Australia can be beaten at one-day cricket. The records show it. Sri Lanka, for instance, did it seven weeks ago. Why, even England were at it little more than four years ago.
It was a warm January night in Sydney, but a chill ran through the England dressing-room when they fell to 39 for 2 in the fifth match of the Carlton & United Series. Two days earlier in Melbourne, the tourists had been chastened when Australia galloped home by nine wickets. A reconstruction was in the making.
Instead, an accomplished partnership ensued. Graeme Hick batted with calm authority. He did not rush his attacking shots, his placement was impeccable and his later hitting was powerfully dismissive. Hick made 108 from 129 balls, but it was only his third hundred in 79 one-day matches.
The man at the other end had been less prolific. It was Nasser Hussain, now the captain but then still an apprentice limited-overs player. In 19 previous innings he had not made a single half-century. But that night at the SCG his placement and hard running were key elements in an innings of 93 from 114 balls.
What really stood out about the innings was its great sense. After 15 overs, England were 55 for two and after 20 were 77 for two. But in the 30 overs afterwards they added another 205. Hick and Hussain made 190 between them. It demonstrated that the preservation of wickets could lead to riches.
No side had ever made so many to win a one-dayer in Australia. The home side had their moments after they, too, lost two early wickets. Darren Lehmann and Mark Waugh put on 115 for the third wicket. But when Waugh was out and his brother, Steve, popped his second ball to mid-off, they were probably asking too much.
Of course, they kept going. Although Lehmann was undone by a beauty from Alan Mullally, England's captain, Alec Stewart, was running out of bowlers after Mullally and the excellent Darren Gough had used up all their overs.
Ashley Giles, playing in only his fourth one-day international, had to bowl three of the final five overs. He took some flak but he kept his nerve, took a wicket and Australia were beaten by seven runs. Michael Bevan, the best one-day finisher around, never got going.
It was ultimately an exciting finish, but England deserved to win. Nobody who watched it could possibly suspect they would follow this performance by losing 13 consecutive matches against the old enemy. They have come close to winning since, but they have failed to do what they did then in retaining their composure at the climax.
There will be men in England's team tomorrow who were there that night and can recall what it is like to beat Australia over 100 overs. Hussain, Giles, Stewart and Nick Knight can choose no more significant moment for a repeat.
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