At 83-0 after 18 overs, England were in real danger of actually scoring something akin to a competitive total. But the controlled aggression that had built such a fine platform was soon replaced by a bizarre fusion of tentativeness and occasional spurts of aggression. The result was a typically depressing collapse and, ultimately, crushing defeat.
This game’s effect on the Ashes will probably not be more than negligible. The continued inadequacies of the ODI side, however, do not bode well for the World Cup.
England, though they are the eighth best one-day side in the world, often plan as if they are the best. A prime example was the sudden urgency of Ian Bell after the game’s first drinks break. He was probably simply following flawed instructions, but his tame dismissal, after he had begun so well, proved the start of the rot.
England, clearly, were focused on taking advantage of the second batch of Powerplay overs. Admirable as this was, they should have realised that 250 would have been an excellent score on the surface. England were going at four and a half an over – more than adequate; asking the openers to change tactics was sheer lunacy. And, even more bafflingly, Bell, rather than Strauss, who was assertive in the ODIs against Pakistan, took the lead.
Promoting Kevin Pietersen to number three did not pay off; he was undone, by the impressive Mitchell Johnson’s classic two-card trick. But at least the decision to promote Pietersen hinted at flexibility in the England camp, and awareness of the necessity to give their best batsman ample time to score a hundred. Andrew Flintoff followed him, and showed a lack of clear thinking when trying to hit the lively Shane Watson out the ground.
Thereafter, Australia, as they do, turned the screw. Intriguingly, it was Johnson and Watson, rather than Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, who caused the most damage. England, at least, took to McGrath early on – and he did not do enough to dispel the notion he has declined a crucial little.
One could only pity the redoubtable Paul Collingwood. He has proved himself before in Indian conditions and has 100 ODI caps – yet he still suffered the ignominy of batting below the unconvincing Michael Yardy, a similar type of player but simply not as good. For the second game in a row, Collingwood’s knock was a lesson in crisis management.
For a few overs, it looked as if England might actually be able to defend their threadbare total. Sajid Mahmood’s raw but explosive bowling accounted for Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, and went a little way to explaining the continued omission of Jon Lewis, so impressive against Pakistan. James Anderson, meanwhile continued his return from injury and bowled with control and penetration.
Steve Harmison, who is supposed to be leading this attack, most certainly didn’t. For the second consecutive game, he bowled like a clueless club tearaway. Harmison did not use the new ball, so he could not use that as an excuse. He badly needs to refind his confidence before the Test series begins.
As expected, England have failed to progress to the semi-finals. Not only have they been beaten by two better sides; they have displayed a lack of common sense and, with the bat, have largely been the victims of their own downfall. Clinging onto the positives – Bell looking infinitely more assured than when he last played the Aussies, Strauss making runs and the bowling of Anderson and Mahmood – will only get England so far. The truth is their one-day side continues to be a joke.