Among the less infernal ditties accompanying the one-day circus every step of the way is: "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands." During the interval of the sixth (and, praise be, penultimate) match of the series yesterday, England might have hummed a few bars to themselves.
Jonathan Trott, as in-form throughout this entire tour as it is possible to be without being Don Bradman, had made a wonderfully composed 137 in a commanding England total of 333 for 6. Only three times in the history of limited-overs cricket had a higher target been attained and never at the Sydney Cricket Ground had any chasing team made more than 269 to win. Had there been any stray passing bags, England's second victory of the series might have been in it.
By the end of Australia's pursuit 49 overs and two balls later, all England might have wanted to do with their hands was put their heads in them. Somehow, they contrived to lose for the fifth time in the series. Australia were permitted a rip-roaring start which put them right in the game if not in control of it and they never took their foot off the throttle.
England's optimistic, almost foolhardy strategy of playing only four specialist bowlers backfired on them spectacularly as it was bound to do. Better perhaps in the heat of a Sydney afternoon with a series already lost than in the cauldron at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore against India in the World Cup in barely three weeks.
For the last four matches, England have chosen their veteran all-rounder as No 7 batsman and their fifth bowler. For most of his career, Paul Collingwood has been the spare bowler, the reliable filler-in who, if things are going particularly well, might deliver his full quota of 10.
But Collingwood was unable to bowl last night because his back went into spasm when he essayed a big shot to the last ball of England's innings. Immediately, England were exposed, their options curtailed. The fifth bowling duties were shared, improbably, between Kevin Pietersen and Trott (on the grounds presumably that Trott can do no wrong at present). While they acquitted themselves reasonably well, Jimmy Anderson had one of his less worthy days – but his captain Andrew Strauss had nowhere else to turn.
Australia knew it and although they were on the verge of cocking it up at the death, they were worth their 5-1 lead. Michael Clarke, their captain, was cheered to the crease whereas he had been booed at Brisbane last Sunday, and responded by making 82 in 76 balls. It may be that Clarke, out of sorts all this Australian summer, is timing his run to the World Cup to perfection.
But nobody deserved to be on a winning side last night more than Trott. It was his fourth international hundred of the tour, following his brace in the Ashes series and his 102 in the fourth match of this series. When a player scores a hundred in a one-day match his side wins around 80 per cent of the time.
It was his most measured one-day innings, scored at more than a run a ball but relying on hard running rather than boundaries of which there were only 11. For once, his colleagues played round him wisely. Trott was in by the eighth over, lost Andrew Strauss in the 23rd but was then accompanied by a variety of dashers to the end. None made fifty but all did their job on a pristine pitch, both Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan attacking with glee.
Trott finished his innings with a runner because of cramp. Until recently batsmen with cramp were not allowed a runner because it was not deemed to be a proper injury (indeed Strauss had refused a runner to a clearly suffering Graeme Smith in the Champions Trophy in 2009) but the regulation has changed. It did not seem to hamper Trott who swung freely in the latter overs and was out to the penultimate ball.
Strauss said: "It was a top-notch batting performance all round really. For him to have batted through the innings in that sort of heat was outstanding. It was a monumental innings. He deserved to be on the winning side. It didn't help that Paul Collingwood couldn't bowl his 10 overs. But other than that we allowed them far too fast a start with the new ball and it's a bitter pill to swallow."
England's injury losses continue to mount. Collingwood's back may or may not come out of spasm quickly but Ajmal Shahzad and Chris Tremlett, both already ruled out of the series, are flying home today for continuing treatment to their respective side and hamstring pulls. Shahzad is by no means certain to be ready for England's first warm-up game in the World Cup in 13 days and the spectre of calling for last-minute replacements will continue to haunt England until that very morning.
"At the moment we're a bit short of bowlers full stop," said Strauss. "It's not ideal only to have four bowlers. Ideally you'll have six bowlers at your disposal, five specialists and a Collingwood type bowler. But we're going to have to decide what the best way of winning games in the sub-continent is. The likelihood is that there are going to be two spinners involved and that is an argument to play the sixth bowler."
England must decide quickly. It is crucial that they do not enter the World Cup with a half-cocked strategy. The policy used recently has been, partly, foisted on them by circumstances. But they must become masters of their own destiny. A side incapable of defending 333 is soon bound to cease being happy.
Highest ODI run chases
438-9 South Africa v Australia, Mar 2006
350-9 New Zealand v Australia, Feb 2007
340-5 New Zealand v Australia, Feb 2007
334-8 Australia v England, Feb 2011
332-8 New Zealand v Australia, Dec 2005
England won toss
*A J Strauss c Hussey b Smith 63/0/6/69/89
†M J Prior b Johnson 18/0/2/23/31
I J L Trott c & b Tait 137/0/11/126/189
K P Pietersen c Smith b Lee 29/0/2/34/50
I R Bell c Clarke b Tait 45/0/5/32/56
E J G Morgan c Tait b Watson 21/0/3/13/13
P D Collingwood not out 7/0/0/5/6
C R Woakes not out 0/0/0/0/0
Extras (b1 lb4 w6 nb2) 13
Total (for 6, 50 overs) 333
Fall 1-41, 2-121, 3-189, 4-293, 5-319, 6-330.
Did not bat M H Yardy, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling B Lee 9-1-66-1, S W Tait 10-0-59-2, M G Johnson 6-0-43-1, J W Hastings 7-0-48-0, D J Hussey 4-0-25-0, S P D Smith 7-0-40-1, M J Clarke 1-0-7-0, S R Watson 6-0-40-1.
S R Watson c Strauss b Yardy 51/0/8/34/51
†B J Haddin c Trott b Anderson 20/0/1/25/32
C J Ferguson run out 46/0/3/44/72
M G Johnson st Prior b Pietersen 57/2/1/59/76
*M J Clarke run out 82/1/4/70/119
C L White c Morgan b Finn 20/1/1/21/23
D J Hussey c Prior b Finn 38/1/2/36/59
S P D Smith run out 0/0/0/2/2
J W Hastings not out 7/0/1/4/12
B Lee not out 2/0/0/2/4
Extras (w11) 11
Total (for 8, 49.2 overs) 334
Fall 1-71, 2-87, 3-166, 4-194, 5-224, 6-314, 7-317, 8-327.
Did not bat S W Tait.
Bowling C R Woakes 9.2-0-73-0, J M Anderson 10-0-91-1, S T Finn 10-0-51-2, M H Yardy 10-0-47-1, K P Pietersen 6-0-43-1, I J L Trott 4-0-29-0.
Umpires M Erasmus and D J Harper
Series Australia lead 5-1; Final match: Sunday 3.30amReuse content