Sam Billings’ maiden ODI hundred was not enough for England to pull off an unlikely chase of 295 on a slow wicket after being reduced to 57/4 within the first 20 overs.
Eoin Morgan won the toss and put the Australians in first. For the second time in three days, David Warner was done in by an unplayable nut from Jofra Archer. Pitching it on the perfect length, Archer got a tinge of away movement from the pitch, enough to beat Warner’s outside edge and clip the top of off stump.
Marcus Stoinis walked in at number 3 in the absence of Steven Smith, who, according to Australian skipper Aaron Finch, suffered a blow to his head during practice a day before the game. A few freebies from Woakes and Archer meant that he and his skipper found it easy to get going, before Mark Wood, introduced into the attack, got Finch to go for an ambitious drive despite being sat on the back foot, the result being a simple catch to Buttler behind the stumps.
Wood went for three boundaries off Stoinis in his following over. Two overs later, he pitched the ball on a length, got Stoinis to play a loose drive as well, inflicted a thick outside edge, and Buttler threw himself to his right to complete an excellent catch. Four overs later, a struggling Marnus Labuschagne was back in the hut as well, pinned in front by Adil Rashid, as wicketkeeper Alex Carey walked in ahead of Glenn Maxwell to join Mitchell Marsh in the middle.
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While Marsh seemed to be much more composed playing spin on this surface, staying inside the crease and lunging forward whenever required, it was as if Carey presumed that he would not be picking anything from Rashid’s hand with the ball turning square on this wicket, and decided to sweep almost everything, a characteristic usually seen among wicketkeeper-batsmen back in the day. He did so for about 10 runs before top-edging the leg-spinner down the throat of Sam Billings at deep square-leg.
Glenn Maxwell then joined Mitchell Marsh and began to settle in, while Marsh merely hung around at the other end. Once he was set, entrusting the Western Australian to play anchor, Maxwell went after the England bowling. Maxwell, who had slightly tweaked his stance from before, took a liking to Moeen Ali at first, as the off-spinner ended up going for 59 runs in 10 unsuccessful overs, with 15 off them coming in his final two overs.
Once Moeen was done, Adil Rashid was brought back into the attack. Marsh and Maxwell reached fifties in consecutive overs from the leg-break bowler, with Maxwell depositing him high into the second tier at mid-wicket before pummelling him past sweeper cover for four to get to the milestone.
Maxwell dug into Archer in the 44th over, hammering him for two towering sixes – the second one being a mere flick of the wrists – before Archer had his revenge. He rolled his fingers and slightly reduced the pace of the ball, and Maxwell, trying to pepper the leg-side boundary yet again, dragged the ball onto his stumps.
Tragically for Australia, Maxwell’s wicket completely sucked the momentum out of the innings as they could manage only 45 runs in the final 6 and a half overs. Although Marsh lived up to his captain’s expectations of playing a significant knock in the middle-order under pressure, he could not deliver the goods in terms of big-hitting in the latter stages today, falling leg-before to Wood with 3 overs remaining.
The score of 294 on this surface, especially after losing half the side for less than half of their eventual score, was enough for the Australian bowlers to deliver with fire in their belly. The first over of the chase from Mitchell Starc itself set the tone for the opening few overs. Jason Roy desperately tried to get the feel of the ball early on without moving his feet too much, something that he failed miserably in.
Roy’s struggle in the middle came to an end four overs in, courtesy a sharp, one-handed return catch by Hazlewood, 0.5 seconds after Roy went for a booming straight drive on the up to a length delivery. Hazlewood struck again four overs later, removing an unsettled Root, who looked to glance a seaming-away delivery down to third-man without much feet movement, presenting ‘keeper Alex Carey with an easy catch.
A well-judged review from Bairstow saved him from becoming Hazlewood’s third victim after being rapped on the pads by an in-swinger from the Tamworth-born seamer in the last ball of the powerplay. Upon being revisited, it turned out that the ball would have missed the leg stump by a whisker.
Morgan, having survived the barrage of short-pitched deliveries from Cummins and Hazlewood, depositing some of them to the fence and over it on one occasion, fell rather tamely to a half-tracker from Adam Zampa. Trying to dispatch Zampa over the mid-wicket fence, Morgan, cramped for room, ended up picking out Maxwell at mid-wicket.
Australia were cock-a-hoop after the wicket of the in-form Jos Buttler in Zampa’s next over, the one person who could have been the perfect candidate to pull England out of the pit and take the game away. Much like Morgan, he, too, tried to dispatch another half-tracker from Zampa into the stands, but failed to gain any timing and miscued it to long-off, where Labuschagne, after a slight misjudgment, recovered well to take the catch.
Clearly, the ploy of surviving by attacking was not working out for England today. It was down to Jonny Bairstow to play the game of resilience in the face of defeat. He, along with Sam Billings, started stitching a partnership of sorts, as 7 overs went by without a boundary. Once he had settled himself, Bairstow started to play his natural game, tonking Adam Zampa for a couple of sixes before bringing up his fifty in the following over, off an uncharacteristic 78 deliveries.
Billings took cue from Bairstow and smashed the re-introduced Pat Cummins for 14 in the first over of the Australian vice-captain’s second spell. Cummins’ next over went for 9 as the momentum began tiptoeing towards the hosts.
Unfortunately, Bairstow could not capitalize on the effort that he put in to rescue England from serious trouble early on, as yet another mis-hit helped Zampa breakthrough. Skipping down the pitch, Bairstow could not reach the pitch of the ball, in the process offering a skier, which was accepted by a diving Hazlewood. Moeen Ali, who had a bad day with the ball, could not compensate for the same with the bat, offering a dolly to Labuschagne at cover off Hazlewood.
With 105 required off the last 10 overs of the game, England’s hopes of pulling off a robbery under the night sky were heavily reliant on Billings. Despite losing wickets at the other end and the batting line-up thinning up rather alarmingly, Billings kept fighting with the assistance of Woakes, and then Rashid, bringing the equation down to 52 off 24.
A 3 run over from Pat Cummins, the 47th of the innings, effectively sucked the life out of the chase as Jofra Archer, despite his best efforts, neither could get bat on ball, nor could get away from strike. Billings did get to a hundred and struck three boundaries in all in the penultimate over, but 28 runs off the final over was always going to be too much. Australia ended up triumphant by 19 runs, and opened their ICC ODI Super League account with 10 points.
Australia 1st Innings 294/9 (50 Overs)
Maxwell 77, Marsh 73, Wood 3/54
England 2nd Innings 275/9 (50 Overs)
Billings 118, Bairstow 84, Zampa 4/55
Australia won by 19 runs
Player of The Match: Josh Hazlewood