On Diwali day, England’s One-day fortunes slumped further as they caved in to Australia at the Sawai Man Singh stadium here.
Things should have gone differently for England. After all they had everything to play for in what was practically a do-or-die encounter for both teams. Their recent record in One-dayers has been abysmal and this was a chance to regain some pride by defeating their traditional rivals ahead of the upcoming Ashes clash. It was their big chance to gain the moral upperhand.
They did actually give themselves a chance, twice over. A big one right at the start when Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell put on an 83-run partnership and later when Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson combined under the lights to reduce Australia at 34-3.
But neither chance was taken — the batsmen who followed Strauss and Bell collapsed one after the other to see England shot out for 169. Later, the bowlers could do nothing much when the experienced Damien Martyn and Michael Hussey, obviously taking his vice-captaincy seriously, dug their heels in, taking Australia home with almost 15 overs to spare.
England will leave Jaipur shaken, with the dubious honour of becoming the first of the top teams to be knocked out of the Champions Trophy. It has to be seen whether they will bestir in their remaining league game against the West Indies is debatable. They played so insensibly on Saturday that only a creditable performance against the West Indies would restore some pride before the Ashes.
But maybe England couldn’t have done anything much, at least the bowlers couldn’t, given the way Martyn decided to celebrate his 35th birthday. He was in sublime form in this, his 205th game, showing just why, despite the hiccups of the recent past, he is rated as highly as he is by the Aussie selectors.
What was also quite exhilarating to watch was how, in the midst of all this talk about youth and a pack of young, aggressive Turks making their presence felt at the top of the international ladder, here was one more 30-something player showing that even if cricketing life doesn't quite begin at 30, it definitely does end not at that age.
But, in addition to Martyn and Hussey, Ponting, who had another forgettable match, would have to give credit to the way his bowlers came back to skittle out the English batsmen after that big first-wicket stand. In that of course, they were helped, no doubt, by the failure of all the England middle-order batsmen, led by Flintoff and Pietersen, to apply themselves.
Still, England’s own bowlers didn't do too badly at the beginning despite being mauled early on by Australian openers, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Watson, who had the board reading 30 after only 3.5 overs.
And then, darkness struck — one of the four light poles on the northern side failed. That 10-minute delay seemed to inject fresh life into Anderson and Mahmood. The first ball after the unscheduled delay, an incoming delivery from Mahmood, uprooted Gilchrist's off-stump as he tried to play across the line to the mid-wicket region. In his next over, he had Ponting edging an outgoing delivery to slips, where Strauss dove to his right (his wrong side) and held on to a good catch.
The huddle was back and the exodus of spectators — leaving for the Diwali puja — was halted in anticipation of some drama. They got a bit, as Anderson castled Watson — Australia losing three wickets for just four runs. But then, Australia are not world champions for no reason. Hussey and Martyn stepped in to fill the breach and that was that for England.