Ponting shows his class as tourists give England Ashes wake-up call

England 223-8 Australia 224-3, Australia win by seven wickets
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The Independent Online

The result makes tomorrow's last NatWest Challenge match at The Oval another final, and the winner will have claimed the last psychological blow before the real cricket starts - the Ashes.

Ponting, who posted his 18th one-day hundred when he guided Stephen Harmison to third man for four, was superb, but he was helped by a lacklustre performance from England. Their fielding was shoddy and the bowlers seldom threatened Australia as they chased England's total.

The batting of Andrew Flintoff, who scored 87, delighted the England supporters but the largest cheer came when a Lancaster bomber, a Spitfire and a Hurricane flew over on their way back from a flypast in the centre of London.

Ponting has been in disappointing form since arriving in England but his record demonstrates his class. And, after watching Adam Gilchrist fall for a breezy 29, he showed this to the 30,000 spectators. Flintoff was nonchalantly clipped into the Grandstand for six and the majority of his 111 runs were accumulated through the leg-side.

The Australian captain fell with his side only eight runs away from their target but his innings gave England plenty to think about. Ponting was not the only Aussie to shine. Brett Lee confirmed what a threat he will be during the Test series, with figures of 5 for 41, and Michael Kasprowicz showed that he is perfectly capable of filling in for the out-of-form Jason Gillespie.

After a minute's silence for the victims of last week's bombings in London, Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss gave England a sound start. On a muggy morning, and on a pitch with a green tinge to it, the left-handed pair were watchful against the pace and swing of Lee and McGrath.

Yet it was the introduction of Kasprowicz that changed the course of England's innings. The Queenslander replaced the injured Shane Watson and struck with his first delivery. Strauss has edged the ball on to his stumps on two occasions against Australia, and this combination again led to his downfall.

Before each Test series McGrath publicly states which members of the opposition he will target. Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara have been on his hit list, and before this tour he identified Strauss and Vaughan as the batsmen in his sights.

The England captain won this tussle at Headingley last Thursday, when he scored a blistering 59, but in the two games at Lord's - the venue of the first Test - McGrath has dismissed him cheaply. Yesterday he was adjudged leg before when he left a nip-backer from the fast bowler. Trescothick fell in the next over, edging Kasprowicz to Gilchrist, and England had lost three for three in 17 balls.

With the selectors meeting to pick their Test squad on Wednesday, Kevin Pietersen now had the ideal stage on which to show his credentials. The Hampshire batsman has had limited opportunities to push his cause since a match-winning performance at Bristol three weeks ago, and during the early part of his innings he looked determined to make this one count.

Pietersen left McGrath well and clipped Kasprowicz beautifully through mid-wicket for four. But on 15, and after failing to score off five consecutive deliveries from Lee, the desire to dominate became too great and he was bowled attempting an ambitious drive, leaving England on 45 for 4. The 24 year-old has one more chance to impress, at The Oval tomorrow, but his position is not as impregnable as it once was.

Flintoff has been superb with the ball all summer but before this innings he had struggled with the bat. The loss of form is largely due to a lack of opportunity - Flintoff failed to bat in England's two Test wins over Bangladesh - but his desire not to be seen competing with Pietersen will not have helped. But with Pietersen gone, and England in trouble, the Lancastrian showed his maturity and knuckled down. Paul Collingwood, as ever, gave solid support and the pair added 103 in 135 balls. They showed respect to all the Australian bowlers, apart from Gillespie.

England's batsmen have been chipping away at the confidence of the fast bowler since the Twenty20 match at the Rose Bowl and again he was targeted. Flintoff pulled Gillespie for two fours in his opening over and this forced Ponting to move him to the Nursery End.

But the change of ends altered nothing. Gillespie was clouted for two more boundaries before Flintoff pulled him into the hospitality boxes in the Grandstand for a huge six.

The return of Lee ended England's fun. He found the outside edge of Collingwood's bat and had Flintoff caught on the cover point boundary. The 28-year-old's fifth wicket came off the final delivery of his spell, when Ponting dived to his right at extra cover to take a brilliant one-handed catch.

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