Gilchrist gears up for Ashes by shattering England's morale
England 228-7 Australia 229-2 (Australia win by eight wickets)
Wednesday 13 July 2005
With the Ashes now only a week away, this was a disastrous result for the morale of Vaughan's side, who will want to forget the way they have twice been dismantled by Australia in the last four days. Indeed, if Sir Clive Woodward, the Lions coach, were in charge of England's preparations, he would already have been on the phone to Paul McKenna.
Adam Gilchrist has been threatening a major innings against England, and his brilliant unbeaten 121 allowed Australia to stroll past the home side's total of 228, and win the NatWest Challenge with 91 balls to spare.
Vaughan, predictably, played down England's performance but Australia's celebrations highlighted how important it was to win this match.
No bowler escaped punishment but Stephen Harmison was given special treatment by each Australian batsman. The man who will front England's quest for the Ashes was smashed for 81 in 9.5 overs.
In this sort of form, and on a perfect batting pitch, bowling at Gilchrist is a horrendous proposition. The left hander grips the bat at the top of the handle and fearlessly goes after the bowlers. He swings hard at the ball, and when he connects it flies to all parts of the ground. Gilchrist struck 17 boundaries and two huge sixes in his 11th one-day hundred, and England's bowlers will be grateful for the fact that he bats at seven in Test cricket. At least by then they will have been able to set their radars before he strides out to bat.
Defending 228 was always going to difficult for England's bowlers, and the task was made harder once Vaughan had been forced to substitute Simon Jones with Vikram Solanki. For the third time in four games, England's top order perished and on 93-6 they had little option but to replace a bowler with a batsman.
The strategy worked, as Kevin Pietersen and Solanki added 93 for the seventh wicket. England's selectors meet today to pick their squad for next Thursday's first Test, and Pietersen's diligent 74 will have done his chances of playing at Lord's no harm at all. The powerful right-hander played responsibly during the first half of his innings before once again displaying just how destructive he can be.
Solanki gave Pietersen excellent support and without their efforts England's defeat would have been even more embarrassing. During his 84-ball innings, Pietersen strained a groin and the sight of him limping off the field four overs into Australia's reply will give the England selectors even more to think about before they name their squad.
England's failure to cope with Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz, bowlers who each know their role in the team, is a real concern. The batsmen have looked short of ideas and in the Test matches there is no restriction on the amount of overs they can bowl.
Lee is the spearhead and it is his job to take early wickets. The pace of the man from New South Wales has unsettled England's openers and Marcus Trescothick's upper-cut to third man was the shot of an apprehensive batsman. It gave Lee his 200th one-day wicket.
McGrath offers consistency, and even on a bad day he is competitive. But yesterday he was at his metronomic best. The lanky paceman started his day's work with four consecutive maidens, and this should have earned him the wicket of Vaughan.
McGrath's immaculate control provides batsmen with the ultimate quandary - do they allow the 35-year-old to continue pitching the ball on a good length, or do they get after him?
Vaughan chose the latter yet his top-edged pull at McGrath's 28th delivery should have been caught by Jason Gillespie at fine leg. Gillespie has had a miserable start to his tour and when he grassed the simple chance one feared for his bowling. But the fast bowler responded in splendid style, taking 2-21 in an excellent eight-over spell from the Pavilion End. Kasprowicz, who provides support for McGrath and Lee, is the bowler competing for Gillespie's place in the Test team. And he should have claimed the wicket of Andrew Strauss in his second over. Strauss, like the England captain, attempted to pull his way out of trouble and the top-edge flew high in the air over the keeper. It was a catch Gilchrist would expect to take 19 times out of 20 but he, too, fluffed it.
Yet neither player made the most of Australia's greasy fingers. Vaughan added six before a direct hit from Ponting in the gully ran him out, and Strauss gave Gilchrist the opportunity to redeem himself in Kasprowicz's fifth over. Strauss has now scored just 152 runs in eight innings against Australia this summer.
Andrew Flintoff quickly followed to the same combination but it was Gillespie's wickets which gave the tourists the greatest pleasure. After dropping Vaughan, four or five Australian players came over to the 30-year-old to offer encouragement. It was a move which brought derision from many in a capacity crowd of 23,500, but it showed the togetherness of the visitors, and it worked.
Gillespie's accurate bowling kept England's batsmen under pressure, and he thoroughly deserved the wickets of Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones. The departure of Jones, who was caught cutting at third man, allowed a substitute to play his first significant role in a one-day international.
It surprised many that Simon Jones was the player to make way for Solanki. The Glamorgan fast bowler has looked a far more dangerous proposition than Darren Gough in these matches, and substituting him seemed a bit of a cop-out. Telling Gough, in what could be his final game for England, that he was to be substituted may not have been a pleasurable task, but it was one that should have been made.
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