England September 8; Michael Clarke has remained in England after a dispiriting Ashes series to seek some one-day solace and he began to find it at Old Trafford with a graceful first hundred against England in one-day internationals. Whether Clarke’s enjoyment would be completed by an Australia victory at the start of the NatWest series was yet to be determined but statistics backed up the conviction that their total was a formidable one.
England have never chased down such a score in ODIs, their best effort being 306 for 5 against Pakistan in Karachi 13 years ago. They have also never conceded such a large total to Australia in an ODI in England, but that statistic was partly symptomatic of the nature of the surfaces they have chosen to meet Australia upon this summer.
The balance of England’s side was weighted towards an extra batsman, a shift in policy from a Champions Trophy campaign earlier this summer in which they were beaten finalists, and the captain, Eoin Morgan, time and again found himself playing a limited hand on a benign, grassless pitch, which was not remotely awakened by a 10.15am start.
Only Boyd Rankin, who is making a good impression at the start of his England career, possessed a consistent threat and he delivered the figures, 2 for 49, to suggest as much.
England inserted Australia in anticipation of early movement but Clarke, who would have batted, predicted that it would be a “fantastic” surface and he took full toll on it, moving serenely to 105 from 101 balls before Rankin had him caught at the wicket in the 47th over.
George Bailey inflicted further punishment in a fourth-wicket stand of 155 in less than 22 overs, punishment inflicted, as ever, with more smiles than are seen in an average benefit match. He hit straight and often, taking sixes off Ben Stokes, twice, James Tredwell and Ravi Bopara.
Bopara was the most resourceful of England’s back-up bowlers, allowing only 32 from his first eight overs, but even he could not quite complete the job. He might have escaped unscathed, however, if Bailey had been caught at deep midwicket when 69, but the ball evaded Stokes, who was in from the rope; the next ball cleared the boundary by a distance.
It was an inconvenient time for Tredwell to have one of his most unrewarding days in an England shirt – he conceded 37 from his first 22 balls and eventually 60 from eight overs as Australia attacked him from the outset.
It was a tough examination, too, for Stokes, the Durham allrounder listed to bat at No. 8, who struggled to fill the role of third seamer on such a surface (even though one 90mph delivery suggested his potential) and went for 66. Steven Finn, who can make bowling around 90mph seem strangely insipid at times, fared no better.
England needed early breakthroughs from their two big new-ball bowlers, Finn and Rankin, to justify putting Australia in and Finn provided a rousing start for a 25,000 crowd in the first over by removing Shaun Marsh for a duck.
Australia’s opening alliance, Marsh and Aaron Finch, had put on a record partnership against Scotland, but it was entirely unproductive when things mattered. Marsh poked unconvincingly at a full delivery, the fourth ball of the match, and edged to the wicketkeeper Jos Buttler.
The DRS once again began to impose itself on to the Ashes summer. It had functioned imperfectly during the Test series – as somebody remarked, if you held shares in Hot Spot it was time to sell them – and the dissatisfaction and mistrust lingered on.
Watson, whose emotional struggles with DRS could be turned into soap opera, successfully reviewed after he was given out first ball by umpire Richard Kettleborough, caught at the wicket off Finn. Hot Spot upheld the review, supporting Watson’s conviction that he had got an inside edge on the ball. Kettleborough had to reverse two decisions in the first 13 overs. Both were difficult calls for the third umpire, Aleem Dar, and as unfortunate as Kettleborough might have felt himself to be, Dar probably got it right on both occasions.
Watson’s inconsistent innings ended on 38, trying to cut Bopara. This time England overturned Kettleborough’s verdict. Although Hot Spot did not provide convincing evidence, audio supported England’s appeal and Dar intervened. Audio is increasingly the third umpire’s get-out.
Not for the first time this summer, Watson departed with the hurt, pursed-lips expression of an elderly woman imagining herself short-changed at the till.
When Tredwell intervened with the wicket of Aaron Finch – a flat catch to Joe Root at long on – England accepted the third wicket with considerable relief. For a while, they suggested they might suppress Australia’s scoring rate only for Clarke and Bailey to move smoothly into the ascendancy.