Preamble Morning. We've already had the northern hemisphere teach the southern hemisphere one lesson this morning down in Wellington (how to miss tackles, knock the ball on, lose - that sort of thing). But can they pull off a double-whammy today at Lord's? Yes, it's England v Australia in the final of the NatWest Series, and I for one am quite looking forward to it.
Preamble II has won the toss and decided to bowl first, which makes sense given the cloud cover. Ricky Ponting says he would have bowled first too, so everything is very cordial. Which is nice.
Preamble III Apparently four of the five teams batting second in NatWest Series finals have won, so England have practically won already! Australia are back to full strength, with Glenn McGrath back in the side after being rested at Canterbury on Thursday, and Brad Hogg has recovered from suspected food poisoning. England are as expected, which means their attack is Darren Gough, Simon Jones, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles and Paul Collingwood.
Preamble IV The big question is: will Matthew Hayden run through the guard of honour? Or will he take a huge - and in now way pointed - detour to avoid the flag-waving blighters? Or does anyone care?
Preamble V He went through it.
1st over: Australia 6-0 (Gilchrist 1, Hayden 1) Adam Gilchrist cuts Darren Gough's first ball of the day over the slips and down to third man for a single. England need to take wickets with the new ball here to justify Vaughan's decision to bowl, but Matthew Hayden is off the mark too with a firm push off his ample hip to long leg for one. It's a big innings for him today - he looked understandably distracted on Thursday against Bangladesh. Gough then finds alarming bounce which is too much for Gilchrist - and too much for Geraint Jones: it sails over his head and that's four byes!
2nd over: Australia 12-0 (Gilchrist 2, Hayden 6) Simon Jones to Hayden, the Repeat! I'd love to be able to report that Hayden has just wrapped his bat round Jones's crew-cut, but no violence as yet. In fact, Hayden escapes the strike first ball with a little nudge into the leg-side. But Jones gets a bit of movement to trouble Gilchrist, who adds another single to the total with a gentle glide to third man. Hayden then pushes the last ball of the over down the ground for four. Lovely shot!
3rd over: Australia 18-0 (Gilchrist 3, Hayden 10) Gilchrist pushes Gough into the covers for a single, before Hayden crashes a wide one over point for four. The Aussie openers keep getting off to fliers against England, which is partly down to the fact that Gough has stopped taking wickets with the new ball. A leg-side wide doesn't help matters, and it's first blood to Australia.
4th over: Australia 35-0 (Gilchrist 19, Hayden 10) Gilchrist takes four fours in a row off Jones: a drive through extra cover, an edge through the vacant third-slip area, a drive through the covers which Andrew Strauss should have stopped, and a back-foot force through the covers again. Jones then goes round the wicket and beats Gilchrist's flail, only for Billy Bowden to signal wide. Harsh, that. But what a start by Australia!
5th over: Australia 41-0 (Gilchrist 23, Hayden 11) England just seem to lack a bit of edge here: these are ideal bowling conditions, yet they are the ones on the defensive. Hayden nudges another single, and when Gough goes round the wicket Gilchrist hammers him through extra cover for four.
6th over: Australia 47-0 (Gilchrist 23, Hayden 17) Hayden is quite happy to play with circumspection while Gilchrist throws caution to the wind at the other end, but Jones overpitches and Hayden opens the face to steer him behind point for four. This is the sort of run-rate you'd expect to see in a Twenty20 game. The next ball is timed through extra for two - an untypical Hayden shot, that - and England look completely lost. Jones has bowled three overs for 29. Gah!
WICKET! Hayden c Giles b Gough 17 (50-1) Well, that really was a free gift from Hayden, who tried to hit Gough over the infield but simply spooned the ball to Ashley Giles at mid-off. The ball seemed to come off the bottom of the bat there. England needed that.
"Due to an irrational hatred of Rupert Murdoch, I'm unable to watch the cricket on TV," grumbles Andrew Thomas. "As a result, I'll be listening to Live8 on the TV while following the cricket on OBO. This means I might miss the captions on the TV announcing the bands. Does anyone have any advice on how to tell Coldplay, Keane, Travis and Snow Patrol apart?"
