THREE months and a cricketing epoch ago, England set out their stall against Australia. That was then and this is now.
What a sweet moment it was at Edgbaston in early June when the home side's 48-run victory arrived in the first of 26 encounters between the countries which were to be played in eight months. The sensation lasted only until David Warner gave his rival batsman Joe Root a bunch of fives a few hours later.
The teams are approaching the midway point in this long campaign, which is beginning to make the presidential election trail in the United States seem like a quick fix. On Sunday Australia won with panache what was officially the second one-day international of this NatWest Series (and the 10th of the 26), the first having been rained off last Friday.
This time the difference between the sides was 88 runs and only the margin was a matter for conjecture for most of the match. It ended when England were all out in their 45th over having never troubled their opponents' 315 for 7.
There was a significant difference from the business in Birmingham and his name was Michael Clarke. Australia's captain was missing then because his chronic back condition had flared up again. He was present in all his glory on Sunday and scored his eighth one-day hundred to lead the tourists to their highest ODI total in England.
It was almost, though not quite, incidental that Mitchell Johnson then worked up a head of steam to halt England's pursuit before they could dust themselves down. The home side were never in the hunt, although Kevin Pietersen batted crisply and Jos Buttler made his highest one-day score with some gusto when the cause was done.
Clarke has found Old Trafford much to his liking this summer since this seamless innings followed his commanding 187 in the third Test. Considering his record it may be a surprise that this was the first time he had reached a limited-overs century against England.
Wonderful stuff, scored at a run a ball more or less throughout, and yet still playing the percentages. If anything, however, Clarke was outshone on a lovely batting pitch by his vice-captain, George Bailey, the poor sap who had to carry the can that day in Birmingham. They put on 155 for the fourth wicket and Bailey plundered 82 of them with a brutal authority which had not been witnessed before by English audiences.
There were moments when England struggled to contain the pair, who launched their assault in the middle overs of the innings after Australia had been put in. This was partly because their risky selection left them a bowler light and partly because Australia made it their particular mission to target the off-spin of James Tredwell, who can probably expect something of a going over in the next week.
Tredwell has performed admirably for England, usually as a replacement for Graeme Swann, and he has been accurate and containing enough for some to suggest that he should be the first choice. Australia declined to let him settle into a rhythm, a policy that was evident as soon as Shane Watson clubbed his fourth ball for six.
It meant Tredwell could not complete his 10-over allocation and that the fiddling around necessary in other quarters was made more fiddly. England must address this immediately by introducing another specialist bowler. It seemed silly that Ben Stokes, who is under serious consideration to play in the Test team as a batting all rounder at No 6, came in at eight.
In the event, Australia did not muster as many as they might have done, scoring 90 between the 20th and 35 overs and another 121 in the last 15. It was entertaining but it might have been much worse for England, whose delight at taking a wicket with the fourth ball was short-lived.
The spectacular intervention by Clarke and Bailey was also welcome for diverting attention from the Decision Review System, which had a field day during the Test and was threatening something similar. Watson, having been given out lbw, was then reprieved without overwhelming evidence after he asked for another look, and was then forced to depart, having been given not out, when replays confirmed he had edged behind.
If England were looking for bright spots at the break, they could summon Boyd Rankin, who bowled with venom and bounce, and Stokes, who recovered well from a discouraging start.
Johnson, at his most rapid, slippery and unpredictable , was as exciting as ever. He had Michael Carberry caught at point and with his next legitimate delivery conveyed a pinpoint bouncer at Jonathan Trott which the batsman edged behind. Trott and the short ball are increasingly unhappy companions and he must either learn to tolerate it or see many more innings curtailed.
If Trott has his difficulties, he will have an opportunity to overcome them, which may not be granted Carberry. So far, it has all looked a little too much for him at this level and England may well omit him, ask Root to open and play the extra bowler.
Not that Root lasted long yesterday, bowled through the gate. Briefly afterwards Pietersen and the captain, Eoin Morgan, made it seem that England might challenge. But it was too steep a hill. Pietersen holed out to cover and while Morgan and especially Buttler (left) played pleasingly, it was never seriously more than jolly good practice for the three matches left in this particular season.
Emirates Old Trafford Scoreboard
(One Day): Australia beat England by 88 runs
England won toss
Runs 6s 4s Balls Mins
S E Marsh c Buttler b Finn 0 0 0 4 2
A J Finch c Root b Tredwell 45 1 4 45 98
S R Watson c Buttler b Bopara 38 1 6 51 51
*M J Clarke c Buttler b Rankin 105 0 14 102 140
G J Bailey c Tredwell b Bopara 82 4 5 67 88
A C Voges not out 16 0 0 16 31
†M S Wade b Rankin 0 0 0 1 0
J P Faulkner c Morgan b Finn 18 1 2 11 11
M G Johnson not out 6 0 1 4 1
Extras (b1 lb1 w2 nb1) 5
Total(for 7, 50 overs) 315
Fall: 1-0, 2-60, 3-116, 4-271, 5-283, 6-283, 7-308.
Did Not Bat: C J McKay, Fawad Ahmed.
Bowling: S T Finn 10-1-68-2, W B Rankin 10-0-49-2, B A Stokes
10-0-66-0, R S Bopara 10-0-57-2, J C Tredwell 8-0-60-1, J E
Runs 6s 4s Balls Mins
K P Pietersen c Faulkner b Watson 60 2 6 66 95
M A Carberry c Clarke b Johnson 4 0 1 11 15
I J L Trott c Wade b Johnson 0 0 0 1 1
J E Root b Faulkner 3 0 0 15 25
*E J G Morgan c Clarke b McKay 54 0 4 69 99
R S Bopara c & b Voges 1 0 0 7 3
†J C Buttler c Johnson b Ahmed 75 3 5 65 85
B A Stokes c Bailey b McKay 5 0 0 7 10
J C Tredwell run out 1 0 0 1 1
S T Finn c Voges b McKay 16 1 1 23 35
W B Rankin not out 1 0 0 1 4
Extras (lb1 w6) 7
Total(44.2 overs) 227
Fall: 1-8, 2-9, 3-38, 4-97, 5-103, 6-154, 7-167, 8-169, 9-216.
Bowling: C J McKay 9.2-1-47-3, M G Johnson 10-2-36-2, J P
Faulkner 8-1-39-1, A C Voges 6-0-32-1, Fawad Ahmed 7-0-55-1,
S R Watson 4-1-17-1.
Umpires: R A Kettleborough and S Ravi.
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