England leave Ponting looking for excuses

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The Independent Online

As England supporters come to terms with the remarkable events of Monday evening, when Michael Vaughan's irresistible team pulverised Australia by the margin of 100 runs, it is worth assessing whether the manner of the Twenty20 victory will have any bearing on this summer's Ashes series.

As England supporters come to terms with the remarkable events of Monday evening, when Michael Vaughan's irresistible team pulverised Australia by the margin of 100 runs, it is worth assessing whether the manner of the Twenty20 victory will have any bearing on this summer's Ashes series.

If England go on to lose the seven one-day internationals they are expected to play against Australia before the first Test on 21 July, then probably not. But if Vaughan was looking for a performance which told the world champions that his side mean business, then this was it.

England's cricket was powerful and ruthless, and it took Australia by surprise. Kevin Pietersen showed no fear, along with a blatant disregard for reputation, when he went after Ricky Ponting's bowlers. And the treatment Andrew Flintoff handed out to Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, when he peppered the pair of fast bowlers with short balls, was delivered with the Test series in mind.

Flintoff's brutal approach may not quite have fitted in with the spirit of Twenty20 cricket but it left the Australians with little doubt of how England intend to conduct themselves during the next 13 weeks.

Australia would have wanted to make a statement themselves at the Rose Bowl. It would have gone some way towards making up for the defeat inflicted on them by England during the ICC Champions Trophy in September 2004, and reasserted their dominance over their fiercest rivals.

But they failed to achieve their goal, and it is Australia who arrive in Bristol for Sunday's opening NatWest series encounter against England feeling the pressure. This was illustrated by the fact that Ponting, surprisingly, made a couple of excuses for the incompetent performance of his side.

The Australian captain said the hectic nature of the game dictated his tactics, forcing him to introduce the spin of Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds earlier than he wanted.

But a look at the tourists' bowling figures suggests that this decision did not have a negative effect on the performance of his side. If anything it helped the tourists.

Clarke and Symonds took three wickets and conceded only 39 runs in the six overs they bowled. And if Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz had bowled in such a miserly fashion Australia would have been chasing a total of around 130, not the 179 that England set.

It was also interesting to hear Ponting state that he had changed the Australian batting order to give a couple of his players the chance of some much-needed time at the crease. What? In a 20-over game, when you are chasing nine an over? Come on Ricky you will have to do better than that.

But the most interesting comment was that the game was "just a bit of fun". Now I have been fortunate enough to play cricket at all levels in both England and Australia, and "fun" is not a word that I ever heard during matches Down Under.

In England, anybody can play cricket on a Saturday afternoon if they want to. But in Australia it is different. To play cricket there you have to be selected, and if you are not good enough then it is tough luck.

This is the first occasion in a long time that an Australian defeat has brought about such a reaction, and it suggests Ponting and his team-mates are just a little bit rattled.

During the recent one-sided Test series between England and Bangladesh many questioned whether the tourists should be playing cricket at this level. It was suggested that their presence cheapened the taking and scoring of Test wickets and runs.

Now, after watching Australia being shunted aside with such ease one has to question whether the performance of Ponting's side is beginning to threaten the integrity of Twenty20 cricket.

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