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Monday, April 09, 2007

Australia outclass England

Australia beat England by 7 wickets with 16 balls to spare in the Super Eight game at Antigua. The margin made the differences between the teams seem a little, but not much, greater than it looked to me watching on TV.

England, who won the toss and batted, lost two quick wickets, both to Shaun Tait, who bowled superbly: quick and direct without as many loose balls as we've come to expect from him. Then Ian Bell, building on his recent improvement in both forms of the game, and Kevin Pietersen took control of the match and got on top of the Australian bowling. They didn't spare Glenn McGrath whose opening overs were decidely ragged, though he returned and had Bell caught at midwicket for a pugnacious 77/90b. Even so, at 3/164 in the 30th over, England still looked well placed. But that soon changed as Ricky Ponting brought back Tait and Brad Hogg, and each soon took a wicket, Tait having Paul Collingwood caught behind and Hogg luring Andrew Flintoff forward to miss a wrong'un (chinaman?).

At 5/179 the English wheels were wobbly but Pietersen , who had been missed off Tait, was still there. While he didn't exactly go into his shell he dropped down a gear, partly because of the tight bowling, partly because he knew that he had to keep accumulating to give his team a fair chance. (On Cricinfo S Rajesh and H R Gopalakrishna have an excellent analysis of this passage of play).

Ravi Bopara supported Pietersen for a time but fell to Nathan Bracken for a slow 21/36b, whereupon Pietersen scrambled over the line to his century (the first by an England player in the World Cup since 1996) before Bracken dismissed him and, with McGrath, swept the others aside. 247 all out on a good batting wicket neither fulfilled the promise of the first 29 overs nor looked sufficient to deny Australia victory.

Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden started well, while Ricky Ponting, coming in at 1/57, looked his usual highly proficient self. Hayden (41/50b) was out at 89 but his was the last wicket that fell to a bowler. Michael Clarke and Ponting, pacing themselves well, added 122 before the captain was run out for 86/106b. Enter Andrew Symonds whose 28 n o/28b (though he was almost given out caught when Pietersen didn't quite manage to control the ball on the boundary) complemented Clarke's 55 no /63b as the pair moved to a comfortable win. The England bowling, as the score suggests, was more steady than penetrating and highlighted the significance of Tait's opening and mid innings spells, which deservedly won him the Player of the Match award. I've been critical of Tait in the past for his erratic bowling and fielding lapses, but his performance today suggests that he'll be a major force in Australian cricket for some time to come.


Where to from here?

Australia are looking good, but do they have any weaknesses or areas they could improve? Yes, eg
  • The fifth bowler (Clarke/ Symonds conceded 0/67 from their combined 10 overs)
  • Fielding (McGrath and, now, Hayden are not as nimble as they once were)
  • Middle order batters (esp Mike Hussey but also Brad Hodge if he's to stay in the team) need more time in the middle.
And England? They've been reprieved by South Africa's loss to Bangladesh but still need to win their three remaining games, which is a tall order. Their weaknesses, as I see them, are
  • Poor batting starts (see the Rajesh-Gopalakrishna article)
  • Long batting tail
  • Inconsistent bowling which lacks a spearhead.
Or, to put it bluntly, England are carrying too many passengers.

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