Ponting puts Australia on a higher plane

NatWest Series: Cardiff stages game England can only dream of as Waugh's men open up in sumptuous style
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England were in Bristol yesterday desperately searching for a bandage large enough to cover the gaping holes in their one-day strategy. They might have benefited hugely by watching what was taking place a few miles up the road in the second match of the NatWest Series.

Cardiff is in another country. It might as well have been on a different planet. Pakistan and Australia played limited overs cricket for the 21st century, a notion which has so far proved elusive for the hosts of this tournament. Australia, the world champions, won easily enough, by seven wickets with 26 balls left, but Pakistan also exhibited one-day credentials which England have discarded.

The show ­ for that is what it was ­ provided for a full and buoyant house was not perfect, but it was swashbuckling stuff replete with bold strokeplay. It was cricket to put a smile on your face, which, if memory serves correctly, was one of the main reasons the limited overs game was invented.

Many of the bowlers suffered, not least the two quickest men on earth. One of them, Shoaib Akhtar, apparently bowled the fastest delivery in the modern game at 97.7mph while conceding 41 runs in five overs. The other, Brett Lee, was considerably slower and went for 85, the most expensive 10-over spell by an Australian.

Meanwhile, the most famous leg-spinner of all, Shane Warne, added another footnote to his legend with a wicket from his first ball of the series.

Pakistan stumbled to 85 for 6 and were in danger of what is known in the one-day trade as doing an England before mounting a breathtaking recovery. The 257 they eventually reached, courtesy of a world-record partnership for the seventh wicket between Yousuf Youhana and Rashid Latif, was the sort of score they might have settled for when they opted to bat.

Australia were utterly undaunted. Their response was ferocious and they were 74 from 10 overs, 95 from 15, 258 from 45.4. The pitch was flat, the outfield fast, the bowling summarily dispatched. The tempo slowed as the innings settled and bowlers of lesser pace came on, but it remained a rip-roaring atmosphere.

Three Australians made half-centuries. Ricky Ponting's blazing 70 from 68 balls made him a shoo-in for man of the match but the unbeaten innings of Michael Bevan and the captain, Steve Waugh, exemplified their qualities. Australia were, it was being suggested, under-cooked. On this display they look in danger only of over-heating.

It was the second international one-dayer to be played at Sophia Gardens and the second to feature Australia. They lost the first ­ to New Zealand in the last World Cup, a mere spur to their progress ­ and would certainly have desired first use of the pitch in the second. This appeared to matter not as Pakistan's audacity got the better of them.

Australia's opening bowlers were Glenn McGrath, as expected, and Lee, as definitely not expected. The fastest speed merchant of them all (though Shoaib would give him an argument on the point), who is recovering from an elbow operation, was called up because three of the other seam bowlers, Jason Gillespie, Damien Fleming and Nathan Bracken, have injuries to a variety of joints and limbs. Indeed, Australia last night called up Andrew Bichel as cover from his duties at Worcestershire.

Pakistan lost Shadid Afridi but suffered few other alarms until Warne's introduction to the attack. Rounder now, and shorter of hair, he took his usual nonchalant couple of strides and the ball fizzed past Abdur Razzaq's leg stump. Wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist made a meal of gathering it, but held on long enough to dislodge the bails.

A wide and a dot ball later, Inzamam-ul-Haq was also stumped, charging down the track and essaying a drive-slog which was more the latter than the former. Warne confirmed later, as if confirmation were needed, that he liked playing in England. "The lads keep telling me it could be a golden year," he said.

It grew worse and at 85 for 6 was beginning to look terminal. Another wicket then and Australia were surely through. But their fifth bowler, a composite of three players, proved their weakness. Pakistan saw their opportunity and went on the attack.

Rashid, keeper, erstwhile captain, match-rigging whistle blower, was fearless. With Yousuf playing an anchor role, albeit with a natural elegance, Pakistan got back into the game. The seventh wicket had realised 126 from 127 balls, beating the previous record of 119, when Rashid was run out after backing up too far.

Pakistan continued their late romp against Lee. On his last appearance Lee went for 72 off 10 overs and two matches before that for 70. Pace can work to the batsman's advantage.

As Shoaib was also swiftly to discover when Pakistan took the field without a dehydrated Rashid. He forced one through Gilchrist's belated defence from round the wicket at high speed. The ball before that had been registered as even quicker, an amazing 97.7mph. It was to be meat and drink to Mark Waugh and Ponting.

Ponting, especially, was venomous. His footwork and his blade were swift and precise. What a cavalier he is. Waugh, for a while, looked pedestrian. There is no higher praise. They put on 92 in 88 balls and although both perished the platform they had constructed was laid in cement.