So, after carving out decent opportunities to win the 1st and 2nd ODIs but blowing it with dreadful batting, England finally chalked up a victory thanks in large part to Jonathan Trott who I didn't think should have been playing. Note to self; give up punditry.
The Sofa was delighted to welcome back Aussie agent provocateur Jarrod Kimber for the Australia Day game at Adelaide and his foul mouthed dismissal of all things Australia Day related worked like a charm as his own brethren failed to answer the patriotic call of duty out on the pitch.
Brett Lee's first "ball" set the tone for 50 overs of largely limp, often heinous and mostly wayward bowling. Indeed England were 12-0 after that first over and Prior had avoided the ignominy of three consecutive ducks.
Strauss again got started and got out, this time edging flat footedly at Lee who had uncharacteristically unleashed a volley of words at the England skipper the ball before. I guess he may try that again.
The arrival of Trott is usually a good time to put the kettle on, grab a quick shower and file your tax return, but in concert with the newly revived Prior he added 113 in 19 overs for the second wicket. In truth Prior was the main contributor but Trott was demonstrating that priceless, but hardly revolutionary ability to score singles which so often eludes England's top order. And not all of them were on the leg side this time. Well over 50% of his runs were pushes into the off side and the rotation of strike ensured a good tempo at a time when England innings usually become becalmed in the fruitless search for boundaries.
Prior, who I said should never be opening, was impressive at the top of the order against some brainless filth from Bollinger, Lee and Hastings. It took the hitherto unrealized talents of Steve Smith to put a brake on the innings which he did in spectacular fashion by removing Prior to a log hop, Pietersen to humdrum innocuousness and Bell to an indeterminate dab in the space of 16 balls. "What a bowler" screamed Jarrod, hopefully ironically though sometimes it's hard to tell, and once more England looked to have imploded at just the wrong time.
But the value of a man scoring a hundred cannot be underestimated in ODIs; simply look at Watson and Marsh in the first two matches if you don't believe me. Without losing his shape or becoming frustrated, Trott moved serenely to his ton and his 126 ball innings contained only 6 boundaries.
If he can be faulted it is in his timidity in not taking the power play. He and Morgan were well set when David Hussey was brought into the attack. They both promptly departed; Trott dragging a wide turning long hop onto his middle stump and Morgan inexplicably unfurling the reverse thwack just at the wrong time. As a result England were stuck with a walking wicket in Collingwood and an earnest trier in Yardy to negotiate the final nine overs and still no power play had been taken.
But in an act of extraordinarily polite generosity, Clarke whipped his best bowlers, Smith and Hussey, out of the attack and reintroduced the bizarre stylings of Lee and Bollinger for a 5 over stint that yielded 46 runs and took England to the brink of 300 at the close of the innings. Clarke is not a popular man in Australia and with decisions like that it isn't hard to see why. The pitch was so clearly favouring the slower bowlers that to leave Smith (3-33) with three overs unused bordered on the criminal. Hussey ended up with 4-21 from his 4 overs.
England, by contrast, had no slow bowlers to employ, unless you count the flat medium slow club darts of Yardy, but Strauss intelligently employed Collingwood and Trott in the middle overs to stifle Australia's charge.
Haddin had earlier got the hosts off to a flier and was looking good when backing away and striking over extra cover, but the slower ball had to come at some point and duly did for him. Marsh has had his score for the series so meekly departed for one allowing the reviled Clarke further to blot his copy book with a wonderfully scratchy 15 off 27 balls. When Watson reached 50 and soon after wafted at a wide half tracker from Shahzad to leave Australia 116-4 off 24 overs, the game was pretty much up.
White and Hussey were unable to get on top of England's dobbers, departed in frustration and the game was up. The last ten overs were a largely academic exercise as Smith and Lee played themselves into some batting form against England's seamers but the eventual loss by 21 runs may as well have been 121 runs for all the likelihood of them attaining the target.
What made the difference? Obviously Trott with both bat and ball was the cornerstone of England's victory, but once again both sides exposed their failings in the middle order. It has been a series thus far of mostly batting incompetence on good pitches. England did manage to cut out the ludicrous run outs for once, but they will be severely concerned over the form of Bell, Pietersen, Morgan and Collingwood, whose 27 off 27 balls looked no better than his 1 off two balls the other day.
At Adelaide the difference between the teams was probably in the atrocious garbage bowled by Australia's seamers. Anderson, returning for England, looked rusty but not far off his best, and Shahzad merely needs to cut out the occasional wild leg side 5 wide ball to be truly top class.
So I suppose there is still some life left in this series after all. Though frankly, if the first four games are anything to go by, it's not a life that any but the most unfortunate would willingly choose.