England look irresistible with Ponting's men running scared

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The Independent Online

Australia will recognise the species if not the position. There are millions of gum trees around their country and right now they are up one.

They have arrived in this uncomfortable location partly because of their own inadequacies so far, partly because they have a depleted team, partly because of misguided selection and partly, perhaps mostly, because England have shoved them there.

It was always possible that England would push Australia hard this summer but nobody would have expected two such emphatic victories in three days. England have won both matches by four wickets, the first, upholstered with one of the most glorious of one-day hundreds by Eoin Morgan, with 24 balls to spare, the second with 28 left.

These are hammerings in limited-overs cricket and, although they may be, in some respects, just more one-day matches in another series, they are also being played less than a year before the World Cup. And there are already dark mutterings that, if this is the best the Aussies have to offer, what really is the point of the Ashes?

It would be characteristic of the Australians' spirit for them now to come back and win the NatWest Series 3-2, starting tomorrow in Manchester. But they have shown scant sign so far of being equipped to do so in any department and, if the bowling has been especially insipid, the batting has lacked its usual assertion.

England, by contrast, have looked like a team who know what they are doing, which has not been a familiar state of affairs for around 20 years. They have had their moments in that time but these have tended to slip away quickly, wills o' the wisp. Now it is different, as Paul Collingwood averred yesterday.

Collingwood is now not only England's most capped one-day cricketer but also their leading runs scorer in this form of the game. Nobody anywhere could or would have predicted those two milestones for the boy from Shotley Bridge when he started out nine years ago.

But at Sophia Gardens on Thursday night, in his 179th match, nine more than Alec Stewart, Collingwood, when he scored his 33rd run in his innings of 48, also overhauled Stewart's one-day runs record and now has a total of 4,693.

"It was a huge surprise to me when they announced it and I think there were quite a few Australians out there who were even more surprised than me," said Collingwood. "It put a smile on my face. I think milestones and records are things you look back on at the end of your career, but to know you have scored more runs in one-day cricket than any other Englishman is a lovely feeling.

"It's not only the amount of runs but it means you've played a lot of games for England. Alec Stewart was a great player and sometimes you have to pinch yourself to believe that you're playing for England, let alone overtaking someone like him. It's all a bit surreal at times. I was thinking 'surely not me?' I knew I had overtaken Stewie's number of appearances but his runs? Are you kidding me?"

Collingwood has been around long enough to have seen plenty of false dawns and that is why, even now, with the calibre of robust cricket England are playing so regularly, it is important to be cautious. It seems too much to conclude that this really could be their time. But as Collingwood said: "This is the most exciting one-day side I've played in, without a doubt. In the past we've gelled at certain times but never maintained that consistently and I've never thought that we'd be a great one-day side for a prolonged period. But now this team is covering all the bases and the most exciting thing is that I believe we can get better and better."

England will be delighted their captain, Andrew Strauss, made a pugnacious half-century at Cardiff, but Australia will begin to be concerned soon that their captain, Ricky Ponting, looks to be a shade off the pace.

The Australians' bowling has looked short of ideas and nous so far – they need their injured stars, such as Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee, back. To their woes has been added the fact that the off-spinner Nathan Hauritz has flown home with a foot injury and been replaced by speed merchant Shaun Tait. England have been smarter. Much smarter.

Match Details

Probable teams

England

A J Strauss (capt), C Kieswetter, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, E J G Morgan, L J Wright, M J Yardy, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson.

Australia

R T Ponting (capt), S R Watson, T D Paine, M J Clarke, C L White, M E K Hussey, J R Hopes, S P D Smith, S E Tait, C J McKay, D E Bollinger.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak), Ian Gould (Eng)

Pitch report: Likely to be a true and turning surface, on which the spinners will play a proper part.

Start time: 10.45am TV Sky Sports.

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