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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July, 2005, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Thriller whets Ashes appetite
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at Lord's

England celebrate the dismissal of Ricky Ponting
The NatWest Series final proved to be a tasty precursor for the Ashes

The phoney war officially ended on Saturday when the enthralling tie between England and Australia gave a taste of what the Ashes will be like.

Two international heavyweights slugged it out for almost the full 100 overs, with the momentum swinging violently between the two.

The pressure that has slowly built up through the NatWest Series reached boiling point as the two sides met for the first time this summer at Lord's.

This was the closest these sides will come to a dress rehearsal for the opening of possibly the most anticipated Ashes series ever, at the home of cricket on 21 July.

And in overcast conditions, with bowlers on top and close fielders used for much of the match, it resembled Test cricket more than most 50-over matches.

After Ashley Giles and Steve Harmison scrambled two runs off the final ball from a bemused Glenn McGrath, there was nothing to split the sides.

But there was plenty for both teams to be pleased about.

Marcus Trescothick is dismissed at Lord's
Trescothick's dismissal was a familiar scene for the opener

When the going gets tough McGrath gets going, and in the process silences any suggestion he is past his best.

The 35-year-old wrought seven overs of havoc in taking his three wickets, not with out-and-out hostility but with a line that dares batsmen to take him on.

Marcus Trescothick's dismissal was all too reminiscent of the last two Ashes series, when the left-hander's edges to the slips seemed to be a feature of every Test.

Another of McGrath's victims was Andrew Flintoff, and the all-rounder's lack of batting form - five innings have brought 110 runs - must be one of England's biggest headaches of the series.

Andrew Strauss was a candidate for man of the series, with 378 runs - 119 more than nearest rival Mohammad Ashraful - but just 46 of those came against the Aussies.

Brett Lee has not played a Test for 18 months but his firebolts are almost certain to be unleashed at the end of this month.

Umpire David Shepherd warns Brett Lee

The simmering tensions of the last week boiled over at one point, when he unleashed a high full-toss at Trescothick.

Although it appeared unintentional, he has a history of bowling beamers and received a stern talking to from umpire David Shepherd.

The widely held belief that Kevin Pietersen's leg-side bias would be targeted was proven right when Lee found an off-stump line that left him groping.

England have their own fiery fast bowlers, though, with Flintoff's bowling already back at its best after ankle surgery and Steve Harmison barely recognisable from his winter in South Africa.

After a belligerent start from the Aussie openers, Flintoff's arrival abruptly changed the mood, and Matthew Hayden's struggles will be cause for particular celebration.

Add to those positives a perfectly paced sixth-wicket partnership that was clearly borne of the confidence England have gained from their recent success.

Paul Collingwood is well down the pecking order for Test selection, although in the one-day game he is a master of finding weaknesses and exploiting them.

But Geraint Jones was in dire need of a confidence boost and duly found it with his highest one-day score in England.

They blunted all Australia could throw at them for 33 overs, although that was partly due to bowlers being juggled because of one-day quotas.

Those restrictions will not be in evidence when the gloves finally come off in three weeks' time.

And on this evidence the Ashes battle will last much longer than that.


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