and Mike Yardy yielding only 38 runs between them in eight overs and taking four wickets.
Collingwood perhaps missed a trick by not bringing himself on to bowl and his decision to use the occasional off spin of Kevin Pietersen cost 17 precious runs in two overs. To have entrusted the final stages to Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad was a perfectly legitimate decision if it did not quite proceed as he would have wished.
Ian Bell once more looked resplendent as England set off in pursuit and if he was never quite as grand again as when he took 12 off Shaun Tait's first over, he was pretty good. But the boundaries stopped when the ball grew soft and perhaps Bell was over anxious in swinging across the line at Johnson to give Australia the breakthrough they needed.
Pietersen drilled a half volley to extra cover later in the over only to see the Australia captain, Cameron White, intercede with a plummet to his left. It was a good night for White. He has an instinctive feel of where to place his fielders and rotates his bowlers smartly.
The loss of Collingwood, whose form is looking as dire as it was in the recent Test series, paved the path for Eoin Morgan but he too struggled for once to come to terms with the sluggish surface. He was the embodiment of fluency compared to poor Collingwood for whom this has been a grotesque tour with the bat.
"I'm obviously disappointed with my form," he said. "Things go in cycles in terms of form whether it be personal or team and I know it will come back again. It will take just one good innings." But the one good innings is eluding him, the World Cup looms and Collingwood's form sticks out like a lump of coal on a heap of diamonds.
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