7th over: Australia 50-1 (Gilchrist 26, Ponting 0) Right, England need to start again here and bowl normally, rather than getting carried away with pitching the ball up and searching for swing.
"I'm now doing the 'Ashes triple' of C4 on TV (with sound off), TMS on the radio and OBO on the laptop," writes Jenny Smith. "Is this overkill?" I think you know the answer to that one, Jenny.
8th over: Australia 52-1 (Gilchrist 27, Ponting 1) On comes Andrew Flintoff for Jones and he immediately troubles Gilchrist by going round the wicket. The first ball is right on the button, and the second cuts back and beats Gilchrist's inside edge. The third goes the other way and beats the outside edge, which draws an exchange of smiles between bowler and batsman. Gerat stuff from Freddie - this is how England should have been bowling earlier. Gilchrist and the new man Ricky Ponting both chop singles to third man, but that's an intelligent first over.
9th over: Australia 52-1 (Gilchrist 27, Ponting 1) Gough has had some success against Ponting in the past - he's dismissed him eight times in Tests - and that's a much better over as the Australian captain gropes twice outside off-stump with those firm hands of his. That's a maiden - it's amazing what a wicket can do to the run-rate.
WICKET! Gilchrist c Pietersen b Flintoff 27 (54-2) England are right back in this now as Gilchrist tries to pull a ball he would have been better off defending and gets a huge top-edge into the leg-side. Kevin Pietersen steadies himself at midwicket and it's game on!
10th over: Australia 54-2 (Ponting 1, Martyn 0) My colleague Dan Jones has just returned from a food-run to announce that he has been water-bombed by a complete stranger on Farringdon Road. His T-shirt is dripping wet. A wicket maiden to Flintoff (the two runs were leg-byes).
11th over: Australia 64-2 (Ponting 7, Martyn 0) A Gough no-ball, which Damien Martyn deflects off his thigh-pad to fine-leg for three, releases the pressure, and when Gough drops short Ponting pulls him magnificently for six. Needless to say, you don't want to bowl short on this pitch. A better over for Australia after a bit of a lull.
Rob Parsons has spotted some innuendo. "'The Australian captain gropes twice outside off-stump with those firm hands of his,' he quotes. "Is that the most homoerotic sentiment ever uttered on the OBO website?" We've had a lot worse, Rob, I can assure you.
12th over: Australia 71-2 (Ponting 7, Martyn 4) Flintoff really is a reliable one-day bowler these days - the opposition don't take liberties against him in the way they do against, say, Simon Jones. But that one's overpitched and Martyn just leans on it to pick up three runs through the covers.
"I recommend Andrew Thomas differentiates them based on the singers," writes Nicholas Grundy. "Keane have the one who can be euphemistically called "chubby-cheeked", Travis have the very boring-looking one, Snow Patrol have the one who looks like an Irish heroin addict, and Coldplay have the one with the smug smile of someone who's going out with Gwyneth Paltrow. Hope this helps."
WICKET! Ponting c G Jones b Harmison 7 (71-3) Harmison strikes with his first ball and what a way to go! It's short and on leg stump, and Ponting simlpy deflects it off the full face of the bat into the gloves of the tumbling Geraint Jones. He is livid; England are delirious.
13th over: Australia 76-3 (Martyn 8, Symonds 0) This is the big partnership now: Martyn and Andrew Symonds have staged some pretty frightening comebacks in this series so far. As if to underline as much, Martyn steers Harmison through point for four - a lovely shot.
"England's ability to fight back is great," says Richard Jones. "But their inability to take the initiative from the start bodes ill for the Tests."
14th over: Australia 76-3 (Martyn 8, Symonds 0) Symonds gets a little tickle on a ball from Flintoff that moves away, but the edge drops just short of Geraint Jones. I'm tempted to say that hasn't prevented him from appealing in the past, but I won't. That's a superb over from Flintoff, and this is just what England want: Symonds in against the new ball. Then, a moment of pure luck for Symonds as Flintoff beats the outside edge and clips the outside of off-stump. But the bails don't move! Unbelievable!
