No stopping Australia

Kevin Pietersen's century was the highlight of England's innings.-AP

"We hung in there and our bowlers did it right through the middle overs," said Ponting after beating England convincingly. A report by S. Ram Mahesh.

After the seven-wicket loss, England captain Michael Vaughan made it seem like Australia was beatable. "If we meet them again," he said, "we'll back ourselves". Vaughan had a point — one-day cricket is about the day, and any good side that can constantly keep Australia under pressure will in theory be well placed to win. Except, he was probably the only person in the room who believed it.

At 164 for two in the 30th over, Vaughan's side was as well placed as he'd have hoped. In fact he said it was a start "we'd steal" and that it "was a platform for 280".

Ponting agreed. "I think (Ian) Bell and (Kevin) Pietersen played beautifully," he said. "They took the initiative away from us after we started well with a couple of early wickets from Taity."

Andrew Strauss's return — at Ed Joyce's expense — had lasted nine balls when Tait's pace proved too quick. Thus were brought together Bell and Pietersen, a pair the Australian team is wary of. They were helped by the fact that Ponting gave his opening bowlers five and four-over first spells. Pietersen and Bell had only two overs of Bracken and one of Tait to contend with.

In 55 balls the pair put on 50 runs as they targeted Glenn McGrath. Michael Clarke's introduction in the first over of the second Power Play made it a profitable period at seven an over. Overs 14 and 15 yielded 25.

Pietersen used his long reach and loose wrists to pile-drive Michael Clarke straight and pitch-fork the left-arm spinner over long-on. Bell used a more traditional flow of the bat to deal with McGrath. McGrath's three-over spell cost Australia 25 as Brad Hogg's left-arm wrist spin and Andrew Symonds's medium pace were called on.

Pietersen and Bell reached their half-centuries in the same over. But, Ponting delayed Power Play Three till the 27th over in a smart bit of captaincy.

"Ian (Bell) played really nicely," said Vaughan. "That third Power Play period is a real difficult time because you've got two guys in and you know they want to make the most of it. He'd hit the ball beautifully over extra-cover so I don't begrudge him at all for trying to take that shot on. He played a tremendous knock and showed what a class player he is."

Australia twice dropped Pietersen, but Glenn McGrath, who Ponting said was "probably a bit disappointed" with his early spell of three overs for 25, returned to dismiss Bell. Tait's pace and bounce did Paul Collingwood in, and Ponting brought Brad Hogg on for Andrew Flintoff: another excellent tactical move.

"We hung in there and our bowlers did it right through the middle overs," said Ponting. "They should have got to a total of about 280, which would have been a very hard chase, 248 was hard enough, but our bowling — Bracken, Hogg, McGrath, Tait — was world-class especially towards the end. To tighten it and take eight wickets for 80 in the final 20 overs was a special effort."

Kevin Pietersen's 104 was of two parts. The first 50 at better than a run-a-ball, and the second more laboured. "I was a bit surprised he didn't step his innings up earlier," said Ponting. "But, he didn't really have any support and he was probably tiring, so that played a part."

Both Australian openers survived close shouts for leg-before, but put on 57 to set the base for chasing 248. Surprisingly, none of the fast bowlers went around the wicket straight away to Gilchrist. Mahmood did it in the Champions Trophy late last year, and it's a tactic that has brought England's bowlers success.

Flintoff finally did it, and was rewarded first ball. Hayden was bowled by Collingwood as England looked to find a way in. Barring third-man, fine-leg, and square-leg Vaughan kept all his men in the circle to Ponting and Michael Clarke.

"We squeezed Ricky and Michael for a good six-seven overs," said Vaughan, "but we didn't get a wicket and get the likes of Symonds in early. We needed wickets in that phase, but we didn't win any of the critical periods."

Had Vaughan hit the stumps from mid-wicket in the 23rd over when Ponting, on 22, was short of his ground, things might have been different. But, Ponting survived and extracted a heavy fee. Michael Clarke gave him excellent support, and though the match seemed close at the 30-over stage of Australia's innings. Ponting and Clarke never lost control.

"Today's been our biggest test, no doubt about it," said Ponting. "England should have made 270-280, no question, and our run-chase was big enough anyway.

"We did what we had to do, but we had plenty of batting to come and we could have taken risks earlier if needed. But we'd sewn things up and carried on to win the game."

THE SCORES

Super Eight: Australia v England. Australia won by seven wickets.

England: I. Bell c Hussey b McGrath 77; M. Vaughan b Tait 5; A. Strauss b Tait 7; K. Pietersen c Clarke b Bracken 104; P. Collingwood c Gilchrist b Tait 2; A. Flintoff st. Gilchrist b Hogg 4; R. Bopara c Hussey b Bracken 21; P. Nixon c Hodge b McGrath 8; S. Mahmood c Hodge b Bracken 0; M. Panesar (not out) 1; J. Anderson lbw b McGrath 0; Extras (b-4, lb-4, w-7, nb-3) 18. Total (in 49.5 overs) 247.

Fall of wkts: 1-10, 2-24, 3-164, 4-167, 5-179, 6-230, 7-240, 8-240, 9-246.

Australia bowling: Bracken 10-1-33-3; Tait 10-0-41-3; McGrath 9.5-0-62-3; Clarke 4-0-27-0; Hogg 10-0-36-1; Symonds 6-0-40-0.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Collingwood b Flintoff 27; M. Hayden b Collingwood 41; R. Ponting (run out) 86; M. Clarke (not out) 55; A. Symonds (not out) 28; Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-5) 11. Total (for three wkts., in 47.2 overs) 248.

Fall of wkts: 1-57, 2-89, 3-201.

England bowling: Anderson 10-1-49-0; Mahmood 9.2-1-60-0; Flintoff 10-1-35-1; Panesar 9-0-48-0; Collingwood 9-0-50-1.