Today Malachi Loye was plucked from playing cricket in Auckland to make his international debut at such short notice that he had to take the field without his name and number on a shirt.
He nevertheless showed a refreshing belligerence in making 36 of England's first wicket partnership of 52. After his departure the wheels fell off the coach as Australia grabbed the game by the throat with some excellent fielding, notably two catches by Brad Hodge and an excellent run out by Cameron White, and good tight bowling from all the bowlers, especially Nathan Bracken and, after an expensive opening spell, Glenn McGrath. Flintoff and Dalrymple scraped together enough runs to make the game go into the night, but 155 all out in 42 overs looked well short of a competitive score.
It didn't turn out that way. James Anderson and Jon Lewis put Australia back on its heels with a fiery opening spell. Lewis had the better figures (4/36 from 10 overs) yet Anderson (2/29 from 10) continued the improvement he's shown since the fifth Test and looked especially dangerous.
Australian wickets fell at 26, 30, 35 and 48, two of them to outfield catches from big hits which weren't really necessary given the modest target. Anderson was convinced that he had Hussey caught behind early in his innings: unfortunately umpire Harper didn't agree , so Mr Cricket (who looked a tad sheepish when the appeal was turned down, as if he knew he was out) was able to hang on while two more wickets fell at 93 and 108. Enter Brett Lee who, not for the first time, steadied then rallied the innings and took his team to a win which looked comfortable on paper but was closer than it looked.
While England were clearly the inferior side they didn't drop their bundle as they've done at other times this summer. The scorecard shows that their batting is sorely deficient, but not that their running between the wickets and ground fielding is well below Australia's standard. As for Australia, their middle order batting is not yet collapse proof (only three of the top seven reached double figures - Brad Hodge alas made a duck after fielding brilliantly), but as tonight's recovery showed it's good enough to do what needs to be done with a reasonable margin of safety.
Despite the loss England now looks to be improving : still with some gaps to plug, but capable of testing and possibly even extending Australia for longer than a few overs at a time.
While I watched the game on TV I listened to the ABC radio commentary which today was of a high standard. Kerry O'Keefe was at his incisive best, ie focusing on the play and, for a time, on an interview with Andrew Hilditch the Australian chairman of selectors about selection policy in general and the new intake into the Centre of Excellence in particular.