A match that could have ended in sobering defeat for England somehow turned into one of their most memorable T20 victories as Australia choked within sight of the finishing line.
For much of an evening on which the game’s oldest rivalry entered the unprecedented territory of behind-closed-doors cricket, it had been England – not Australia – who looked like the side without a competitive run-out for six months.
But from 124 for one, needing a further 39 off 35 balls, the Australians contrived to lose five for 24, and ended up losing by two runs. It was a cock-up for the ages.
England players celebrate after they somehow salvaged T20 victory vs Australia on Friday
‘There are no excuses,’ said opening batsman David Warner, whose dismissal for 58, bowled leg stump by Jofra Archer, hastened their collapse. ‘The guys were outplayed.’ Perhaps the only consolation for the tourists was that spectators were not allowed in. The Ageas Bowl would have been heaving – and not in sympathy for the Australians.
And yet it was only at the very end that England grabbed the first game of this three-match series by its scruff. Archer, whose first two overs had cost an uninspiring 20, began the procession by having Australia’s captain Aaron Finch caught at mid-off by Chris Jordan for 46.
Steve Smith hit his first two balls from Mark Wood for four, but hadn’t moved beyond 18 when he heaved Adil Rashid to deep midwicket. Moments later, Glenn Maxwell took leave of his senses, chipping the final ball of Rashid’s four-over spell to short extra cover.
Australia began to panic, even though they had five overs left to get 36 and seven wickets in hand. But Archer yorked Warner, before Wood – going round the wicket – removed the middle stump of left-hander Alex Carey.
Up stepped Tom Curran, with 26 required off three overs. He conceded only seven from the 18th, before Jordan – playing his 50th T20 international – went for just four singles in the 19th, and ran out Ashton Agar.
David Warner scored 58 for Australia but his dismissal was part of their abject batting collapse
Marcus Stoinis was Australia’s last hope, and faced up to Curran with 15 wanted from the final six balls. A dot was followed by a booming six over extra cover, then another dot: nine needed off three. But Stoinis could do no more than take two off each of the last three balls – a notable feather in Curran’s cap, and only Australia’s second defeat in 10 completed T20s.
‘In the winter it was very similar in New Zealand and South Africa where Chris Jordan and Tom Curran led the attack and took the responsibility,’ said Morgan.
‘The only prayer we had was to go to our best bowlers before that. Australia continued to take risks, especially against Adil. Then Jof came back earlier as a consequence of that.
‘I’m delighted the guys showed the belief and courage to try to do something to take wickets. We held our length because it was the hardest to hit . Two years ago, we could have gone into yorkers or slower balls, and brought Australia back into the game. But we stuck to our guns.’
Tom Curran bowled brilliantly at the end to steer England past Australia at the Ageas Bowl
Earlier, the tourists’ slow-bowling trio of Maxwell, Agar and Adam Zampa – off-spinner, left-armer and leggie – slowed England’s progress after Jos Buttler had threatened one of his specials.
At 64 for one in the eighth over, with Buttler in beautiful nick at the venue where he recently made a Test-best 152 against Pakistan, England were on course for a daunting total after being invited to bat.
But Buttler pulled Agar to deep midwicket to depart for 44 off 29 balls, and England lost their way. Numbers four to seven – Tom Banton, Morgan, Moeen Ali and Curran – managed 21 runs between them in 29 balls.
Dawid Malan regained some of the momentum with an increasingly fluent innings of 66 off 43 balls – his eighth score of 50 or more in 14 T20 international knocks. But when he flat-batted Kane Richardson to Smith at long-off, England had to settle for a middling 162.
Dawid Malan crashed 66 runs for England as they set Australia a target of 163 to win first T20
It didn’t look enough, especially when Finch and Warner flew out of the blocks, seemingly vindicating coach Justin Langer’s claim that they are the best white-ball opening pair in world cricket.
And for all the pace of Wood, who touched 95mph in his first appearance for two months, England again went wicketless in the powerplay. The thought occurred – not for the first time – that the selectors’ lack of faith in David Willey’s death bowling is costing them a wicket-taking option up front.
As England’s out-cricket grew scrappy, Australia were a couple of good overs away from rubbing their noses in a heavy defeat – especially after Finch smashed Rashid for 16 in three balls, and Smith collected eight from his first two deliveries in this country after his Ashes runfest in 2019.
But Morgan has bred a team that doesn’t give up.