The first of three matches did not disappoint. England won, thanks to an outstanding fightback that saw Australia waste a position that seemed unbeatable. They had needed just 39 from 38 balls with nine wickets in hand – but lost by two runs. For England, it was a heist of the highest order.
After England, asked to bat first, wasted a wonderful start from Jos Buttler to only register a light looking 162 from their 20 overs, Australia were simply cruising. Aaron Finch and David Warner thumped their way to an opening stand of 98 in 11 overs, then Steve Smith got in on the act, too.
But some dozy batting – reminiscent of England’s effort earlier – turned the game on its head. Australia lost four wickets in 14 balls, with Smith caught in the deep and Glenn Maxwell chipping tamely to cover in Adil Rashid’s final over. Then Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, who had bowled with such pace but without incision in the powerplay, bowled Warner and Alex Carey respectively.
The game was alive and, after a good over each from Tom Curran and Chris Jordan, Australia suddenly needed 15 from the final over. It would have been 14 had Jordan not pulled off a smart run out of Ashton Agar from his final ball of the night.
Marcus Stoinis hit Curran for six second ball of the final over, but was left to rue two dot balls in a good performance from England’s death bowler, who held his nerve. In fact all England’s bowlers did – that was the only boundary Australia hit in the last six overs.
The crowd, so central to games between these teams, were missed. They would have particularly enjoyed Warner being hit amidships by Wood bowling 93mph, and certainly could have helped England, who spent minutes searching for the ball when Smith hit an enormous six towards the hotel. It was after that blow that Australia needed just 39 from 38. To lose from there was a monumental mess-up.
For most of the contest, if you had to guess which of these teams had not played for six months, you would not have picked Australia. Until their late stumble, they had looked in strong working bowling, fielding and top order batting – looked in fine working order.
And until their ice-cool turnaround, England had not been at their best. Having been asked to bat first, theirs was a strange innings. They started brilliantly through Buttler, lost their way badly against spin, then recovered strongly thanks to Dawid Malan’s acceleration. Trouble was, apart from those two, only Jordan, from No8, reached double figures. They looked a batsman light; perhaps in the form of Sam Curran (who would also have provided left-arm bowling) or Sam Billings, a specialist finisher.
Buttler got England off to a flyer. He took 16 from Agar’s opening over, and dispatched crisp drives through the covers off the quicks. But from the moment Pat Cummins got one to rear at Jonny Bairstow, ending a 43-run opening partnership in just four overs, Australia were clinical in every respect: with their bowling, their bowling changes, their fielding, and their field placements.
Malan made a typically steady start, and was 11 from 11 when Buttler took a risk too many to Agar and was caught at deep square-leg. And Malan had 13 from 13 when Tom Banton – who had switch-hit Adam Zampa for four first ball – fell slogging Agar, too.
Australia brought Maxwell on to target England’s left-handers, and it worked a treat. Eoin Morgan was caught taking on the straight boundary, and Moeen Ali went reverse-sweeping. 43 without loss had become 109 for five – and it was all on Malan.
For the eighth time in his 14-innings T20i career, he passed 50 and, as he tends to, began to really motor. There were some spectacular shots, especially through and over cover, while he demolished Zampa’s final over. He had led a decent recovery, and England had moved to 147 for six with two overs to go.
But as soon as that over ended, Malan holed out – with Smith taking another fine catch at long-off – and it was on Jordan to haul England to 162. Jordan, playing his 50th T20i, had a very fine night all round.
As Australia motored, few would have thought that 162 enough. Under Morgan, though, England are never quite out of games.