15th over: Australia 78-3 (Martyn 9, Symonds 0) Well, that really was a good decision by Billy Bowden, because there was a big noise there and a deflection. But who would have thought the ball could clip the stumps and not dislodge a bail! Anyway, Martyn steers Harmison to third man for a single, which exposes Symonds once more to the moving ball. And he does not look comfortable.
16th over: Australia 84-3 (Martyn 10, Symonds 4) Symonds continues to survive by the skin of his teeth and gets away with a top-edge over the slips for four off Flintoff. Freddie responds with a huge shout for leg-before, but that full-length delivery was sliding down the leg-side. Another fine over.
"Richard Jones gets today's first comment that's actually about cricket into the OBO," writes Simon Rake. "We need to know if he was just doing it for a bet."
17th over: Australia 86-3 (Martyn 11, Symonds 4) Martyn picks up two runs to backward square, but it wasn't a convincing stroke - Harmison found bounce and the ball looped off the shoulder of the bat. Harmison is digging it in short of a length, and Australia seem content to defend. They know that another quick wicket and they could be in trouble.
18th over: Australia 88-3 (Martyn 11, Symonds 7) Symonds is looking a little desperate here and gives himself room to try and mow Flintoff through extra cover. But he misses and is lucky when the ball sails over the stumps into Jones's gloves. Freddie is not impressed and says something along the lines of: "What in God's name was that?" Good, tight stuff from England after their wayward start with the ball.
Here's Luciano Howard. "Although they seem to struggle in the beginning of an ODI, when it comes to Tests, Harmy, who is bowling brilliantly, will have the new ball, and Fred would be first change. Add in Uncle Ashley, the raw pace of Jones and the heart/swing of Hoggie, then I say we have as good an attack, if not better..."
WICKET! Martyn c G Jones b Harmison 11 (90-4) Harmison pitches one up and Martyn, who has been pushed back into the crease, drives without moving his feet. Geraint Jones does the rest and England are on top!
"In an attempt to silence the Simon Rakes of the world with their thirst for cricket-related comments," writes Nicholas Grundy, "does anyone have any updates on Gus for us?"
20th over: Australia 92-4 (Symonds 8, Clarke 1) Back comes Simon Jones, whose first three overs went for 29, but that's a better one. Symonds drives his first ball through the covers for a single, but Michael Clarke can manage only one run to third man off the last ball of the over. That will help Jones's confidence. Australia have now scored 51 off the last 15 overs.
"With the way Flintoff and Harmison are bowling, shouldn't they have opened the attack?" asks Andy Breakell. "The Aussies raced to fifty, admittedly not all from the middle of the bat, but at the end of the day those fifty runs may prove to be crucial."
21st over: Australia 93-4 (Symonds 8, Clarke 2) Symonds has not been allowed to play his natural game, but at least he's sticking it out in tricky conditions for batting. One off the over as Harmison keeps Symonds quiet.
"For the ODIs, why not give Giles and Collingwood the new ball?" suggests Gerg Morley in Madrid. "Maybe, just maybe England wouldn't concede 50 off six overs, and then Harmy and Flintoff could come on and do the damage. Finally, Gough and Jones could be brought on to bowl at the tailenders."
22nd over: Australia 93-4 (Symonds 8, Clarke 2) Much better from Simon Jones, who has put his three-over horror show behind him and is now locating an impeccable line. That's a maiden to Clarke as Australia continue to consolidate.
"Poor Dan Jones," sympathises Nikki. "He's had a bad 12 hours. But how much is alcohol to blame for your sports section's woes." I couldn't possibly comment, Nikki. Hic.
23rd over: Australia 93-4 (Symonds 8, Clarke 2) More short-of-a-length miserliness from Harmison to Symonds, who is being deprived of his favourite scoring areas here: he loves to drive, but England are refusing to pitch anything up to him. Another maiden, and Symonds has now scored eight off 34 balls.
