In a series where little has gone right for Australia, the last thing they needed was to lose the toss on a morning like this.
After biblical rain in Durham the last couple of days, the pitch had taken on more liquid than Lindsay Lohan and under heavy skies even the most rigid of bat-first captains would’ve invited the opposition to bat.
It’s quite incredible the game went ahead on time, with the grounds staff allegedly at the ground from 3am to prepare. Even more incredibly, it was bathed in sunshine for the middle third of the match, although tellingly Australia batted in the first third and by the time the clouds returned in the late afternoon the match was all but over.
Whilst the thick atmosphere didn’t promote swing as much as one might have expected, it delayed the drying out of the wicket and encouraged the seam movement that did for Australia early on. Steven Finn was again irrepressible, claiming Warner and Forrest with consecutive LBWs in the sixth over. He consolidated his man-of-the-match performance in the back half of the innings with a second shot at a hat-trick, dismissing Clarke and Wade, the latter thanks to a brilliant catch on the second attempt by Kieswetter.
Whilst it’s churlish to suggest Australia would’ve won the match had Clarke called differently at the toss, it was a handicap that was ultimately too big to overcome. It also prevented the crowd from having a look at the Australian pace quintet in premium conditions, although they failed to make the most of similar conditions early on at Lord’s.
On the flip-side, it was a decent opportunity for the batsmen to see England at its most unforgiving. David Hussey was outstanding given the scenario and his innings was reminiscent of his absent brother. He started slowly with Australia in deep trouble before accelerating towards the end and hauling Australia to a respectable score. He doesn’t always look the most graceful batsman, but he is a grafter and a very clean striker of the ball once set. One good ODI innings does not necessarily maketh a Test player, but given his vast experience and success playing County cricket, he must be a chance to return here next year with the Test squad.
Watson also batted well given the early conditions, but as he so often does he got himself out just as he was finding some fluency, chopping on from Bresnan. Clarke managed to occupy the crease for well over an hour, but it was alarming the amount of times he played and missed.
Bopara a surprise packet
Whilst Finn duly received the plaudits for his spell, Ravi Bopara was the real surprise packet. He is so staggeringly languid in the field – all double teapots and hunched shoulders – that the Australian batsmen perhaps underestimated him, but he bowled with real craft here, getting plenty of sideways movement and cleaning up George Bailey with an absolute jaffa. Bopara’s performance was so impressive that it even had one journalist practicing his bowling action in the media centre – an incongruous activity in relatively austere surroundings.
By the time England came out to bat the sun had sucked the moisture out of the wicket and batting became appreciably easier. Once again, Bell and Cook survived the new ball and set the platform for Trott and Bopara to see England home.
Trott is the most unusual of characters. His bizarre superstitions extend even after the winning runs were hit and he dutifully marked his crease, or ‘dug his trough,’ whilst handshakes began. In his own time he slowly removed his helmet and started his pleasantries. Whilst fielding, he is an outcast, often running from fine-leg to fine-leg between overs and rarely seen in the inner circle. At one point he executed a fine piece of fielding on the boundary – a sliding stop and then a perfect throw over the bails – and received little more than a half-hearted clap as acknowledgment, a far cry from the back-slapping and bottom-patting camaraderie that goes on in the infield.
McKay pick of the Aussie bowlers
For the nth time this year, Clint McKay was the pick of the Australian bowlers. He gave Cook a torrid time, beating his bat several times and putting down a difficult chance off his own bowling before the England captain mistimed a drive to short cover. He returned to take the wicket of Ian Bell and finished with 29/2 off his 10 overs. With his running-in-treacle approach to the wicket and front on action, he doesn’t necessarily fit the mould of the modern fast bowler, but he has established himself as a key component to the Australian attack.
The Riverside Ground is beautifully English with its idiosyncratic mix of old and new. Irregular grandstands surround the playing surface, modern screens jut out like beacons and an old relic of a scoreboard from the mid nineties still operates. This was the Riverside’s first premium ODI, a teaser for their Ashes debut next year and the crowd had a wonderful day. If England continue to perform like this, they may well be enjoying themselves again come 2013.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia