Harmison turns heat on jittery Australia
Monday 04 July 2005
Australia have not become the best team in the world on the back of errors like this, and Ashley Giles' scampered two to third man - was it leg byes? Was it runs? Should he have been given out leg before? Who cares? - allowed Michael Vaughan's combative side to tie a remarkable game of one-day cricket.
Yet Lee was not the only member of Ricky Ponting's side who appears to be struggling to cope with the pressure England are putting Australia under. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, in bowler- friendly conditions, gave Australia the perfect start to Saturday's final when they brought up the tourists' 50 inside seven overs. But with England's bowlers at their mercy, both batsmen played diabolical strokes.
Australia have become accustomed to steam-rolling sides, and the wild hacks of Hayden and Gilchrist were the acts of players desperately attempting to impose themselves on a team that is not prepared to take a backward step. The magnificent Stephen Harmison was slightly fortunate to strangle Ponting down the leg side but these three wickets suddenly placed Australia on the back foot.
It was the same when England batted. Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee gave England's selectors plenty to think about before the first Test but having reduced the hosts to 33 for 5, the world champions were once again unable to finish off an opponent. In the Tests there is no limit to the number of overs McGrath can bowl, and Australia have a certain leg-spinner to come on and make the most of his early work, but credit should go to Geraint Jones and Paul Collingwood, who changed the course of the game with a superb 116-run partnership.
In demanding circumstances, the pair battled hard and kept their cool. Each had a fair amount of good fortune, but this was needed on a pitch offering assistance to the fast bowlers. Yet neither player panicked about the rising run rate. Forty-six runs were added in 20 overs, and they had the confidence to wait until the 30th over before taking control.
"We have played some good cricket," acknowledged Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. "I believe we have bowled really well but the most pleasing thing is that we have managed to recover from situations that we previously would not have got out of against Australia. This is a huge positive. We could and probably should have won the final, but we also didn't lose it, and that was pretty crucial considering our record against Australia in the last four or five games.
"It was also important to see little aspects of their cricket changing. We won little battles out there. It was interesting to see the Australians in huddles trying to make decisions, which we haven't seen before. We also saw an Australian batter protecting a team-mate from the strike, and some of their guys showing concern about the lines and lengths our bowlers were bowling."
Privately, Fletcher may have worries about the form of England's top order, but he has every right to feel optimistic about the bowling. Harmison and Andrew Flintoff have been outstanding throughout the tournament, and Australia's batsmen will not be relishing the prospect of facing this pair in the Ashes series.
Both are uncomplicated, with a simple method. They make the most of their height - each is over 6ft 5in - and attempt to hit a good length hard. In conditions like those on Saturday, any half-decent fast bowler should have been a handful. But it is on flat pitches where these two come into their own, and the bounce they extract will continue to unsettle Australia.
Honours could not have been shared more evenly during the NatWest Series, but the teams will play three further limited-over matches before the Ashes.
The NatWest Challenge, which starts on Thursday at Headingley, will offer one of these teams the opportunity to gain a psychological advantage before the first Test, and the side which achieves this could be the one that makes the most of the new regulations.
England will announce its 15-man squad this morning and on Thursday Michael Vaughan will be able to call on the services of a substitute. The England captain will also be in control of when he wants to employ 10 of the 20 overs when fielding restrictions apply.
"Every aspect of the new rule changes is going to be interesting," Fletcher said. "Selection will be very difficult, and implementing the substitute, or when to use the fielding restrictions, will become very tricky. This makes it very exciting. After the first 15 overs captains didn't have to think but now they do."
It will be fascinating to see which type of cricketer is used as the substitute, and the change has caused England to add a 15th member to their squad. Chris Tremlett, who came into England's 14-man NatWest Series squad as cover for Simon Jones, looks set to replace Kabir Ali.
England NatWest Challenge squad: (probable): M P Vaughan (c), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, K P Pietersen, A Flintoff, P D Collingwood, G O Jones, A F Giles, S P Jones, D Gough, S J Harmison, V S Solanki, C T Tremlett, J Lewis, I D Blackwell.
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