WICKET! Clarke lbw b S Jones 2 (93-5) Magnificent stuff from England: 21 dot balls are followed by a beauty from Jones which cuts back and traps Clarke, shuffling half-forward, in front. They don't know where their next run is coming from!
"Nicholas Grundy is wrong that I'm thirsting for cricket-related comments," complains Simon Rake. "I consider them an annoying distraction, often little more than jejune regurgitated punditry. On the other hand Nicholas Grundy is right in that there are Simon Rakes plural - I know of at least one other, who is a mortgage adviser in Croydon. My money is on Gus having switched his affections to someone nearer his own age, only to find himself relentlessly pursued by the older woman - such things happened a lot to me in my youth."
25th over: Australia 93-5 (Symonds 8, Hussey 0) That's four successive maidens and Australia have now failed to score for 28 balls. Sensational stuff as Harmison keeps Symonds pinned to the crease.
"Thank your lucky stars you're not an Australian, Lawrence," writes Neil Stork-Brett. "I was sledged unmercifully throughout a 'friendly' game of chess last night. Though I can't put my humiliating defeat down to 'mental disintegration'. It had a lot more to do with the two bottles of Pinot." Believe me, Neil, I frequently thank my lucky stars that I'm not an Aussie, much though I love them...
26th over: Australia 99-5 (Symonds 8, Hussey 6) Mike Hussey scores the first runs for 29 balls with a firm push through the covers off Jones for two. After playing out four dot balls he then times Jones for four - the first boundary for 62 deliveries.
"Great stuff England," cheers Neil Smith. "But is anyone else feeling slightly sorry for the first seven or eight England players who are going to have to see out Lee and McGrath's overs on this wicket?" That strikes me as a little negative, Neil. Batting should become easier if anything.
27th over: Australia 101-5 (Symonds 9, Hussey 7) Symonds scores his first run for nine overs with a push to wide mid-off from Paul Collingwood's first ball. It brings up Australia's 100, but their second fifty has taken them 120 balls, compared with only 39 for their first. It really has been an amazing turnaround. Still, England need to separate these two - Australia's last pair of recognised batsmen. Two off the over.
28th over: Australia 109-5 (Symonds 11, Hussey 13) Hussey pulls Jones's first ball for four - England should know by now that he loves the short stuff. He's been one of Australia's best batsmen in this competition, despite being stuck at No7.
29th over: Australia 111-5 (Symonds 12, Hussey 13) It's hard to tell whether Symonds is biding his time or simply can't get the ball off the square. A bit of both, I suspect. Just one off that Collingwood over as England's stranglehold continues.
A piece of advice arrives from Gabriel Walsh. "When tuning a guitar/violin etc, it's much easier if you first deliberately loosen the string, thus flattening the note before slowly retightening to find the exact frequency, a procedure not entirely dissimilar to this morning's performance by England. Anyone else got any dubious analogies?" Sorry, Gabriel. Sean Ingle's not on duty until the tennis starts.
30th over: Australia 112-5 (Symonds 13, Hussey 13) Enter Ashley Giles and he's straight over the wicket to the left-handed Hussey. A single to midwicket follows, which exposes the strokeless Symonds to the bowling: one off the over. Australia need to score some runs - quickly!
"Would you believe both the radio and TV down here in Australia are broadcasting some irrelevant Rugby Test between Australia and France (Aussies up 30-14) so I'm reduced to following the cricket on your webcast," writes Brendan Jones. "I'd just like to say that if the Aussies lose today it's because they want to lull you into a false sense of security (now isn't that a very English thing to say)." It is, Brendan. Very.
31st over: Australia 113-5 (Symonds 13, Hussey 14) Just one off Collingwood's over as Hussey works the last ball off his hip. This is getting ridiculous!
