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Losing a one-day match to a young and hungry Prime Minister's XI, even by the hugely humiliating margin of 166 runs, need not affect their chances of successfully defending the Ashes over five Tests.


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But being belted to the extent of 347 for five - a record total in the 55-year history of these matches at Manuka Oval - and then looking distinctly shaky against the pace and bounce of Shaun Tait on the way to 181 all out, underlined just how much work needs to be done before the more serious action begins in Brisbane on 23 November.

England sides have now managed to lose seven out of 10 limited-overs fixtures in Australia's capital city. However, this one can move straight to top spot in the list of mis-matches.

Despite the result, and that won't have done anybody's confidence much good, there were a few consolations to cling to. But they won't take long to trot out.

Flintoff continued his so far encouraging comeback from mid-summer ankle surgery by bowling 10 overs, in three spells, without any sign of discomfort. And senior spinner Ashley Giles, out of action for almost 12 months because of a chronic hip complaint, can at least dream of extending a Test career put on hold last November.

But apart from those two shafts of light, plus a sprightly 67 at the top of the order from Andrew Strauss, England will do well to find any positives.

Almost from the off, Flintoff's decision to bowl first hardly looked inspired. Then Sajid Mahmood, who started this tour as favourite to make up the pace attack in Brisbane, was caned without mercy as he conceding 97 runs from nine overs.

And Geraint Jones, who many believe will reclaim the wicketkeeping berth from Chris Read, missed a perfectly acceptable chance to dismiss Worcestershire's Phil Jaques on 21.

By the time Paul Collingwood removed Jaques, the opener had reached 112. Something similar in a fortnight's time only bears thinking about if you are an England selector.

The batting looked even more jet-lagged, with Marcus Trescothick's first innings for two months lasting only six balls before Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Strauss took turn to miscue pulls and put their team on the road to ruin.

Cameron White, who played for Somerset last season and captained the PM's team here, said the plan was to put England on the back foot at the start of this tour. Well, he certainly succeeded with that aim.

Strange though it may seem now, life looked reasonably encouraging for Flintoff and Co for the first hour this morning.

Sensibly moving up through the gears at a steady rate, Flintoff peaked at around 90mph. And his accuracy (only 11 runs conceded from his first five overs) was rewarded when another man happy to be back in the thick of the action snaffled a good catch.

Tim Paine, advancing aggressively, inside-edged an attempted drive and Jones held an awkward two-handed chance diving down the leg side.

There was nothing wrong with the Kent keeper's glovework last summer. Rather, his chronic lack of runs finally persuaded England to reinstate Read.

The pair are back in competition. But if Jones started by putting one tick in the box, he soon followed it with a big cross through spilling a much easier offering when Jaques nicked Jimmy Anderson for what should have been a relatively comfortable take around shoulder height.

That, unfortunately, was just the start of England's troubles in the field.

Giles did strike with his fourth delivery when Mark Cosgrove flicked him to deep mid-wicket for Strauss to pouch a welljudged catch, tumbling forward. But Jaques and the rest of his colleagues took turns to feast greedily on bowling that posed them few problems.

Test certainties Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard watched from the sidelines with England deciding to keep their powder dry for the longer games. But among those who did bowl, Monty Panesar was the fortunate one.

Despite being brought on just before fellow spinner Giles, he sent down only three overs, in two "spells", and avoided most of the flak. The rest were not so lucky and even Flintoff could not avoid some tap as the second half of the home side's innings yielded 211 runs.

The final 10 overs cost 112.

Jaques, fourth out when he drove Collingwood to long-off, took top honours. But Shaun Marsh, son of former Test opener Geoff Marsh, pushed him close by plundering 78 from 56 balls before skipper White poured shovel-loads of salt into English wounds.

He flicked Anderson for two late sixes, then drove Mahmood into the crowd at long-off to end the innings in appropriate fashion.

England's chances of getting anywhere near a target of 348, even on a flat pitch, looked slim from the start of their reply - and just about non-existent once Trescothick snicked the final ball of Tait's first over into the slips.

Tait, you may recall, played in the last two Tests of the 2005 Ashes series. Then, he was quick but often wayward. Today, he was quick and gave next to nothing away while hitting 95mph.

The youngster from Adelaide is unlikely to be involved at the start of this series but it is an absolute certainty that his tactic of greeting Pietersen and Flintoff with bouncers as soon as they arrived in the middle will be copied in Brisbane.

Here, his short ball only accounted for Strauss, who drove, clipped and pulled 12 boundaries in all before toe-ending a cross bat shot to mid-on.

But fellow paceman Ben Hilfenhaus successfully bounced both Cook and Pietersen, forcing top-edged catches to keeper Paine as England's middle order attacked without due care and attention.

Tait, who finished with figures of three for 21, pitched one up and then brought it back into Flintoff to shatter the wicket of England's captain - and the end was nigh.

It would have been something if the visitors could have at least seen out their full quota of 50 overs. But they fell more than 11 short of even that minor target and headed back to Sydney with plenty of food for thought.

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