Australia capture series and break England's proud home record as Carey and Maxwell drive revival
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England lost this season’s last battle, in a magnificent climax, when Australia’s Alex Carey and Glenn Maxwell both hit centuries which were in the circumstances superlative, as they came together at 73 for five when their team was all but gone. Thus the current World Cup holders were beaten by the previous holders, and England lost a home bilateral one-day series for the first time in five years.
When England lost with two balls remaining, it was the first series they had lost all summer. They beat West Indies 2-1 in Tests; Pakistan 1-0 in Tests; drew 1-1 with Pakistan in T20s; beat Ireland 2-1 in ODIs; then defeated Australia 2-1 in T20s but not the ODIs, because Australia chased down their target of 303 in the highest successful run-chase at Old Trafford.
As a whole though, even if English cricket did not win the last battle, they won the war insofar as the invisible enemy of Covid-19 allowed. In these unique circumstances, to stage every game, without crowds but otherwise without compromise, was a triumph - from the groundstaff who worked overtime at the only two grounds England used, through the players and coaches who retained their sanity in hotel rooms for weeks on end, to Steve Elworthy who orchestrated as the ECB’s Director of Special Projects. He ran the World Cup last summer and this season was no less of a challenge.
In addition to everything else, this game was a heavyweight contest in which both sides tried to knock each other out from the moment the bell rang, from Mitchell Starc’s two wickets with the first two balls of the game to Australia’s sixth-wicket counter-punching by Carey and Maxwell in a record stand. Containment used to be the name of the one-day game, until very recently in England, but the format has evolved so much it is now extreme pace and wrist-spin, not medium-pace and finger-spun darts any more.
Starc landed not only the last two punches with boundaries in the final over, but the first two, which flattened England against the ropes: Jason Roy sliced to point, Joe Root was pinned by an inswinger. Yet Eoin Morgan was counterattacking in this same first over and England had reached 67 for two by the end of the powerplay, not 22 or 32 as in the first two games. So England’s response to losing wickets off the first two balls was to score more than a run a ball.
The one period when England had to rein themselves was when they lost their third wicket in the 11th over, when Morgan attacked Adam Zampa’s first over and was caught at mid-off. One of England’s three wicketkeeping Bs had to make a hundred, and soon Jos Buttler - still of the boil - ruled himself out. England's series lost hinged on Roy, Root and Buttler scoring so few runs.
The consequence of England losing four early wickets was that they could not attack Zampa or Australia’s fifth and sixth bowlers in the middle overs, which made a difference in the end as Carey and Maxwell accelerated then. Bairstow and Billings had to keep up their guard, so not a reverse-sweep was risked against Australia’s two spinners until the 28th over. Not only was one square boundary short but the strong wind blew that way - the opposite to its direction in the first two matches.
Innumerable times Jonny Bairstow has batted fluently for England but seldom before this series has he battled when not fluent. The loss of his Test place has steeled his white-ball batting; he no longer needs Jason Roy to show him the way. Bairstow’s 10th ODI century took his average up to 47: England’s only two batsmen with higher ODI averages are No3s who have batted more sedately, Jonathan Trott and Joe Root. Bairstow added 114 with Billings, until the 38th over when Billings top-edged a reverse-sweep, giving Zampa his 10th wicket of this series.
Wow - what a series we've had. #EngvAus
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