"Has anyone else noticed the similarities between 'British' tennis sensation Andrew Murray and fictional Star Wars character Annakin Skywalker?" asks Rob Parsons, presumably well aware of the answer. "Aside from the physical similarities - the hair, the face, the awkward gangly appearance - they are both prodigiously talented, prone to bouts of sulkiness, and above all both too attached to their mothers. At this rate of progress by 2010 Murray will have become the dark overlord ruling over the tennis world with an iron fist, despite a titanic battle with former mentor Mark Petchey having left him hideously scarred and bearing a hatred for all mankind. And yes, before anyone asks, I do have rather too much time on my hands."
32nd over: Australia 117-5 (Symonds 14, Hussey 18) It's hard to say what a good score will be here, because another wicket and Australia could be all out for 170. But I suspect they'll scrape their way up to 220 or so and make England work very hard indeed. This game isn't over yet as Australia settle for four singles off that Giles over.
33rd over: Australia 125-5 (Symonds 19, Hussey 21) A poor misfield from Harmison gifts four runs to Symonds as he goes on the drive against Collingwood. But England would have accepted this situation at the start of the innings.
"Do we have any idea of the would be casanova's views on his OBO fame?" asks Thomas Hopkins. "Public recognition is always good, but does Gus like having his romantic travails being dissected? Or maybe it's generated some useful tips for future reference?" I suppose we never really stopped to ask him, Thomas.
34th over: Australia 128-5 (Symonds 20, Hussey 23) Well, it hasn't exactly been thrilling, but it's certainly been gripping as Australia try to break free and give their bowlers a total to defend. Just three singles off that Giles over as the slow march towards 200 continues.
"If Andrew Murray does indeed rule the universe then who is the Emperor?" wonders Matthew Sackman, not unreasonably. "Alastair Campbell? Tony Blair? Rupert Murdoch?"
35th over: Australia 131-5 (Symonds 21, Hussey 25) Collingwood continues to fiddle through his medium-pace while the Aussies bat cautiously. I haven't been listening to TMS, but I'm guessing the phrase "cat-and-mouse" has been used. Three singles off the over and Australia must be approaching the moment where they need to take a couple of risks.
"The experts on TMS are talking about a final score of 220," frets Andy Breakell. "It's going to be a nervous afternoon for us Poms if the Aussies reach that figure. We need wickets!"
36th over: Australia 136-5 (Symonds 25, Hussey 26) Vaughan still has a total of seven overs up his sleeve from Harmison and Flintoff, but for the time being he doesn't need them, because Giles and Collingwood are keeping the Aussies quiet. Symonds does manage to late-cut Giles's last ball for three in that over, but the previous five deliveries had brought just two singles.
37th over: Australia 142-5 (Symonds 26, Hussey 31) A rare bad ball from Collingwood, who drops short and is pulled for four with contemptuous ease. Don't. Bowl. Short. To. Hussey.
38th over: Australia 145-5 (Symonds 28, Hussey 32) Up comes the 50 stand off 79 balls as Symonds scrambles a single into the off-side off Giles. When will he decide to play his shots, I wonder. And when will Vaughan turn to Harmison and Flintoff? Just three off the over as Hussey fails to connect with an attempted drive through the covers.
WICKET! Symonds c Strauss b Collingwood 29 (147-6) After all that graft, Symonds throws it away by stepping back and carving Collingwood straight to Strauss at extra cover. That's a huge wicket for England - Symonds could have done some serious damage. As it is, his 71-ball innings will always look like a bit of a curiosity in the scorebook.
"A question," begins Daniel. "Given the clamour for Pietersen to be admitted to the England test team because he "can turn a match" and has an alleged hold over the Aussies (particularly if he wins it today with a century), why doesn't the same apply for Australia picking Symonds? So far, no England bowler has dismissed him - unless it happens while I'm writing this - he's been their most successful player in this series, and he's even lucky enough against us that when Freddie bowls him the bails stay on. If they leave him out of the Test team then on consistent logic either a) they've made a mistake or b) we shouldn't pick KP either. On recent form, you'd have to favour b) as the right answer. Any thoughts?" Yes: who would Australia drop to accommodate him?
