The sight of Michael Vaughan unfurling one of his trademark flick-pulls was the only reassuring feature of another desperate result for England in Sydney this morning.
They lost this one-off Twenty20 match by 77 runs – an embarrassing margin, if not quite as heavy as the 100-run towelling they themselves inflicted on Australia in 2005.
With eight 50-over internationals to come in the next four weeks, it was an ominous start to their pyjama campaign.
England’s batting was naïve and their bowlers – with the honourable exception of Monty Panesar – never found a way of restricting Australia's mercurial strokeplay.
But the area where they let themselves down most was in the fielding. Jon Lewis and Kevin Pietersen dropped skiers, and Jamie Dalrymple managed to get himself in the wrong place to take another steepler as it landed just over the boundary.
After winning the toss, Australia hacked out 221 for five - the highest score in the short history of Twenty20 internationals. England were horribly erratic from the third over, when Kevin Pietersen let the ball slip through his legs on the edge of the fielding circle.
Worse was to follow a few minutes later, when Lewis dropped Ricky Ponting on 16. Ponting was England’s chief tormentor during the Test series, and once again he did not let them off the hook. His stand of 71 with Adam Gilchrist was compiled in just 29 balls, giving Australia a superb platform.
Though England staged a minor recovery in the middle overs, as Panesar and Paul Collingwood took the pace off the ball, the scoring rate cranked up again in the closing stages.
Cameron White, whose 141 for Somerset last season is the world record for a Twenty20 international, dominated another punishing stand of 76. His partner was Andrew Symonds, a man generally viewed as the world’s most destructive one-day player, so this was quite some feat.
England were in a mess at once, with Ed Joyce and Andrew Flintoff miscuing ambitious shots in the first two overs and departing for one and nought respectively.
The most decisive dismissal came when Kevin Pietersen attempted a risky second run to Shane Harwood, a debutant fast bowler and former truck driver, who was standing at third man. Harwood's throw came in low and fast and clipped the top of the stumps, beating Pietersen's dive by a few inches.
Though Vaughan struck the ball nicely enough in his 27, he fell to Symonds for the second consecutive time in Twenty20 cricket. After a brief rally from James Dalrymple and Paul Nixon, who added 49 together, the innings tailed off to finish on 144 for nine.
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