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England 135 Australia 136-2: Australia effect perfect riposte to Pietersen

In the circumstances, Ricky Ponting was a model of gracious decorum. Not only had Australia kicked sand in England's faces – again – but they had done so after it was suggested that the sand-kicking boot, so to speak, might be on the other foot.

Their defeat of England in the World Twenty20 by eight wickets with a whopping 31 balls unused was nothing more or less than a humiliation. This particular example was especially resonant because of the knockabout comments the day before the match.

It was a crucial tie in group B. Australia, having suffered the most improbable of losses to Zimbabwe, were threatened with unthinkable elimination from the tournament at the hands of England. They were well aware of this but Kevin Pietersen chose to emphasise the point by saying that England were in a position of strength and could humiliate Australia. "I'm not saying it's going to happen but it's the opportunity of a lifetime," he said.

It was possible to imagine the dreadful extent of the retribution. So it came to pass. Australia polished off England for 138, which was a lot more than they looked like getting early on and a lot less than they required. The required runs were then knocked off at a canter that became a gallop. It was as if they had been galvanised by Pietersen.

"I don't think things like that are going to have an effect on a team," Ponting said. "A lot of our guys have been playing for a long time and comments, unless you can back them, don't really mean anything at all. They had the chance to do what they wanted to do, a once in a lifetime opportunity to humiliate us. If anything they're the ones who have been humiliated."

It was neatly understated, as was England captain Paul Collingwood's droll response that: "Kevin is obviously Kevin." But Australia had, as so often, done their talking where it mattered. There was no doubt that they had been deeply hurt and shocked by losing to Zimbabwe and were not about to let it happen again.

To ensure otherwise, England simply had to bring their best game along. They did not, scoring much too slowly at the start and the end. Only 35 runs came in the first six overs of fielding restrictions, only 16 in the last four.

Questions are bound to be asked about the top three in the order who have failed in both matches. Their loss put England into a deep, dark hole and they needed something truly special, again, from Pietersen if they were to see daylight again in the match. He had his leg pole removed by man of the match Nathan Bracken, as he tried to take one liberty too many.

There could be no effective revival thereafter and an inability against Australia's two left arm seamers, Bracken and Mitchell Johnson made it impossible to reach even 160, a total which might just have been competitive. Andrew Flintoff's batting form improved at last, but that was offset by what happened when he bowled.

It was clear that he was in considerable discomfort as his chronically injured left foot hit the crease in the delivery stride. Once, he let out a yelp of pain. It was a brave performance but it was a worrying one too.

Australia knocked off the total for the loss of two wickets, pretty much as they liked. There was never any realistic chance that they could bash their way to 136 in 9.3 overs, which would have put England out on net run rate, cancelling out their overwhelming victory against Zimbabwe.

But the suspicion arose that if anybody could do it, Australia could and that they might try because of Pietersen's comments. In the event they settled for victory, though on the way they somewhat spoiled James Kirtley's international comeback after a gap of three years. The Sussex seamer had one over which Matthew Hayden plundered for 17 runs on his way to an unbeaten 67 from 43 balls. Welcome back to the big time.

England at least are through to the second stage, the Super Eights, and will meet South Africa tomorrow. Improvement is necessary or humiliation awaits.