39th over: Australia 148-6 (Hussey 33, Hogg 1) OK, 11 overs to go and England are into the lower order. Time, I fancy, for the big guns. Bring back Harmy!
40th over: Australia 153-6 (Hussey 35, Hogg 4) Well, Vaughan is sticking with Giles, which could be construed as a touch negative. Come on, let's bowl them out! Five singles help tick things along.
"I'm not about to predict that Australia will lose the Ashes," says Brendan Jones, "but I have to say that although the Aussies were winning almost every Test and ODI over the past year, I had a nagging feeling that the crown had slipped. They used to swagger onto the field and had the opposition beaten before a ball was bowled. But last year there's been dropped catches, misfields and less than compelling batting. England may really give them a big scare - maybe not a knockout punch, but it'll be close."
41st over: Australia 156-6 (Hussey 36, Hogg 6) Collingwood gets another over, which strikes me as curious when you consider who the Aussies would least like to face now. OK, so they only scored three runs off the over, but Harmison or Flintoff were surely more likely to have taken a wicket.
42nd over: Australia 158-6 (Hussey 37, Hogg 7) Another tight over from Giles, but England won't want to chase much more than 200 on a pitch that has discouraged strokeplay for virtually the entire Australian innings. I wonder whether England will regret not going for the jugular.
43rd over: Australia 164-6 (Hussey 38, Hogg 12) At last, Harmison is back. He took two for 12 off his first seven overs, but his figures aren't helped when Hogg runs him to down to third man for four. That was a stroke of luck for Hogg, but third man was very wide. Six off the over, which Australia will be very happy with.
44th over: Australia 169-6 (Hussey 39, Hogg 16) Five off that Giles over as Australia creep up towards 200. It could be a match-winning total...
"Couldn't care less about my question, really," says Daniel, "except I hope you appreciate my role in removing Symonds with the comment about 'not having been removed by an England bowler'." Appreciated, Daniel. And noted.
WICKET! Hogg c G Jones b Harmison 16 (169-7) What a delivery from Harmison, a brute of a ball that careers into Hogg's gloves as he protects himself and balloons up into the leg-side. Jones runs round to hold the catch and that's a very useful wicket indeed for England.
45th over: Australia 173-7 (Hussey 40, Lee 2) Fiery stuff from Harmison, who has bowled superbly against Australia since the start of their tour. Five overs to go: Australia should still be aiming for 200.
WICKET! Lee c G Jones b Flintoff 3 (179-8) He should have been bowling earlier! Freddie digs one in and Lee gets a flinching thin edge through to Jones, who takes his fourth catch of the innings.
WICKET! Gillespie c G Jones b Flintoff 0 (179-9) A carbon copy of the Lee dismissal and Flintoff will begin his next over on a hat-trick, assuming Harmison doesn't finish things in the next over. Great stuff by England!
47th over: Australia 184-9 (Hussey 50, McGrath 0) Hussey edges Harmison between Geraint Jones and Marcus Trescothick at first slip and away for four, then moves to his half-century from 73 balls with a single to deep cover. What an innings it has been. But Harmison finishes with 3 for 27 off his 10 overs and next ball Flintoff will be on a hat-trick.
48th over: Australia 187-9 (Hussey 53, McGrath 0) Hussey turns the hat-trick ball to long leg for two, then misses with a couple of attempted wipes before cracking the fourth ball to deep extra cover for one. Glenn McGrath then turns down a single off the last ball of the over - not often you see that in the last few moments of a one-day innings. I still think 200 will be a challenging total.
WICKET! McGrath c Collingwood b Gough 0 (196) Hussey takes nine runs off the first four balls of Gough's over, before McGrath plays a horrendous smear that flies high in the air off the outside edge and is easily held by Collingwood in the gully.
Hussey is left unbeaten on 62, which feels more like a century in the circumstances. But 196 could prove trickier than it looks. The cloud-cover is still thick and this precisely the sort of pitch which will appeal to Glenn McGrath. Join me in 45 minutes to see how England get on with their reply.