By Ross Stapleton

There was more than a whiff about
the old firm being back in the Ashes acquisitions business as Australia earlier
today systematically took England apart to easily win the deciding NatWest
Challenge one-dayer at The Oval by eight wickets with 15 overs to
spare.

With both Brett Lee and the
ageless Glenn McGrath pinning England down with early wickets after Ricky
Ponting again won the toss and sent England in, at one stage the Poms looked
forlorn at 6-93. But then with the
aggressive aplomb of Kevin Pietersen, along with a bonus assist from
12th man sub Vikram Solanki introduced to shore up the late order
batting, Pietersen made his case for Test inclusion next week hard to ignore
with a defiant and impressive 74 from 83 balls. Solanki justified his substitution with
53 on the way to a final score of 7-228, but it was never going to be enough on
this wicket and fast outfield.

While Australia thumped 45 off
the first five overs and Matthew Hayden hit a quick-fire 31 before being caught
behind, the day belonged to Adam Gilchrist. He stuck around right until the end to
hit the winning runs and a typically ferocious 121 off just 101 balls, to finish
the run chase at 2-229. Ponting was
well on top of his game with a brisk 43 before he stepped down the wicket to
again snot spinner Ashley Giles, but missed and was easily stumped.

Brett Lee claimed his
200th one-day victim at a superior strike rate to any previous Aussie
to reach that mark, when he had Marcus Trescothick caught for a duck, while
Glenn McGrath was bowling as tightly as ever where England could only score its
first runs off him on his 28th delivery when Jason Gillespie dropped
a sitter. But then Gillespie
redeemed himself with a welcome return to form with 3-44, and all the signs are
yet again pointing to England looking at a long Ashes summer of chasing Aussie
leather.

England’s gun quick Steve
Harmison uncharacteristically had a day to forget with 0-81, while the jungle
drums are starting to beat as to England captain Martin Vaughan’s future after
being run out for 15, but there’s no way England will hit the panic button just
yet.

The jury is still out on the 12th man substitution trial although the English
TV pundits are warming to the idea that both teams name their
sub before the toss. But the additional bowling “power plays”
are working, although it’s being suggested perhaps the batting team should
have the option of nominating the introduction of the second and
third five over blocks?

Peter Fray

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